Time For Kiev To Give Up Eastern Ukraine

WASHINGTON – In a more civilized world the rights of the very large ethnic Russian minority in Eastern Ukraine would have been properly safeguarded by Ukrainian laws prohibiting any form of discrimination on the basis of language or ethnicity.

Crazy world

But this is a crazy world. Russian President Vladimir Putin falsely claims that his Russian brothers and sisters in Ukraine are oppressed by a hostile Kiev government now dominated by neo-Nazis and Russia haters. Because of this unfolding tragedy, he explains, the people in the East resist the Kiev government. And it is understandable, he adds, that ordinary Russians, including Russian soldiers currently on vacation, (he really said this), rushed in to help their embattled cousins. Well, this is laughable, of course. But this is the official Russian narrative. “Embattled ethnic Russians in Eastern Ukraine, fighting for their own survival”.

Of course, we know that, even if it were true that ethnic Russians living in Ukraine are not treated fairly, there are many other ways to address and resolve this issue without starting and fueling a bloody insurrection.


However, none of this matters. Using the Kiev unrest that led to the dramatic change of government in Ukraine as a pretext, now Putin is bent on extending Moscow’s reach to large ethnic Russian minorities in Ukraine that were cut off from the Motherland after the implosion of the Soviet Union. His public justification, as indicated above, is that these ethnic Russians are oppressed by the anti-Russian government ruling Ukraine.

America will not get involved

In principle, the whole thing is totally preposterous. In practice, however, unless Washington wants to get into a direct confrontation with Moscow that may escalate to uncontrollable levels, there is almost nothing that can be done to reverse what Putin has already accomplished: a de facto secession of Eastern Ukraine from the rest of the country.

As I said, short of America threatening Russia directly, there is nothing that can be done. And it is clear that President Obama has no intention to be the self-appointed defender of international law by intervening to protect Ukrainian territorial integrity against Moscow’s indirect aggression.

Arming Ukraine

The idea that America should give heavy weapons to the Ukrainians, so that they could fight back, would make sense only if Washington were prepared to escalate, up to the point of forcing Moscow to commit massive Russian forces to the conflict in order to avoid a humiliating setback.

And then, what to do we do when Moscow escalates? We back off? Or do we escalate even more? Unless we are committed to win, whatever the risk of provoking a general conflagration, giving “some arms” to Ukraine would simply prolong the conflict without changing the final outcome.

Bankrupt Ukraine cannot win

These are the facts. Ukraine is essentially bankrupt. Its military forces are weak and incapable of regaining control over the territories seized by the Moscow-backed rebels. Washington will not help. The Europeans, with Germany in the lead, have no intention to help Kiev with military assistance. They want to help with negotiations and diplomacy, so that this unpleasant conflict will go away.

No help on the way

This being the case  –that is no military help coming– and given Russian military superiority, the only sensible solution is for Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to admit defeat and give up the Eastern Provinces.

This is sad. It really means that international rules mean nothing here. Facing aggression while the rest of the world looks the other way, a weak state has to raise the white flag simply because it has no other option. The so-called “International Community” is not engaged. Nobody is really interested in any effort aimed at reaffirming the value of supposedly sacrosanct principles whereby national borders, cannot be modified through the use of force.

“Fight till the end?”

As I said, there is no other solution, except for what I would call “slow suicide” on the part of the Ukrainians. The Kiev government, poor and under resourced, may decide that it will keep on fighting this Moscow-inspired insurrection “until the end”. The Ukrainians cannot possibly win, but they will bleed to death trying.

This may look noble. But it is foolish.

Give up the East, begin rebuilding the economy

The only sensible solution here is to give up these territories inhabited mostly by ethnic Russians. This is the only way to stop the hemorrhaging of precious resources that should be devoted to the reconstruction of the Ukrainian economy.

The sooner Petro Poroshenko and his government recognize this simple, if unpleasant, reality, the better. Ukraine has already wasted huge resources on an unwinnable conflict.


Newly Elected President Petro Poroshenko Should Recognize That Eastern Ukraine Is Lost

WASHINGTON – Now Ukraine has a legitimate, elected president: Petro Poroshenko. A self-made wealthy industrialist, (chocolate is his sector), Poroshenko is no stranger to politics and policy-making, having served as Foreign Minister after the 2004 Orange Revolution. And (fluent in English) Poroshenko will be more at ease in international fora than all his predecessors.

A good first step

This is a good first step for Ukraine. The country needs a legitimate leadership that can credibly engage the West in the very complicated negotiations aimed at providing financial and economic support, as the nation is trying to emerge from the ugly mess of protracted political upheaval, economic mismanagement and endemic corruption.

