Saturday, 30 August 2014

Cold Russian winter ahead

Opinion: Europe must prepare for a cold Russian winterBy Russia Foundation chair David Clark, Special to CNNAugust 26, 2014 — Updated 1526 GMT (2326 HKT)Ukrainian soldiers stop on a roadside as they wait for the start of their march into Mariupol, Ukraine, on Wednesday, August 27. Ukrainian government forces have been battling pro-Russian rebels near Ukraine’s eastern border with Russia.
The fighting has left more than 2,000 people dead since mid-April, according to estimates from U.N. officials.A man opens a box on August 27 filled with rocket-propelled grenades left by the Ukrainian army in Starobecheve, Ukraine, after pro-Russian forces took control of the town.A pro-Russian rebel walks through a local market damaged by shelling in Donetsk, Ukraine, on Tuesday, August 26.Ukrainian servicemen of the volunteer battalion Azov leave for Novoazovsk, Ukraine, on August 26.Pro-Russian separatists escort captured Ukrainian army soldiers in a central square in Donetsk, Ukraine, on Sunday, August 24.People yell as Ukrainian prisoners are paraded through Donetsk in eastern Ukraine on August 24. A pro-Russian rebel delivers a speech atop a damaged Ukrainian armored personnel carrier in Donetsk on August 24. Ukraine has recently retaken control of much of its eastern territory bordering Russia, but fierce fighting for the rebel-held cities of Donetsk and Luhansk persists.People look at damaged Ukrainian military equipment in Donetsk on August 24. The first trucks of a Russian aid convoy roll on the main road to Luhansk in eastern Ukraine on Friday, August 22. The head of Ukraine’s security service called the convoy a “direct invasion” under the guise of humanitarian aid since it entered the country without Red Cross monitors. A pro-Russian rebel holds shrapnel from a rocket after shelling in Donetsk, Ukraine, on August 22.Residents sit in a makeshift bomb shelter during a shelling in Makiyivka, Ukraine, on Wednesday, August 20.Dogs play together as a Russian convoy carrying aid supplies stops at a border control point with Ukraine, in the Russian town of Donetsk, in the Rostov-on-Don region on August 20.Ukrainian forces take their position not far from Luhansk, Ukraine, on August 20. Ukrainian troops made a significant push into rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine, claiming control over a large part of Luhansk and encircling the largest rebel-held city, Donetsk, in fighting that has left at least 43 dead. Clouds of smoke are on the horizon as Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels clash in Yasynuvata, a suburb of Donetsk, Ukraine, on Tuesday, August 19. An Ukrainian helicopter flies near Kramatorsk, Ukraine, on August 19.Ukrainian soldiers load a missile during fighting with pro-Russian rebels Monday, August 18, near Luhansk, Ukraine.Boys play at a refugee camp, set up by the Russian Emergencies Ministry, near the Russian-Ukrainian border on August 18.Ukrainian soldiers carry weapons at a checkpoint near Debaltseve, Ukraine, on Saturday, August 16.Pro-Russian rebels greet each other as they pass near Krasnodon, Ukraine, on August 16.A fireman tries to extinguish a fire after shelling in Donetsk on August 16.Ukrainian border guards patrol near Novoazovsk, Ukraine, on Friday, August 15.Trucks of a Russian humanitarian convoy are parked in a field outside the town of Kamensk-Shakhtinsky, in the Rostov region of Russia about 20 miles from the Ukraine border, on August 15. Ukrainian officials were preparing to inspect the convoy, which was bound for the conflict-torn east.A truck driver from the convoy jumps out of a trailer on August 15. The Ukrainian government had expressed fears that the convoy was a large-scale effort to smuggle supplies or troops to pro-Russian rebels.A tank belonging to pro-Russian rebels moves along a street in Donetsk on August 15.A Ukrainian soldier walks past a line of self-propelled guns as a column of military vehicles prepares to head to the front line near Illovaisk, Ukraine, on Thursday, August 14.A Ukrainian soldier prepares a mortar at a position near Illovaisk on August 14. A man inspects damage at his house after a shelling in Donetsk on August 14. A convoy of trucks, which Moscow said was carrying relief goods for