UPDATE: So far no good…*HEAVY ARTILLERY BLASTS HEARD IN UKRAINE’S MARIUPOL: RIA
While we had grown weary of trashed truces and snapped cease-fires in Israel, it appears, according to Interfax, that Ukraine and the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine (having gained notably over the army in recent days) have agreed a cease-fire:
Great news, especially for Merkel (and Hollande) who has already come out and noted that the cease-fire means EU could suspend sanctions (saving face and avoiding some further escalation). The question is – how much of Putin’s 7-point-peace-plan will Ukraine acquiesce to? If any?
As WaPo notes,
Poroshenko did not specifically address the “Putin plan,” as it was dubbed by the Kremlin, but he said that the time had come to end the conflict.
“The first task is peace,” Poroshenko said in a statement. “Today at 5 a.m. I spoke to President Putin about how we can stop this horrible process. There is no denying that people must stop dying.”
As The BBC reports,
“Ukrainian President says preliminary protocol to a ceasefire agreement has been signed in Minsk. Hope that ceasefire might start later”
As DPA adds,
Ukrainian government representatives and leaders of the pro-Russian separatists in the country’s east sign a bilateral ceasefire agreement that goes into force later Friday, the Interfax news agency reports exclusively.
The 14-point agreement also regulates the monitoring of the ceasefire and prisoner exchanges. It was signed after almost two hours of talks in the Belarusian capital Minsk.
The self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic has confirmed the ceasefire agreement on its official Twitter account.
European leaders are happy (for now)
But as Bloomberg’s Leonid Bershidsky notes,
“All these sanctions were like poultices for a dead man,” a distraught Yatsenyuk said today. “They did not help.” He called for the West to freeze Russia’s assets and financial transactions to force it to withdraw. The West, however, is unlikely to go that far. The sanctions have already contributed to economic contraction in Germany, and Europe cannot afford much more pain. Military aid is not an option: There is no country in the world where voters would back a war with Russia.
The Western world will probably wiggle out of its moral dilemma by blaming Poroshenko for being deaf to Russia’s legitimate concerns about preserving Ukraine’s status as a buffer state. No matter how unfair that sounds, Ukraine is now faced with the necessity of making concessions to Putin. It will take some time to sink in, but help of the kind Kiev really needs is probably not coming. Unless Poroshenko finds it in himself to bargain, eastern Ukraine may well end up a Russian-controlled no man’s land like Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria. There is no face-saving solution for anyone anymore.
* * *
My international negotiations in Brussels and Minsk demonstrated a powerful request for peaceful political-diplomatic settlement of the conflict in the Donbas. The same mood dominated during my meetings with global leaders at the NATO Summit in Wales.
The entire world strives for peace, the entire Ukraine strives for peace, including millions of Donbas residents.
The highest value is human life. We must do everything possible and impossible to terminate bloodshed and put an end to people’s suffering.
Taking into account the call for ceasefire of President of Russia Vladimir Putin addressed to the heads of illegal armed groups of the Donbas and the signature of the protocol at the meeting of Trilateral contact group on the implementation of the Peace plan of the President of Ukraine, I order the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine to cease fire starting from 18:00, September 5.
I also instruct the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine to ensure jointly with the OSCE an efficient international control over the compliance with the ceasefire regime which must be exclusively bilateral.
I hope that these agreements, including ceasefire and liberation of hostages, will be strictly observed.
* * *
Extend the process with no further sanctions until the winter, then Russia is in charge and holds all the leverage… perhaps that’s why the market is not exuberantly rallying on this apparent de-escalation.
“The West is afraid of a major war and Putin is exploiting that,” says one former Kremlin adviser, adding that “his end goal is a Ukraine that is a buffer state between Russia and the West.” After the recent rebel offensive, it’s now militarily possible to gain full control of Donetsk and Luhansk and to create a ‘land bridge’ to Crimea, and “without help, Russian troops can roll ever-deeper into Ukraine.” As Bloomberg reports, Vladimir Putin will continue his shadow war until he’s created quasi statelets in Ukraine’s easternmost regions with veto power over the country’s future, five current and former Russian officials and advisers said.
As Bloomberg summarizes, Putin’s strategy appears to be…
[He] won’t settle for less than broad autonomy for Ukraine’s mainly Russian-speaking regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, including the right to reject key decisions at the national level such as joining NATO, according to the people.
Putin is willing to wait until November, after Ukraine elects a new parliament and the heating season starts, to ensure his goals are met, in part by extending a natural gas cutoff to force a compromise if needed, one official said on condition of anonymity after speaking with Putin last week.
“Putin’s goal is to force Ukraine to its knees,” said Stanislav Belkovsky, a Kremlin adviser during Putin’s first term who heads the Institute for National Strategy in Moscow. “He wants a federal structure to put part of the country under Moscow’s informal control and block NATO membership.”
Last week, Putin warned against any “aggression” toward Russia, noting the country remains “one of the world’s biggest nuclear powers.”
