Saturday, January 3, 2015

Is Donbass Ukraine and Is It a "Deal"? Or No Deal? (Washington Feeds the Press with Leaks from the Inside)

Mark Galeotti published an article in Business Insider that casts some light on the behind-the-scenes diplomacy and the current status of talks over Ukraine by the US and Russia. The habitual impulse of the Putinists is to quickly dismiss such information without further looking into it. A better advised and more prudent course of action is to look more closely into what Galeotti has to say first and then to make a judgment--instead of having a judgement no matter what the case is. So let's proceed.

1. First, Galeotti's sources and credibility. Right at the start, he says: "Efforts to secure some kind of peace deal between Moscow and Kiev —and not just a temporary ceasefire that preserves a frozen conflict —continue. The latest suggestions are that Washington is coming up with peace proposals, as explored in this story from Bloomberg by Josh Rogin. While not officially confirmed, its details chime with what I have been hearing from people in and close to policy circles."

2. Second, Galeotti reports that some deal that was in the works for months might be becoming a done deal AND what this deal could be (on this see further below)--has been claimed and supported by other reports and semi-official leaks. The US and Kiev position has never been much in doubt and it has been repeatedly and quite clearly stated. Russia's position changed notably soon after Putin's March 4 interview and the reunification with Crimea in mid March.

Since then, however, Russia's official position has actually been quite steady, as Lavrov himself recently asserted. But after the months of evasive ambiguities, since August, Putin, Lavrov, and Medvedev started making it clear that Russia's policy is "Crimea is ours, and Donbass is Ukraine."  On the face of this, it is thus possible to say that what Galeotti says (i.e. about the deal) does accord with the words and statements made by the Kremlin. The one thing that does not accord with this and which can still make all the difference (if the Kremlin does not reconsider its rhetoric) are Russia's deeds on the ground, which have not only contradicted Moscow's statements, but they themselves have also been contradictory and in no way well coordinated or one-linear.

3. Nevertheless, based on his inside sources in Washington, Galeotti believes that a deal is at last very close, that the deal is Russia's defeat and that, since the US can achieve as much, the deal might be still too "dangerously" light and too little a defeat of Russia. Galeotti, in fact, also calls the deal "immoral" and "muddle-headed" (written on top of it in bold characters).

Galeotti and apparently also others in the administration) believe that, once the deal is all but done, the US can and should press for more ... with one important caveat--of not making it too much humiliating for Putin, that is, with some "face-saving" device, which, according to Galeotti, should largely depend on the "Moscow-controlled" media anyway and on a very thin definition of "humiliation" and "saving [someone else'] face" on the part of Washington, who does not really care much about Putin, in the first place: "This [deal] represents a defeat [for Putin], but for practical reasons it would be essential that the West and Kiev alike not crow over that. Putin needs some face-saving assistance if any deal is to be palatable ... this would give Putin the opportunity to claim 'mission accomplished' to his domestic audience, and the pliant Russian broadcast media would duly follow this line. Of course, this would be a thin fiction, and in the eyes of the world, Moscow would have been forced to retreat and to pay a price for its seizure of Crimea."

That is to say, Washington would have a hard time to pretend to care about saving Putin's or Moscow's face, if the opposite were not the truth, in fact.

And, like some other reporters with an inside track before him, Galeotti also thinks that Russia also ought to pay "reparations" to Kiev, however, thinly disguised these are to be. He does use the word "reparations" explicitly: "So the answer may be that instead of expecting a Kremlin already dealing with an economic crisis to hand over any cash, that suitable reparations be offset against Ukraine’s future energy bills, allowing Kiev to focus its efforts on reconstruction."

4. So what is the supposed deal? Galeotti explains the deal as follows: "The essence is that in return 'for a partial release of some of the most onerous economic sanctions' Russia would have to adhere to September’s Minsk agreement and cease direct military support for the rebels, while the “issue of Crimea would be set aside for the time being, and some of the initial sanctions that were put in place after Crimea’s annexation would be kept in place.”

Russia’s seizure of Crimea would be considered a done deal and taken out of the equation in return for only minor and personal (ie, not systemic) sanctions — while Russia and Ukraine would in effect be considered to have positions of equal moral weight in the negotiations over eastern Ukraine. ... [But the deal on] Crimea [is only] de facto status [and only for the moment], and this is important, never de jure ..."

5. In the light of this, let's neither try to accept all what Galeotti says on its face value, but let's rather instead suggest certain possibilities:

i. negotiations on some deal have certainly been taking place
ii. some of the key elements--Crimea on one side and the rest on the other side--look realistic and very likely.
iii. the deal is either about to be finalized or has been finalized; the main agreement could have, in fact, preceded the first Minsk Agreements together with some arrangements, concessions, and adjustments for "face-saving" clauses and measures.
iv. the deal was within a reach (or so it seemed), but it fell apart and, by making all this information public, the US might be trying to get at least a partial victory by presenting Russia as turning its back on the Russians in Donbass and Ukraine and being willing to push them back into the anti-Russian Nazi state.
v. or the deal was never a realistic option, but the US is good at presenting Russia's conciliatory moves, appeasement, and concessions as bad as possible for Russia with a view of preparing the best possible conditions for a Russian Maidan and regime change in Moscow.
vi. or much of this or some of this, at least, is true, but Moscow has either decided to change its course or is just about to do it.
vii. if Galeotti's information is, in its core, correct, then it also means that, for the US, the only "deal" possible with Russia is Russia's defeat and that this is for the US non-negotiable. What might be negotiable--though only for the appearances' sake--is the limited and contingent scope of "let's not making it that humiliating"--for what the US does desire is victory and humiliation, which would double (at least) the victory as well. Galeotti tries to suggest that if humiliation cannot be had (right away), then victory pragmatically ought to suffice. But he does with this line a very poor job. Not only he barely tries to make it convincing, his whole article is trying to debase and humiliate--either with or without a deal.
viii. or if the deal was or is about to be signed, Washington tries to derail it with reports like this at the very last moment.
ix. by signing the Minsk Deal, Moscow did sign away its strategic initiative for now--together with the offensive and initiative so hard won by Novorossiya.

PS: I do hope that the removal of Strelkov and the murder of Alexander Bednov and his comrades were not some of the down-payments on the deal.

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