war-weary civilians, moves from Voronezh, Russia, toward Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on August 14.Pro-Russian rebels on the outskirts of Donetsk stand at a checkpoint near a bullet-riddled bus on Wednesday, August 13.A pro-Russian rebel inspects damage after shelling in Donetsk on Thursday, August 7.Smoke billows from a Ukrainian fighter jet crash near the village of Zhdanivka, Ukraine, on August 7. Residents of eastern Ukraine cry in a hospital basement being used as a bomb shelter August 7 in Donetsk.Ordnance from a Ukrainian rocket launcher shoots toward a pro-Russian militant position in the Donetsk region on August 7.Relatives of Ukrainian military member Kyril Andrienko, who died in combat in eastern Ukraine, gather during his funeral in Lviv, Ukraine, on August 7.Refugees from southeastern Ukraine wait at a refugee camp in Donetsk on Wednesday, August 6.A pro-Russian rebel adjusts his weapon in Donetsk on August 6.Men walk past a bomb crater in Donetsk on August 6.A man steps out of his car as Ukrainian soldiers inspect the vehicle at a checkpoint in Debaltseve on August 6.Ukrainian servicemen sit on a bus near Slovyansk, Ukraine, on Tuesday, August 5.A pro-Russian separatist guards a road as Australian, Malaysian and Dutch investigators prepare to examine the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 near the village of Rossipne, Ukraine, on August 5. U.S. and Ukrainian officials allege that a Russian-made missile shot down the plane from rebel-held territory, killing all 298 people on board. Russia and the rebel fighters deny involvement.Rescue workers carry the body of a woman who was killed during a bomb shelling in Donetsk on August 5.A boy stands in a hallway of a refugee hostel run by pro-Russian rebels in Donetsk on Monday, August 4.Ukrainian servicemen from the Donbass volunteer battalion clean their guns Sunday, August 3, in Popasna, Ukraine.Ukrainian soldiers fire shells toward rebel positions near Pervomaysk, Ukraine, on Saturday, August 2.Ukrainian troops patrol near the village of Novoselovka on Thursday, July 31.A woman says goodbye to her mother as she flees her home in Shakhtersk, Ukraine, on Tuesday, July 29. See more photos of the crisis from earlier this yearHIDE CAPTION
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin met his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko
  • David Clark of the Russia Foundation says a quick solution to the crisis is unlikely
  • Effort should be focused on strengthening Ukraine’s sovereignty, he writes
Editor’s note: David Clark is chairman of the Russia Foundation. Clark was special adviser to former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook at the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office from 1997 to 2001.The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Clark.
(CNN) — The meeting on Tuesday between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko, marks the beginning of a new phase in the conflict between the two countries.
Military analysts say that the date by which Putin could have safely hoped to initiate and complete a full scale invasion of Ukraine before the onset of winter has already passed, so the threat of an open military confrontation has receded and there is space to give diplomacy a chance.
Yet it would be premature to conclude that jaw-jaw is about to replace war-war entirely. If there are powerful forces driving both sides to the negotiating table, there are also major differences that continue to keep them apart. We can expect a tense and difficult winter ahead.
The main reason Putin is now willing to explore a negotiated solution is that Western sanctions are beginning to bite. Currency instability, accelerating capital flight and vanishing growth rates all point to a deep and sustained recession if the current political uncertainty persists and Western pressure is maintained.
David Clark
As Putin noted in a recent speech, Russia cannot fence itself off from the outside world. There isn’t a go it alone option if Russia is denied access to global markets and finance. Putin therefore needs to find a way of normalizing relations with the West and bringing sanctions to an end in exchange for stabilizing the situation and allowing Ukraine to function as a country.
