Ukraine: Putting Politics back in the Driving Seat

Translation done by G. Babeuf / Traduction par G. Babeuf

This translation is also published by  here


It is now high time that Politics resumes its rights in the Ukrainian crisis. However, this requires in the first instance, that a cease-fire should be speedily arranged between the governments of Kiev and of the insurgents. It is towards this end that all energies should be focussed. Nevertheless, one should note that this is not [currently] the case, and that anti-Russian hysteria is rife in the media. One should recall, then, several points, which appear to have been systematically forgotten in the commentaries one is able to hear or read on the situation in the Ukraine.

  • 1. The Ukrainian government has employed disproportionate force which has led to civilian casualties and untold destruction in the cities held by insurgents. There has been much indiscriminate bombing. Here the suspicion may be formulated that the military chiefs of the Kiev forces have deliberately to punish the population and have sought to carry out an ethnic cleansing in order to provoke an exodus of the Russophone population. All this goes as far as constituting “war crimes”. It is striking that, until a very recent period (in fact, until Saturday, 23rd August), there had been no reports on the subject on the “major” television stations. The French press, usually—to its honour—so readily moved, was for very long and very strangely silent on eastern Ukraine. Was this because the victims were “ethnically” Russian, as they say? To believe that Russia, whether it is a question of the Russian State or of the Russian population, could ignore the plight of this population is a profound illusion, a profound mistake. Indeed, to think that Russia could have taken an attitude of strict neutrality in relation to these events had no basis. Russia took, until these last days, a position of non-belligerence. The presence of Russian volunteers, comprising approximately three thousand of the insurgents’ forces, pays witness to the deep feeling of sympathy that the plight of the eastern Ukrainian population has aroused.
  • 2. The presence of Russian troops is alleged by NATO, and, of course, by the Kiev government. The Russian government denies these accusations. NATO estimates, for the moment, the number of Russian troops to be around a thousand. Note that, even if NATO is right on this point, this number of troops is completely inadequate to explain the military collapse suffered by Kiev’s forces in these past days. It is estimated that the number of soldiers (of the Ukrainian Army and of the National Guard) engaged in operations against the insurgents is some fifty thousand. Meanwhile, they face a force of around fifteen thousand. If the presence of those Russian troops were confirmed, they could only have performed a local and marginal role in the fighting that took place in these last days. Their presence cannot therefore explain the numerous defeats suffered by the Kiev forces. From this perspective, it is significant that the United States’ State Department talks of “an incursion” and not,  as many journalists do, of “an invasion”. This means that the problem is political and not military. It is clear that, if it is proven, this presence of Russian troops is not acceptable, and that Russia must withdraw its troops as soon as possible. Russia must, if this is the case, return to a position of non-belligerency, and the countries of the European Union and the United States should guard against falling into the trap set by Kiev, which, evidently, is seeking to internationalise the conflict.
  • 3. Words have a meaning. In routinely employing the word “invasion”, certain French journalists are making a twofold mistake. On the one hand, they reactivate the image in our collective memory of the invasions suffered by our countries a number of times in history. When invasion is talked about, one thinks of hundreds of thousands of men breaching the frontiers. Now, it can be seen that this is absolutely not the case in Ukraine. On the other hand, in doing this, they take sides with the Kiev government. This also raises the problem of pluralism of opinion in different press organisations, whether of the written press or the audio-visual press.
  • 4. These same journalists claim that “Russian” equipment is in the hands of the insurgents, which “proves” the involvement of Russia to the benefit of the latter. Here, it should be known that the insurgents have captured in these last months significant amounts of equipment and materiel from the Kiev forces. The insurgents have reported more than two hundred units of armour (tanks, but also Infantry Fighting Vehicles and self-propelled artillery) captured in combat.[1]

The Urgency of a Cease-Fire

I have already said it on many occasions, a cease-fire is necessary and one must find political solutions to avoid crisis escalation. The Kiev government must agree to negotiate and accept the insurgents as interlocutors, which amounts, in fact, to accepting their legitimacy. As long as it will refuse to do this, the situation can only further deteriorate, not only on the ground, but also politically. Kiev’s troops have, in some places at the front, disbanded, abandoning their equipment and ordnance. Others are, today, encircled. The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, has anyway asked of the insurgents that a humanitarian corridor be opened for them so that those troops can be evacuated via Russia. The dramatic nature of the situation can easily be seen. At the same time, the Kiev forces continue to bombard civilian populations. One can therefore see well that henceforth it is imperative that an end to combat is sought. However, if a cease-fire can be established in the coming days, which is currently by no means given, it must be guaranteed for the long-term. This implies, ultimately, the interposition of troops [a ‘separation force’], under a United Nations mandate, to stabilise the situation on the ground, and to avert new provocations by either side which might be used as a pretext for a resumption of the shooting war. These troops, though, cannot in all likelihood be from European Union states, or from NATO or Russia. EU and NATO troops would be unacceptable to the insurgents, and equally Russian troops for Kiev. We must therefore resort to the emerging nations; to Brazil, to India, even to China. Here the weight of symbolism should be gauged: “Blue helmets” coming from emerging countries to ensure the task of separating warring sides [what is called “interposition” forces] in Europe will furnish the most striking indication of the failure of the European Union and of its inability, contrary to its claims, to guarantee peace. This will also be a demonstration of the reality of the multipolar world of the 21st century.

