THE eight-year war in Ukraine took a dramatic turn yesterday when Russian troops officially rolled into the country on the side of the separatist rebels in Eastern Ukraine. It was also to insist on its position that Ukraine’s decision to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, NATO, threatens Russia’s security.
Ukraine which since 2014 had declared itself at war with Russia, had on November 25, 2018 sent two gunboats, the Nikopol and the Berdyansk, and a tug boat, the Yani Kapu, into the Kerch Strait in the Crimea to confront the Russian Navy units. However, none of the previous confrontations compares with this week’s military conflicts which Russia claims is a limited military operation to “demilitarise and de-Nazify Ukraine” but which the latter says is an outright invasion.
Months of claims by NATO of an impending Russian invasion had been capped this month by the United States deciding to send troops to Romania and Poland. However, events took a dramatic turn on Monday, February 21, 2022 when Russian President, Vladimir Putin, called an exraordinary meeting of the country’s security council.
Three things struck me about this meeting. The first was that its deliberations were public. Second, a conclusion that Russia had been pushed to the wall with the infliction of renewed Western sanctions and non-respect of Russian position on the Eastward expansion of NATO.
The third was a complaint about the non-implementation of previous agreements, including the Minsk I &II Protocols designed to end the war in Ukraine. The meeting, therefore, decided to recognise the two breakaway Ukrainian Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.
The next day, the Russian parliament, the Duma, voted to give Putin permission to use military force outside the country. On Wednesday, Donetsk and Luhansk formally requested that Russian troops be sent into their separatist republics.
Next morning, Russian troops began pouring, not just into the East, but also other parts of Ukraine. Putin’s announced intention is the protection of the civilian populations in the Eastern Region and regime change while the Ukrainian government said it is an attempt to occupy the country.
American President Joe Biden claimed the Russian attack is “unprovoked”. What is his deploying American troops to the region, especially Poland, if not provocation? The United States would not have allowed Chinese troops pouring into Mexico or Russia setting up missiles in Cuba; so how does it expect Russia to lie back as it is being surrounded by hostile NATO troops?
There are various declarations such as the European Union threatening to impose the “harshest sanctions ever” on Russia. But it is easier for those countries to issue threats from the safety of their countries while the Ukrainians do the dying and witness their country and economy being destroyed by avoidable wars.
A major casualty in the war would be the truth as all sides rev up their propaganda. Within hours of the attacks, the Ukrainian government announced it had destroyed five Russian war planes and an helicopter. On the other hand, the Russians who denied the Ukranian claims, announced they had neutralised the Ukranian defence system. Eventually, the truth would lie in the rubbles of the war.
The wars in Ukraine have their origins in a country polarised between a war-mongering EU/NATO and an edgy Russian bear. The immediate trigger was the 2014 coup against elected President Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Russian politician from Eastern Ukraine who, back in 2004, had been denied the Presidency after winning a runoff.
This time, he was overthrown in a violent coup because his government preferred to sign a trade agreement with Russia rather than with the EU. For the East Ukrainians who had put their fate in free and fair elections, this second coup against a political leader from their side seemed too much a price to pay and they made a battle cry: ‘To your tents Oh Israel!’
It is that civil war that has now festered into a full scale international war with the Russians backing the rebels and NATO propping up the government in Kiev.
In my November 30, 2018 analysis of the Ukrainian War titled ‘Ukraine’s Farcical Drama’, I had written that: “The disputes in Ukraine are likely to go on for a long time, but I think the country shot itself in the foot by using the populace of one part of the country to overthrow the legitimately elected government led by politicians from another part of the country.”
I had argued that the military option adopted by Kiev would not lead to peace and that if Ukraine were to witness peace and reunite “it may need to consider the restoration of the Yanukovych administration as part of national reconciliation; if this seems far-fetched, so does the reunification of the country.”
Fortunately, in May 2019, Ukraine was able to replace the infantile, warmongering President Petro Poroshenko with a more sensible President Volodymyr Zelensky who in the April 21 rerun trounced the incumbent by taking 73.22 per cent of the votes, with Poroshenko clinching 24.45 per cent.
Although a comedian by profession, Zelensky was dead serious about bringing peace. But apparently, the warmongers have had the upper hand and war has not only continued, but escalated. There are lots of propaganda around the conflicts in Ukraine.
But the war on ground would neither be lost nor won on propaganda but by reworking the failed diplomacy that has led to today’s events. It might be fashionable or profitable to blame Russia, but what do you do with the so-called international community that has pretended for eight years that those dying in Eastern Ukraine never existed?
I am not sure anybody knows what the outcome of these unnecessary conflicts will be. The solution I see is: first, a de-escalation of the conflict, a ceasefire by all sides, including in Eastern Ukraine and a negotiated settlement.
A resuscitation of the Minsk Agreements is a good place to begin. The United Nations, UN, should concentrate on these rather than hold endless meetings seeking to blame one side or the other. The UN Security Council should be put to better use rather than turn it into a debating club where accusations and counter-accusations fly.
The contending forces in Europe and America are far too gone in their politics of self-justification and blame to be useful in the process. Germany that had hitherto played a more reconciliatory role has now been sucked into the fray.
Perhaps other parts of the world, especially the underdeveloped world, might be more useful. Fortunately, Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan, is in Moscow; can he begin to lay the foundations for a peaceful resolution? At this time, we miss a leader like Nelson Mandela.
- Owei Lakemfa is a veteran journalist, labour leader and social activist.