Without this, patriotic fervor is likely to subside in the face of economic hardship and record approval ratings will quickly return to their pre-crisis lows.
Closely related to this is the fate of Crimea, the territory annexed by Russia earlier this year. The picture emerging from the peninsula is one of steep price rises and acute material shortages as the problem of resupplying the territory without land access from Ukraine becomes apparent.
A successful Russian invasion of eastern and southern Ukraine would have resolved that issue at a stroke, but with that option apparently off the table Putin faces real difficulties.
This is a battle of wills and Putin won’t reconsider his position unless the West is able to demonstrate the resolve needed to prevail.David Clark
What many saw as a geopolitical masterstroke in March is set to become a major financial burden stretching years into the future unless some kind of agreement can be struck. Kiev and the West will never recognize the annexation of Crimea, but arrangements for the supply of water, energy and other goods will undoubtedly form part of the wider negotiation.
For Poroshenko the issues are equally stark. The economic outlook for Ukraine remains dire unless the crisis can be brought to an end and the country is able to function to some extent as a single unit once again.
Ukrainian forces have made significant gains at the expense of the separatists over the last couple of months, but Kiev probably doesn’t have the means to bring the insurgency to an end by military means alone. Russia’s capacity to destabilize the east remains immense and recent steps to reinforce the separatists and “Ukrainianise” its leadership suggest that Moscow is preparing to play the long game.
Energy is another area of concern for Poroshenko. In the absence of a new agreement on gas supply from Russia, reserves will probably be insufficient to cover demand in the cold months ahead. Reverse flow from the West might help to mitigate the problem, but a harsh winter would leave Ukraine badly exposed.
Although both sides face major pressure to reach a negotiated settlement, they remain far apart on the substance. Russia sees Ukraine as part of its sphere of “privileged interests” and is determined to prevent the country moving closer to the West. Kiev wants to maintain an independent foreign policy, including the option of deeper integration with the West.
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The terrain on which this struggle is being played out is the debate over Ukraine’s constitutional future and relationship between the center and the regions in particular.
In the absence of a friendly government in Kiev, Russia is promoting a form of federalism that in reality looks more like confederalism. This would give Russian-speaking regions of the east control not only over their own domestic affairs, such as education, public services and the local economy, but also the right to determine their own foreign alignments, security structures and possibly border controls.
The ideal model for Russia is the Dayton Agreement that brought the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina to an end in 1995. This created two constitutionally autonomous entities, each with a veto over foreign policy and other major national decisions. Russia has been able to forge close ties to Republika Srpska and relies on it to block Bosnia’s membership of NATO.
For understandable reasons the government in Kiev is unwilling to countenance an agreement on this basis. Although it is prepared to cede much greater autonomy to the regions in crucial matters like language and education, it recognizes that Putin-style “federalism” would put a block closer ties to the EU and become a ramp for the soft integration of its eastern regions into a Russian sphere of influence.
Poroshenko is under intense pressure, especially from Germany, to negotiate some kind of decentralized arrangement, but the separatists and their Russian sponsors show no signs of lowering their demands to the point where an agreement might be achievable.
Although an end to the crisis is to be hoped for, the starting point of European diplomacy should be that a quick solution is unlikely and that the reason for this is Moscow’s unreasonable expectation of a veto over Ukraine’s future.
Germany should stop pressuring Ukraine’s leaders to consider proposals that would effectively lead to the break up of their country. Instead effort should be focused on strengthening Ukraine’s sovereignty and long-term bargaining power in relation to Russia.
Measures to increase energy supplies, provide economic support and strengthen Ukraine’s defense capacities over the difficult winter months ahead should be priorities. At the same time, economic pressure on Russia should be maintained and stepped up.
This is a battle of wills and Putin won’t reconsider his position unless the West is able to demonstrate the resolve needed to prevail.
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