“The West is afraid of a major war and Putin is exploiting that,” said Belkovsky, the former Kremlin adviser. “The point is to frighten the West and Ukraine into thinking he’ll take Kiev and change the map of Europe unless he gets what he wants. He’s bluffing.”
Bluff or not, Putin’s strategy is clearly working, according to Dmitri Trenin, head of the Carnegie Moscow Center.
“A cease-fire is an important victory for Russia,” Trenin said by phone. “If it actually goes through, Russia will be bargaining from a position of strength. Putin’s strategy is evolving. His end goal is a Ukraine that is a buffer state between Russia and the West.”
However, both the U.S. and the EU have ruled out military intervention in the current conflict.
That and the failure of sanctions to influence Russian behavior has given Putin a “free hand,” according to Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, a New York-based political risk research and consulting firm.
“For Putin, you have to feel that you’re not going to be challenged seriously,” Bremmer said in an interview with Bloomberg Television on Aug. 28.
Because of that, Ukraine’s only way out is to admit defeat, said Arbatov, the former deputy chairman of the Russian parliament’s Defense Committee.
“The longer Ukraine waits, the more territory it will lose and the harsher demands it will face,” Arbatov said.
* * *
So that’s all very ominous for the West. However, there is a different side of this coin…
From Grandmaster to Grand Farce (via Gavekal’s James Barnes)
At first glance, Vladimir Putin’s strongman status was confirmed by the release of a seven point peace plan yesterday that reputedly had him call for Ukrainian troops to withdraw from areas of their own country. Such a demand followed Putin’s demand over the weekend that Kiev begin independence talks for southeastern Ukraine. These are the new realities that NATO leaders must chew over during a summit that starts today and is being billed as the most significant in 25 years. However, we would demur at the notion of a new leviathan in the Kremlin. In reality, Putin’s hugely risky escalation in eastern Ukraine was driven by a realization that his proxies had failed and Russian prestige was set for a battering.
Flushed with the glow of easy success in Crimea, Putin openly backed separatist rebels who were both militarily incompetent and enjoyed scant sympathy among most of eastern Ukraine’s population. His biggest mistake was concluding that Ukraine would cease to operate as a unitary state and so lack the will to fight. All this explains why the separatist rebels were on the brink of defeat ten days ago, resulting in a hastily arranged Russian invasion. Having cast himself as defender of the greater Russian Volk, defeat in Ukraine would have fatally weakened Putin’s credibility.
Putin may have staved off an immediate defeat, but the stakes have undoubtedly been hugely raised. As we see it there are three broad scenarios that could play out in the next few months:
Scenario #1: Moscow and Kiev reach a comprehensive peace agreement that provides autonomy for eastern Ukraine and protection for Russian speaking citizens, while at the same time allowing the country to pursue a closer economic relationship with the European Union. Membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would be explicitly ruled out.
Scenario #2: The status quo holds and Russian soldiers advance no further. A frozen conflict develops akin to the situation in South Ossetia or Transnistria. Small scale fighting aimed at consolidating Russian gains may flare up, but this does not escalate into a larger conflict.
Scenario #3: A full invasion of Ukraine by Russia with the army operating openly to establish, at a minimum, an independent buffer region.
For the moment, Scenario #1 seems highly unlikely. Both sides would need to make major concessions and with Ukrainian parliamentary elections being held on October 26, President Petro Poroshenko will face intense pressure not to give an inch to the separatists. It is also unlikely that Putin would countenance deeper economic integration with Europe as this would frustrate his Eurasian Customs Union.
Scenario #3 also seems unlikely, for despite bellicose talk of taking Kiev in two weeks a full scale Russian invasion would be ruinously costly in blood and treasure. Despite Moscow’s claim that international sanctions will be ineffective in swaying domestic opinion, it should be remembered that Putin’s popularity has been built on rising living standards and sound economic management which followed the chaotic Yeltsin years. For all the talk of becoming a “war time” president, we doubt that Putin will abandon the promise of a Russian dream of rising middle class prosperity.
The most likely outcome is an inconclusive Scenario #2 with the emergence of an unstable buffer region in eastern Ukraine, blighted by low intensity conflict. To be sure, this is a more difficult conflict to contain than others in the Caucasus since Kiev has more capability to project force and the frontline is not contiguous or divided neatly by terrain features. However, the deterrent effect of huge costs for both sides in the event of a full-scale conflict should be enough to avoid Armageddon.
Longer term, the situation looks worse for Putin. Russia may have already lost the Ukrainian people; as recently as 2011 84% of the population held a favorable view of Russia with only 11% holding a negative one. As of a few months ago, 60% of Ukrainians viewed Russia badly with only 35% having a positive view. Considering that Ukraine is the birthplace of Russian civilization, Putin looks to have lost the PR war.
Russia may also face a resurgent NATO. Already NATO has said it will open bases in former Warsaw pact countries. A greater risk is that Russia’s actions in Ukraine finally shakes Europe out of its defense lethargy and induces rearmament. Despite the eurozone’s malaise, this may trigger realization that liberal states cannot rely on the US defense shield forever.
