суббота, 6 сентября 2014 г.

The Guardian view on the ceasefire for east Ukraine

Is the agreement reached in Minsk the beginning of peace or just of a new phase of the conflict?

President Putin could not have contrived it better if he had tried. Perhaps he did. In any case, on the very day the leaders of Nato countries were writing up their communiques and final statements in Wales, it looked as if the five-month-old war in Ukraine was coming to an end with a Russian victory.

The talks in Minsk took place as the Russians pressed home their advantage on the battlefield. Kiev’s negotiators knew that every hour without agreement almost certainly meant more territory lost to the rebel side. Nato had the day before proclaimed that it “stands with Ukraine”,  but in military terms it has not done so, and never intended to do so. President Petro Poroshenko fought a lonely fight, reinforced by plenty of rhetoric from western countries but not much else, and Ukrainian forces proved unexpectedly successful in dislodging rebel units from their positions in eastern Ukraine.

The flaw in Kiev’s strategy was that, as soon as the rebels began to lose, Russia had only to increase the level of its military intervention to reverse, and, potentially, to more than reverse the balance of force on the ground. That is precisely what Mr Putin did at the end of last month when he sent in Russian regular troops in significant numbers. So, it is a Russian victory, although a qualified one, and something of a humiliation for Europe and the United States. But it is also an opportunity to start again in Ukraine. This is a war that should never have been fought, since the outlines of a deal that would have been tolerable, if not comfortable, for both Russia and Ukraine were evident before it began.

Both west and east should have held back from it. The war has killed  and wounded a large number of people, and displaced more than a million within Ukraine and over the border into Russia. It has smashed up city centres, airports, roads and railways, closed schools, universities and clinics, and disrupted an already flagging economy. Whether a true peace process that would help bind up these wounds can now begin is another matter.

If Moscow wants to turn parts of eastern Ukraine into a dependency only nominally subject to the government in Kiev, and to use its informal presence in Ukraine to pressure Kiev on all aspects of national policy, then more trouble lies ahead. If it will rest content with substantial influence, as opposed to total control, then a compromise that might last becomes a prospect. Restraint will be needed on Kiev’s side, too, for example in keeping under control the militias who fought in the east and who will be understandably aggrieved.

Within the parameters set by a compromise, Ukraine could get the help it needs to rebuild its economy, attend to urgent political reforms and lead something like a normal national life. Nothing as complicated and passionately felt, and it needs adding, as deviously plotted, as this, gets settled in one go. The Minsk deal could fall apart in a day, a week, or a month. It could be the framework for an incomplete but real peace or merely a structure in which the same old incompatible aims are pursued, the same old tricks played, and a regression to violence is a constant possibility.

Nato has played a strange role. In putting together a deterrent force  for east European members, it has in effect been closing one stable door while the horse which it says mattered bolted from the stable next door. The new reaction force will not affect Ukraine one way or another, while the evidence that Mr Putin has designs on, say, Lithuania, is very thin.

Saying Russia has won doesn’t mean it has won in any complete way. A year ago Moscow hoped to keep Ukraine wholly within its sphere, while Europe and the United States aspired to bring the country wholly into the western camp. If both sides can grasp that neither vision is useful or possible, then we will be able to register some progress painfully made.

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