No way to win in the East

That said, President Poroshenko, hopefully with the help of a new parliament, will have to make a bold policy choice on Eastern  Ukraine. It is obvious that the Russia-inspired and Russia-funded insurrection cannot be defeated, simply because Ukraine lacks the military means and the funds to fight a protracted civil war in the East. And, even if the Kiev government did have the means, the suffering of the civilian population is likely to be immense, while the probability of eventual victory is practically zero.

No help from America or Europe

Here is the reality. Ukraine on its own cannot win, while it will not get any military help from either America or Europe. And the West, beyond the largely symbolic sanctions imposed on a few individuals in the Russian government, will not do much more.

Which is to say that Putin can continue his undeclared but obvious destabilizing effort in Eastern Ukraine almost with impunity.

Russia has all the cards

As many analysts predict, Russia may very well be a country on a path to demographic and economic decline. But this will take a long time. Right now, when it comes to Eastern Ukraine, Putin has all the tactical and strategic advantages.

Russia can claim to have a humanitarian interest in the welfare of millions of ethnic Russians right across its borders. Moscow can easily insert into Ukraine Russian special forces and other  operatives who can easily blend in with the local, mostly Russian, population and be therefore almost unidentifiable. It can supply the local militias with weapons and funds. In other words, at a relatively modest cost and without any direct, open engagement Putin’s Russia can make Eastern Ukraine an ungovernable mess for as long as it wants.

Outfunded and outnumbered

And what can President Poroshenko do to put an end to all this? Quite frankly, nothing. Ukraine is outfunded and outnumbered by Russia; while the West, looking at its timid reactions thus far, will do nothing big to force Putin to stop his machinations.

Taking all this into account, for the Kiev government to kep sending east troops and helicopters that get shot down by the insurgents is madness. Ukraine is essentially broke. It is trying to negotiate IMF loans, while begging the EU to help out. Using precious resources to fight an insurrection that can count on Moscow’s unlimited support is totally crazy.

Eastern Ukraine is lost

Unless the West discovers a new bold determination that will compel Putin to stop –and I cannot see a scenario leading to this– Kiev has lost. While admitting this is painful and humiliating, once you know you have lost it is better to adjust to this reality rather than continue a useless fight.

Grant independence

The only endgame I see here is for the Kiev government to grant total autonomy, amounting to de facto independence, to Eastern Ukraine. Whether this independence, with subsequent annexation by Russia, would in fact reflect the genuine will of the majority of the ethnic Russians or not, this is unfortunately immaterial.

There is no way to conduct a proper referendum in which the people of Eastern Ukraine, without any pressure or intimidation, would be able to freely express their will.

Focus on reconstruction

Right now the events are driven by the Moscow-armed separatists. They have won. Kiev has lost. Let Eastern Ukraine go and focus on the daunting task of reconstructing the economy in the rest of the country, while forging meaningful ties with Europe and America.

America Shall Not “Pay Any Price” To Protect Ukraine’s Territorial Integrity

WASHINGTON – The Moscow-inspired and Moscow supported Ukrainian crisis is slowly morphing into something resembling a civil war. Whether this is the actual direction or not, it is obvious that the Kiev government will be unable to achieve its goal of recreating law and order within Eastern Ukraine.

Illegitimate government in Kiev

The Kiev provisional government is described by Moscow, and now by many if not most ethnic Russians in Ukraine, as illegitimate, (it came into power via the violent overthrow of the properly elected government), and bent on destroying the large Russian minority living in the East. As we all know, it is a government led by neo-Nazis and Russophobes, and so on.

This being the case, the Russians in the East have every right to resist the police and military forces sent by Kiev to kill them. And Moscow has every right to intervene in order to protect its brethren on the other side of the border.

This being the official Russian interpretation of events, add to the mix overwhelming Russian military force now deployed close to the border with Ukraine and compare these well armed Russians with a small and ill-equipped Ukrainian army.

Hopeless situation

Once you have done this, you can only come up with one conclusion: the situation is hopeless. Kiev cannot and will not prevail in this crisis. Further escalation will simply give Putin a pretext for intervening directly.

It would make sense for Kiev to resist this well-orchestrated, indirect Russian aggression only if the provisional government could have the comfort of a solid, US-led, Western commitment to its security and territorial integrity.

In another era, America would have helped

Yes, there was a time in which the US pledged its unconditional support to all those who were seeking freedom against tyranny.

Yes, there was a time in which America was the defender of freedom:

“….Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans–born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage–and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty. [bold added]

This much we pledge–and more.

To those old allies whose cultural and spiritual origins we share, we pledge the loyalty of faithful friends. United there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided there is little we can do–for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder….”

America, the defender of freedom

No, this is not fiction. This was the most memorable part of John Kennedy’s Inaugural Address delivered on January 20, 1961. Yes, a long time ago, but not so long ago. Kennedy delivered it when America was engaged in the Cold War, a global ideological and geo-political struggle against Soviet communism and Soviet-inspired mischief.