Most damagingly for Russia, its ‘special’ relationship with Germany may have ended. Since the Berlin Wall fell the integration of Russia into western economic, political and social norms has been a cornerstone of German politics. Now, however, Berlin is taking the tougher line over Ukraine, even while other European states vacillate over the economic fallout. Angela Merkel seems to have decided that a long-term stand on values is more important than short-term economic pain caused by sanctions. The German-Russian relationship seems to have ruptured and the impact on Russia’s economic modernization will be high.
* * *
In the meantime, US and Europe are agreeing on more sanctions for Russia
So more costs for Europe…
Some of Russia’s diplomats have joined a digital diplomacy row as they trolled NATO by “leaking” on Twitter the alliance’s “most convincing evidence” of Russian troops’ alleged presence in Ukraine.
The Twitter account @RussEmbassyUAE, which is the official Twitter of the Russian Embassy in the United Arab Emirates, posted a picture of tiny toy trucks, tanks and armored vehicles all lined up on the ground, with the words: “#NATO’s latest evidence of #Russian armor invading #Ukraine has been leaked! Seems to be the most convincing ever!”
Users on the social media network seem to have liked the “toy tweet” – the picture was retweeted over 1,000 times and nearly 500 people added it to their “favorites.”
This is evidently a response to NATO’s release of satellite images described as a “proof” of Russia’s military involvement in Ukraine.
The images were ridiculed by Russia’s Defense Ministry, while an alliance of seven former US intelligence officers – the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) – said it was on a par with the“same dubious, politically ‘fixed’ kind used 12 years ago to ‘justify’ the US-led attack on Iraq.”
A digital “war” of maps and pictures first started on Twitter between Canada and Russia on August 27, when @Canada at NATO tweeted a map showing two bordering states – one part was labeled “Russia” while another, Ukraine, was labeled as “not Russia.”
After two solid days of ‘discussions’ at a gold course in Wales, President Obama is ready to make some new comments this morning. With a cease-fire agreed in Ukraine, and no ISIS beheadings yet today, we wonder where his ire will be pointed (or perhaps it’s back to the Republicans’ fault we had such a weak jobs print?)…
President Obama is due to speak at 1130ET… tune in accordingly
Heavy fighting precedes reported truce between Ukraine, separatists
The agreement was reached in talks between his government, Russian officials, pro-Russia separatists and European mediators in the Belarus capital of Minsk. Heavy fighting in the southern city of Mariupol preceded the announced deadline for the cease-fire to take effect.
“Human life has the highest value and we must do everything possible and impossible to stop the bloodshed and put an end to human suffering,” Poroshenko said in a statement posted on the official presidential website.
Poroshenko said that he had ordered Ukrainian troops to cease fire at 6 p.m. following an appeal from Russia President Vladimir Putin for leaders of the rebellion in eastern Ukraine to do the same.
The Ukrainian leader told reporters in Wales, where he was attending a NATO summit, that the agreement included “12 practical steps for establishing peace and stability,” but he did not lay out what those measures would be.
“Now it is very important that this cease-fire lasts long and during this cease-fire we continue the political dialogue that can bring the peace and stability on Donbass,” said Poroshenko, referring to the region of eastern Ukraine where the fighting has been intense.
A spokesperson for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which helped negotiate the truce, was reached by the Los Angeles Times by phone but also would not confirm details of the deal.
The Associated Press reported that Alexander Zakharchenko, the rebel leader from the Donetsk region, said the cease-fire would “allow us to save not only civilians’ lives, but also the lives of the people who took up arms in order to defend their land and ideals.”
But Igor Plotnitsky, the insurgent leader for the Luhansk region, told reporters that “this doesn’t mean that our course for secession is over” — a statement reflecting the deep divisions that threaten to derail peace efforts.
The conflict broke early this year when three months of protests drove pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich from office and Russia subsequently seized Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. Separatists in the east, which has a large population of Russian-speaking citizens, then launched a rebellion against the new Ukrainian government, seeking independence or ties to Russia.
Moscow has denied lending support to the separatists, though Russian mercenaries were long reported among their ranks and, more recently, NATO said columns of Russian troops had crossed the border into southern Ukraine to back up the separatist fighters.
The cease-fire announcement came on a day of heavy fighting near Mariupol, a city on the Sea of Azov that, if it fell, could help Russia gain a land bridge to Crimea. Overnight and early in the morning, Russian troops bombarded Ukrainian positions with artillery and missile fire. In the early afternoon, Ukrainian tank units supported by the infantry pushed back the attackers, a Ukrainian militia commander said.
“Both sides are interested in the cease-fire so they can regroup, exchange prisoners and even up the front line to avoid surprise moves from adversaries,” said Andrei Beletsky, commander of the militia’s Azov Battalion, whose troops took part in the offensive. “But the truce will not last long as their separatist demands are unacceptable and the only way to resolve the knot will be to cut it once again by sheer military force.
“We are ready for this kind of fight as we have proved today that we can not only efficiently defend our land but also launch an offensive on the seemingly superior foreign armed foreign force,” he said.
The fighting near Mariupol stopped as the 6 p.m. deadline arrived.
Ukraine crisis: Nato agrees major troop deployment to guard against Russian aggression
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