Sunday, February 8, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Feb 9, 2015

Ukraine crisis Military gains on the ground in eastern Ukraine by the resistance to the Kiev government imposed through a coup against elected president Viktor Yanukovich have given rise to a flurry of diplomatic activity to find a solution to the escalating conflict that has killed 5,000 people so far. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande rushed to Moscow from the Munich security conference called by the western alliance to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in an effort to revive the ceasefire agreed in September in Minsk, Belarus, which unravelled quickly. The two prominent EU leaders hoped this would pave the way for a peaceful resolution of the Ukraine crisis. However, these hopes could not be fulfilled and they returned to Munich, leaving behind staff to continue the discussions in Moscow. Analysts say there seems little incentive for Putin to bite at the peace bait when ethnic Russian forces in eastern Ukraine are making military gains. The west accuses Russia of supporting eastern Ukrainian ‘separatists’ who rebelled against a government imposed by a western-backed coup and which contained within its ranks criminal and fascist elements at whose hands the ethnic Russians fear they will be slaughtered. Russia annexed Crimea after the crisis broke, albeit after a referendum in the peninsula that endorsed its historical traditional Russian character. The crisis has evoked crippling economic sanctions against Russia and now the US is contemplating arming the Kiev government to turn the tide against the eastern Ukrainian forces’ victories on the battlefield. On this last proposal, the US and the EU seem diametrically opposed, Chancellor Merkel having openly questioned at the Munich security conference whether arming Kiev would necessarily bring about a solution or further feed the bloodshed. The differences in approach between Europe and the US reflect the differing interests and considerations of these two poles of the western alliance. The US is distant from central Europe and Russia. The EU countries are in close geographic proximity to Russia, dependent on Russian gas for their energy needs, and sceptical of being dragged along behind Washington’s gung ho campaign for regime change in all countries that do not toe the US’s line, including ambitions to bring down Putin who has resisted the expansion of NATO (in violation of past western assurances) and the EU on Russia’s periphery and vowed to protect ethnic Russians in the ‘near abroad’. While the latest round of diplomacy in Moscow may not have yielded immediate results, the EU leading countries’ decision to keep talking appears wise. Europe cannot be subjected to an expanding and deepening conflict merely to serve the US’s geo-strategic ambitions. Since the Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the west, and the US in particular, have embarked upon a revengeful series of military interventions to overthrow regimes they disliked in Iraq, Libya, and the abortive bid in Syria. This ‘triumphalist’ march of folly has not been confined to the Middle East. Georgia arguably was the first western-backed effort to nibble away at the former states of the Soviet Union on Russia’s periphery that became independent when the USSR imploded. That ended in a Russian counter-intervention that has left Georgia divided between the areas inhabited by ethnic Russians and the rest. Ukraine arguably was a similar gambit when Yanukovich did not yield to western blandishments, preferring his country’s best interests over the bait of being pulled into the western orbit. For that ‘sin’ he was overthrown by force and his successors made little effort to conceal their murderous hatred of all things Russian, including their ethnic Russian countrymen in the east of the country. If the west thought Putin would roll over and expect their thuggery in Kiev to go unchallenged, they have seriously underestimated the new Russia that rose out of the ashes of the Soviet Union under him. The former superpower (much reduced in territorial size and power) has sought and achieved to a considerable extent its previous place in world affairs. This is a positive development given the US-led west’s penchant for throwing its weight around and attempting to bend global affairs to its exclusive advantage and domination. The west has signally failed in its post-Cold War hubris to recognise that the debris of the collapsed Soviet Union left considerable Russian populations in all the former states of that country that gained independence after it was no more. No self-respecting leader or government in Moscow could turn a blind eye to these communities’ safety, security and continued existence in those countries. Moscow has been sending this message to the west consistently that it will not allow the ethnic cleansing of Russians in its ‘near abroad’. If the west has failed to read that message and blundered into an increasingly difficult quagmire in Ukraine, it has no one to blame but its own blinkered vision.

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