Archive for December, 2015

RUSSIAN INTERVIEWS

December 25, 2015

I have browsed a few Russian sites posting interviews from the streets of Moscow about (A) a Ukrainian politician the Muscovites could trust, (B) political allies of Russia, (C) looking back at year 2015; D) reasons for sanctions imposed against Russia. Here are some answers which, in my opinion, are most typical and indicative of the Russians’ mentality in general and their present-day thinking in particular:

A) the Ukrainians need a leader who will make them understand that they are inseparable from the Russians and that both our peoples are Slavs;

 

Out of all Ukrainian politicians I like Yanukovych most of all. The life was quiet under his rule, and there were no problems with crossing the border into and out of Ukraine;

 

I don’t understand the Ukrainians. They are their own worst enemy – shooting themselves in the foot;

 

All their politicians are extortionists;

 

I like Mikhail Saakashvili and what he does in Odessa fighting corruption;

 

B) Our Army and Navy;

 

There are only enemies round us;

 

Cuba, North Korea, China, India;

 

C) Life has become more difficult but we will manage without the French cheese – we’ll be eating our Russian cheese. The main thing is that the people are more up-and-coming;

 

The relationship with Europe has worsened but we are more respected;

 

Life has become harder but the authorities promise things will improve and, hopefully, they will…

 

I hope Putin will stay in power in 2016– let him implement what he has planned, let him do something for us too;

 

We are bombing Syria to have peace. The terrorists will see that things may get even hotter for them if they try to come and take us here…”;

 

D) Sanctions have been imposed (against us) because we are getting ever stronger;

 

We aren’t liked – that’s the reason;

 

Because we are inflexible, but the sanctions are useful: when people undergo pressure they get united;

 

Because we are a “devil-may-care” type and because we love our motherland;

 

Bastards, they want to crush us;

 

Putin has shown that he is strong – that’s why sanctions are imposed;

 

Because Russia does not agree to what all others agree about;

 

Because we live in the 21st century;

 

Because we have destroyed the new world order.

 

I may agree to the answer about the former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, and I partially agree to the statement about the “extortionists” (still, not ALL of the Ukrainian politicians are such). But only the last three answers show some critical thinking on the part of the interviewees (although it might happen that their criticism is only the result of their “chip-on-shoulder” attitude). My impression, however, is that the Russian Vasya Pupkin (the equivalent of “average Joe”, or “plain Jane” in English) is nobody but a bigot zombied by the state TV propaganda. The trouble is that Vasya has a nuclear bomb in his hip pocket.

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DONBAS: A REGION NOBODY WANTS?

December 9, 2015

By Michael Bird, Lina Vdovii, and Yana Tkachenko

Peace in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region comes with high risks, as ongoing negotiations are greeted with scepticism by citizens, analysts, and authorities on both sides of the conflict.

Russian-backed separatists have been in control of large parts of the Donbass region of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts since March 2014.

Currently under negotiation is a settlement which returns the zone to the Ukrainian state in return for an amnesty for rebel leaders, local elections in February and semi-independence for the territories.

But critics argue this legitimises the Russian-backed rebels’ annexation of property and businesses in the conflict zone, further undermining the economically and politically fragile Ukrainian state.

“The Russians will give Ukraine a poisoned chalice,” says Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Atlantic Council. “The idea is to make sure that Ukraine fails. This suits Moscow.”

After 8,050 people died in the Donbass conflict, the separatists and Ukrainian army are slowly withdrawing heavy weapons from the conflict zone, although fighting continues.

Ongoing peace negotiations involve the Minsk Contact Group, including representatives from Ukraine, Russia, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s republics (DPR and LPR).

This works in tandem with the Normandy Format of French, German, Russian, and Ukrainian leaders.

Russia pushing to return Donbas

Russia is pushing to “reinsert” occupied Donbas into Ukraine with huge costs for its redevelopment and a rebel leadership which has taken control of private property, Ukrainian state mines, hundreds of retail outlets and banks, while sanctioning the destruction of factories and other mines and the sale of their assets as scrap metal.

The rebels’ position could be empowered by a win in elections planned for the occupied LPR and DPR on 20 February 2016.

But this deal generates little enthusiasm among those in Ukraine on both sides.

The rebel leader of Luhansk, Igor Plotnitsky, has said in a video: “No one from us wants to return to Ukraine and as I understand it, Ukraine doesn’t want us either.”

But he indicated there is room for compromise. Kyiv would need to grant amnesty to rebels accused of war crimes and a “special status” for the LPR and DPR, which would require a change in the Ukrainian constitution.

Favoured by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, this could legitimise the rebels’ institutions, in exchange for maintaining Ukrainian sovereignty and ending the killing.

The head of the DPR security council, Alexandr Khodakovsky, also supports reintegration, but under terms favourable to the self-proclaimed republics. In September, he told Fontanka.ru he is “not satisfied” with what Kyiv has to offer.

But on the street of Donetsk, most residents are sceptical about the effectiveness of talks between Ukraine, the separatists, Russia, and the OSCE in Minsk.

“I consider all peace negotiations finished when world leaders appear and say: ‘Gentlemen, the war has ended, no one else will shoot!’,” says Oleg, a student. “Because when they start to talk about something in Minsk, the gunfire begins in Donetsk.”

Putin’s political death

Despite the promise of an armistice, many still witness violence as part of daily life.

“It is likely that the withdrawal of arms after some agreements is happening, but there is still shooting every night,” says a manager, Marina, from the Kiev District of Donetsk city.

There is a demand for more practical solutions

“We are tired and want it to finish soon,” says Marina. “It is necessary to prepare for winter, not to engage in conversation. It is not clear whether we have gas, water, or electricity. This is what worries me – not the next negotiations.”

Donetsk governor Pavlo Zhebrivsky (who is pro-Kiev) also has a pessimistic attitude toward the Minsk process.

“A democratically successful Ukraine would mean the death of imperial Russia and Putin’s political death,” he says.

“Putin is not ready to leave Ukraine alone. Without the tightening of sanctions against Russia and without the economic collapse of Russia, to say that peace will come to Ukraine and Donbas means to deceive oneself.”

The governor spoke in his office in Kramatorsk, 70 km from the makeshift border.

“The shelling became more frequent last night – 15 attacks, the night before – 18 attacks,” he said. “The rebels are accumulating forces near the town of Novoazovsk, near Mariupol [a port in Ukraine]. Therefore, peace is very far from here.”

With a deal in place, Russia gifts to Ukraine is to be a collapsed infrastructure, a gangster ruling class, a broken economy, and a traumatised population, almost half of which are scattered across the rest of the country.

Donbass may become the region nobody wants, but Ukraine needs to preserve its territorial integrity. The region is on the road to becoming de jure a Ukrainian province, but de facto a Russian-backed micro-state.

“Pragmatically, in three years Ukraine could easily live without that territory,” says a Donetsk businessman and politician in exile in Kiev, Vitaliy Kropachov.

“But it is ours and nobody can guarantee that once we let it go, other scenarios like this will not take place in other regions. Federalisation cannot even be considered. We are a united country.”

(The address of the article: https://euobserver.com/investigations/131431)


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