By Joshua Tartakovsky, Independent Researcher
What is one to make of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s recent statement that violence and force have failed in suppressing the Donbass and that negotiations must be carried out? Poroshenko said that there is no military solution to the war in Donetsk and Lugansk while qualifying his statement by saying that if Russia will launch an intervention, Ukraine will introduce martial law. Poroshenko’s statement that “we haven’t got the resources for an offensive today” can be interpreted to mean that either he is planning to get the resources in the future or attempting to appear pragmatic so as to deflect accusations from ultra-nationalists that he betrayed their cause. Poroshenko also said that he would meet the leaders of Russia, Germany and France in Kazakhstan on January 15 (incidentally the same day in which anti-Russian government protests are expected to be held in Moscow and around the world) to discuss a settlement.
Did the Ukrainian President finally realize the futility of bombing civilians in his own country who dared to protest the illegal coup that took place in February 2014 and do not feel represented by Western Ukrainian ultra-nationalists? Is the fact that many in the Ukrainian Army oppose the so-called ‘anti-terrorist operation’ and even deserted, mean that he realized that a full conquest will not be possible, or that he must salvage Ukraine’s economy with Russia’s support before the already-dire economic situation deteriorates further? Did Poroshenko have a change of heart (or mind), possibly despite American full support for the military actions he has been taking against Donetsk and Lugansk and has he decided to do what is in the interest of all citizens of Ukraine? Or is Poroshenko merely trying to win time and launch a new war in Spring 2015?
One may take Poroshenko at his word and to believe that indeed he came to realize that the war was futile and cannot be won. This would only make sense, as this is a rational choice. The people of the Donbass will not be subdued by force and Ukraine’s economy has been in a free fall. However, on the other hand, one should recall that Poroshenko has called for peaceful negotiations in the past and yet after his election, the military operation has continued unabated, despite the many hopes some placed on him. This would mean that Poroshenko may have been forced to continue the war in the past despite his personal objection to it, whether due to US pressure or due to fear of drawing the wrath of the ultra-nationalists and fascists at home. It is likely that Poroshenko never wanted the current war yet the existence of various militias faithful to oligarch Igor Kolomoyskyi means that he is stuck in a delicate and perhaps untenable situation.
Reviewing the facts on the ground may allow us to develop a better understanding of what may come next: In December 2014, the US Congress passed the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, that allows the US for the first time to give arms to the Kiev junta and enable it to intensify its massacre of civilians in East Ukraine. According to a pro-Kiev pundit, the Act allows the US to provide military training to Kiev and grant it anti-tank weapons, ammunition, counter-artillery radars and drones. (In fact, the US has already given Kiev radars recently but this act is an escalation as now ‘offensive’ rather than merely ‘defensive’ equipment will be provided). A total of $350 million in aid can be passed over to Ukraine within the next three years, with $10 million dedicated to spreading the perspective of the United States via Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and $20 million dedicated to ‘democracy promotion’ in Russia. However, according to the same pundit, the granting of a non-NATO ally status to Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, was removed in the last minute, in order to make the law more passable.
It seems unlikely that the current Ukrainian government would like to give up on US aid for war recently made available, and this would mean that the Kiev government is unlikely to stop the war, even if Poroshenko would personally like to, if only due to the pressure coming from fascist ultra-nationalists who were unleashed in Maidan thanks to US support. Poroshenko would have significant trouble stopping the war without securing a surrender of Novorossiya which is impossible at the moment.
Furthermore, Poroshenko very recently visited an arms factory in ultra-nationalist Lviv and told workers there to work around-the-clock in preparation or full mobilization. If he intended to secure peace negotiations soon, or wanted to signal the sincereity of his intentions, he would have not intensified his war efforts. One may argue that Poroshenko may be taking acts reassure the fascist ultra-nationalists, yet this would also mean that in the future, should he come to a resolution with Russia over ending the fighting, he could face a popular rebellion when seeking to deliver the peace. Actions on the ground, when examined, do not leave room for much optimism. 40,000 new people will be drafted to the Ukrainian army in 2015, rendering the number of soldiers in the Ukrainian army to 250,000, according to Ukrainian Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak. The defense minister also said that Ukraine’s military spending will reach $3.2 billion next year. In addition, Secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council Oleksadr Turchynov said that he hopes “to create one of the strongest armies in Europe” and that “our war will end only when the whole territory of Ukraine is freed, including Crimea.” Indeed, both Kiev and the US have recently placed sanctions on residents of the Crimea therefore creating another hurdle in the goal of reaching a peaceful compromise.
The new budget approved in the Ukrainian parliament with Prime Minister Yatsenyuk threatening to resign unless it will pass, plans to allocate 5.2% of the GDP for defense while cutting social programs. Therefore, judging by its actions, it appears that Ukraine is preparing for an all-out war, and has little motivation not to do so when considering the financial incentives provided by US support. Besides the fact that as the economy continues to decline, an impoverished population, manipulated by the government and media, may become more nationalistic, blame its troubles on Russia rather than on mismanagement at home, and resort to a war frenzy in response to its own plight.
It is therefore quite possible that Poroshenko is simply seeking to gain time and work on preparing the country for an all-out war, even though it is clear that people on all sides will suffer as a result. Or at the very least that he will be unable to stop the war drums even if he wishes to.