The hostilities in south and eastern Ukraine resume; where could they lead?

Roundtable of the G7 Summit, on 7 June 2015, in Schloss Elmau, Germany. From left to right, François Hollande, French President, David Cameron, British Prime Minister, Angela Merkel, German Chancellor,  Matteo Rentzi, Italian Prime Minister, Jean Claude Juncker, EU Commission President, Barack Obama, President of US, Donald Tusk, European Council President, Shinzō Abe, Japanese Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada. (European Council – Council of the European Union Audiovisual Library, Snapshot from a video footage, Shoot date: 07/06/2015, Location: Schloss Elmau, Germany 7.6.2015).

Roundtable of the G7 Summit, on 7 June 2015, in Schloss Elmau, Germany. From left to right, François Hollande, French President, David Cameron, British Prime Minister, Angela Merkel, German Chancellor, Matteo Rentzi, Italian Prime Minister, Jean Claude Juncker, EU Commission President, Barack Obama, President of US, Donald Tusk, European Council President, Shinzō Abe, Japanese Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada. (European Council – Council of the European Union Audiovisual Library, Snapshot from a video footage, Shoot date: 07/06/2015, Location: Schloss Elmau, Germany 7.6.2015).

The resumption of hostilities in south-eastern Ukraine is blamed by the West to the Russian President Vladimir Putin. Moscow reportedly wants to help the pro-Russian separatists who prevail in the Luhansk and Donetsk region to gain control of Mariupol a key port in this area on the Black Sea. However, the heavy fighting that took place last week was in Maryinka and Krasnohorivka, west of rebel-held Donetsk and far away from Mariupol. This confrontation could be an attempt of the Kiev forces to threaten the separatists’ positions in the area. President Petro Poroshenko from Kiev actually boasted on Saturday 6 June that his forces “ousted the rebels from Maryinka and seized 12 ‘saboteurs’, including a Russian”.

Nevertheless, this is not the only incident indicating an extended revival of the political and military clash in Ukraine. Kiev and Poroshonko personally instated a divisive personality as governor of Odessa the controversial former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. This is a sworn enemy of Russia and more precisely of Putin. During his term as President of Georgia he openly acted under Western influence and the reforms credit to him are more or less propaganda. He and his group were the main force behind the so-called ‘Rose Revolution’ which ousted the then mollifying President Eduard Shevardnadze. Saakashvili then ran Georgia in an authoritarian style and even provoked a war with Russia. Now he is swiftly given the Ukrainian nationality and established as ruler of the third largest Ukrainian city, the major port of the country in the Black Sea.

The Saakashvili provocation

The appointment of Saakashvili, a blindly anti-Russian as Governor in a mostly Russian speaking city and the swift conferral of the Ukrainian nationality to him would be considered by the city’s population as an open provocation. The Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has criticized the decision, while the current Georgian authorities are accusing Saakashvili of abuse of power and have called for his extradition. In any case he didn’t lose time and right away he has already started to apply the same aggressive methods in Odessa.

Odessa will react

His mercenary gangs drawn directly from the underworld without any official status have already sidestepped the city police force and molest those who might oppose Saakasvili’s rule. They patrol the streets in unmarked cars and check everybody who looks ‘suspicious’, acting as an occupation army albeit irregular. At least this is what they themselves told a BBC reporter who was embedded in one of their standard patrolling city tours. Those who have knowledge of what is going on now in the city won’t be surprised, if in a few weeks Odessa becomes a theatre of deadly fighting.

The Kiev Maidan Square fighting of February 2014 and the developments thereafter had also touched Odessa. However the city was and is largely pro-Russian by tradition and language. Euromaidan (pro – EU) and anti-Maidan (pro – Russian) demonstrations erupted in January 2014, with the latter rallies attracting much more people. Kiev was alarmed. If the pro-Russian separatists could control this city, Ukraine would have been crippled for good.

Burning them alive

The worst incidents happened on 2 May 2014. A round number of at least sixty pro-Russian anti-Maidan protesters were killed, actually burned when they sought refuge inside the Trade Unions House in the center of the city. Hundreds were injured during the confrontation with pro-Maidan fighters. On that occasion Kiev had sent the worst kind of chauvinistic/fascists elements to ‘teach a lesson to Odessa’. At the Trade Union House incident they set the building on fire and the anti-Maidan protesters who tried to escape from the flames were beaten to death with baseball clubs.

Nonetheless it’s rather impossible for the Saakasvili gangs to impose their clout on the third largest city of the country with a population of one million, without being confronted by the locals. However, the new Governor is working towards this direction by provoking the political affiliations of the majority of the population. To this end he uses the chauvinistic and fascists gangs from the western parts of the country. This is not a new story though. During WWII the German Wehrmacht had organized SS divisions in the west of the country and send them in the east to slaughter the Russian speakers. The Ukrainian leaders of those Wehrmacht WWII units are still worshipped by many in Kiev and elsewhere in western Ukraine. That’s why the name ‘fascist’ carries a strong meaning in Ukraine and not only.

Demolishing the Minsk agreement?

Coming back to today’s developments there is no doubt that some quarters are not happy with the ceasefire under the Minsk agreements which were brokered between the leaders of Russia, Germany and France last February. In reality, the ceasefire concedes a kind of autonomy to the rebels in Luhansk and Donetsk.

Nevertheless, the Americans are challenging this status quo by threatening to or probably already supplying the Kiev rulers with heavy armaments. Officially the US is denying it. Washington reportedly wants to materially support the Kiev forces, which are not always the regular Ukrainian army, but various combat units organized by local oligarchs or right-wing and nationalistic groups.

The target is to squeeze the rebels so as to force Russia to intervene openly and thus be dragged into a direct military conflict with Ukraine. This could be a decisive blow to Putin and Russia, but the European Union will also pay a dear price too. The question is if the EU values more its multifaceted bonds with the US rather than coming to terms with Russia. There are strong indications though for the former option. But are the Americans ready to draw their dilemmatic strategy to its end?

First signs from G7

A detailed study and interpretation of the results of the two-day G7 Summit in southern Germany during the weekend will offer some clues on that. Nonetheless it’s important to note that the first thing the US President Barack Obama had to say when arriving to Germany was that “forging new trade partnerships across the Atlantic and standing up to Russian aggression” in Ukraine will be discussed in the G7. If this was a good or bad omen for Europe is to be seen soon.

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