Which Political Solution?

A cease-fire is not an end in itself, even if an end to combat is today urgent. It must allow the emergence of a political solution to the crisis. Now, since the end of February, the magnitude of the tragic mistakes made either by the leaders of Kiev or of the European Union can be measured. In rejecting, in the first days of March, guarantees of the linguistic and cultural rights of the population of eastern Ukraine, the former made the uprising inevitable. In refusing the hypothesis of an extended federalism; in entering into hostilities with the purported “Anti-Terrorist Operation”, they provoked a rift , perhaps permanent, with the insurgents. As for the EU states, they took a long time before they told the Ukrainian government that there was no question of them joining the EU. They thereby encouraged dangerous illusions amongst leaders in Kiev. They also refused to exert decisive pressure on this government [on Kiev] to accept, while there was still time (in April and May, 2014), an extended federalism on the model of the Canadian asymmetric federalism, from which Quebec benefits. In this regard, these leaders have their share of responsibility for the Ukrainian crisis. Finally, the third and decisive error, was to take Washington’s declarations on responsibility in the drama of the Malaysian Airlines aeroplane (MH17) as granted. The more so when one could have had very serious doubts about Washington’s theory, they contributed to convincing Russia of a thoroughgoing bad faith in the EU concerning the Ukrainian case.

Today, while it is clear that neither the United States, nor NATO, nor the EU will militarily rescue Kiev, the available options for negotiation are actually smaller. They are reduced to two scenarios: a recognition of the rebel authorities and of the autonomy of Novorossiya within the framework of the Ukrainian nation [state] (on the model of the autonomous province of Kurdistan in today’s Iraq), or a de facto independence of the entity named Novorossiya, but which would not be recognised by the international community. We would have, then, a new “frozen conflict” in Europe, and the latter would entail long-term tensions with Russia. This would accelerate the latter’s tilting towards Asia, with important commercial consequences for the EU states.

I have written and said on numerous occasions: I remain convinced that the best solution is a broad autonomy within the Ukrainian national framework. This solution allows important economic relations to exist. Now, without the coal of the Donbass, with a frozen conflict, the economic prospects for Ukraine are catastrophic. The European Union will not have the means to pick up the pieces of the country. The insurgents must also, on their part, accept the fact of being nominally part of the Ukraine, just as the government of Kurdistan has accepted its nominal subordination to the Iraqi government. Social and human reasons militate strongly in favour of such a solution. Since the EU has failed in the management of the Ukrainian dossier [case], as in many others, France would do well and would derive profit (because it is not forbidden to associate the useful with the honourable) from adopting a position quickly and unequivocally in favour of such an option. This not being done, it can be anticipated that, step by step, the option of de facto independence for Novorossiya will assert itself, with all the disastrous consequences that one can perceive for Europe.

[1]   From 16th to 23rd August, the insurgents captured 14 T-64s (tanks), 25 IFVs (Infantry Fighting Vehicles), 18 APCs (Armoured Personnel Carriers), 1 ARV (Armoured Reconnaissance Vehicle), 1 Uragan rocket-launcher, 2 Gvozdika self-propelled howitzers, 4 D-30 howitzers, 4 82mm mortars, 1 ZU 23-2 AA gun carriages, 33 cars.

From 23th June to 23rd August captured (on top of materiel destroyed) from Kiev forces: 79 T-64s (tanks), 94 IFVs (primarily BMP-2s and BMP-3s), 57 APCs (primarily 8-wheeled  BTR-70s and -80s), 3 armoured engineer vehicles, 24 (122mm) Grad BM-21 MLRS, 3 Uragan rocket-launchers, 2 Tulip 2C4 self-propelled artillery pieces, 6 Nona 2C9 self-propelled howitzers, 27 Gvozdika 2C1 self-propelled howitzers, 14 D-30 howitzers, 36 82mm mortars, 19 ZU 23-2 23mm AA gun double carriages, 157 cars and trucks.

Furthermore, at the start of the insurrection, the insurgents seized police armouries, where equipment—generally old—had been stored. In total, then these are significant amounts which can equip forces the size of the insurgents’ (around 15,000 men). This is Soviet equipment, produced in the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s. The various images that are available show this equipment, and even equipment which is much older. Nothing gives credence to the idea that Russia has delivered weapons to the insurgents. Now, it should also be said that occasional deliveries of weapons, whether these were decided by the government or whether they took place illegally, are perfectly possible. However, for now, the equipment which is used by the insurgents appears to have been seized form the Kiev forces.

Jacques Sapir

Ses travaux de chercheur se sont orientés dans trois dimensions, l’étude de l’économie russe et de la transition, l’analyse des crises financières et des recherches théoriques sur les institutions économiques et les interactions entre les comportements individuels. Il a poursuivi ses recherches à partir de 2000 sur les interactions entre les régimes de change, la structuration des systèmes financiers et les instabilités macroéconomiques. Depuis 2007 il s'est impliqué dans l’analyse de la crise financière actuelle, et en particulier dans la crise de la zone Euro.