Mercifully, today there is no longer a Soviet Union. But we have a Russian Federation led by Vladimir Putin, a tyrant who wants to make his own rules and impose them on weak neighbors, counting on Western timidity. And Putin’s calculation about Washington’s inaction is most probably correct.

Obama’s America may grumble; but it will not do much. JFK’s pledge to “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty” sadly, does not apply any more.

Moscow knows this, and this is why it is not backing off, whatever Obama says it will do in response to Russia’s open support for the separatists in Eastern Ukraine.

Kiev should realize it cannot win

It is high time that the Kiev provisional government realizes this as well. As America will not intervene, its fight against the Russian separatists in the East is hopeless. Kiev cannot win without the active support of powerful and credible allies –and this means Washington. In fact, prolonging a fight against this manufactured insurrection may make matters far worse.

It is time for Kiev to recognize that Eastern Ukraine is lost. No, America is not ready to “pay any price” for the “success of liberty“.

And if America will not protect and support Ukraine, forget about Europe, whose real concerns are about unhindered  deliveries of precious Russian gas and business deals with Moscow.

Beyond Symbolic Gestures, The West Will Not Act To Help Ukraine Regain Control Over Its Eastern Provinces

WASHINGTON – By now the provisional government in Kiev should have understood that, beyond symbolic gestures, the West will do nothing to stop Russia’s mischief in Eastern Ukraine. It is obvious that the West has no stomach to engage in a serious, protracted confrontation with Putin over his meddling in Eastern Ukraine. Yes, there will be a few more “targeted sanctions”, mostly against individuals close to Putin, may be something else; but that’s about that.

No “Western Front”

Indeed, contrary to what has been advertised, there is no “United Western Front” on this crisis. President Obama may be a bit more forceful, but Europe is a sorry-looking mix of timidity and cynical self-interest. Forget about “forcing” Russia to do anything.

Sure enough, in the long, assuming Western resolve to tighten the screws, Russia would pay a huge economic price. Its economy is weak and it depends almost entirely on the revenue provided by the oil and gas it exports.

But there is no way that European countries worried about serious economic and social problems at home, (think France, Italy and Spain) , are willing to engage in a protracted, ugly confrontation with Moscow.

Russia has the upper hand

Given all this, it is clear that the Russian-inspired troubles in Eastern Ukraine will not go away. Russia has decided that, if it cannot “retake” Ukraine, it will make sure that the former Soviet Republic will not prosper as a western-leaning nation.

And, given the ethnic complexity in the region, fanning the flames of unrest is extremely easy for Russia. Pay people to demonstrate. Send in agents and disguised special operations forces. They easily blend in with the local ethnic Russians. Nobody can tell the difference.

In a different world, a diplomatic solution

Of course, in a better, more civilized world, there could be a way out of this mess. Ukraine would implement in good faith promised constitutional changes aimed at granting greater autonomy to the East, all under international supervision.

In return for these real guarantees to ethnic Russians, Moscow  would stop fueling unrest. With ethnic tensions out of the way, a future, federal Ukraine would develop new economic ties with the West, while continuing its historic connections with Russia.

Russia is not acting in good faith

This would be nice. But this would be premised on the assumption that Russia acted in good faith, out of a genuine concern for the fate of its brethren in Eastern Ukraine. But this is not the case. The Russians simply want to destabilize Ukraine. They do not like the idea of a future, prosperous and pro-Western Ukraine right at their door step.

Kiev is alone in this

By now the provisional government in Kiev should have digested the meaning of developments so far.

In a nutshell: they are on their own. The West will not force Russia to stop its mischief in Eastern Ukraine, let alone force Moscow to give back Crimea. Yes, the people in charge in Kiev are really on their own.

For this reason, the smart –if painful– thing to do is to let Eastern Ukraine go. By now it should be clear to the people in Kiev that they will never win this ugly fight. With 50,000 Russian troops across the border, ready to pounce, and a large number of infiltrated Russians and Russian agents calling the shots, there is no way that a weak and poor Ukraine will ever be able to regain full control over the East. Impossible. Putin will see to that.


Therefore, the only solution is this: get out of this mess by performing a drastic, but probably life-saving, “self-amputation”.

Grant immediate independence to the Eastern Ukrainian Provinces where there are large numbers of Russians. Let them go. This way Putin will get half a loaf, (a piece of the Ukraine he could not gobble in its entirety), but Western Ukraine will have a chance to pursue its own economic development without having to worry about constant Russian interferences. Given American and Western timidity, this is the best course of action for Kiev.

And to those who cling to the belief in a rules-based, UN centered, international political order in which disputes are solved diplomatically by well-meaning statesmen inspired by principles of fairness and justice: “Stop dreaming”.