Gwynne Dyer: Ukraine ceasefire?

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      Angela Merkel grew up under Communist rule in the old East Germany. She speaks fluent Russian. She has been the chancellor of Germany for the past 10 years. And for all that time she has been negotiating with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, on wide variety of subjects—including, for the past year, Ukraine. They may not like each other much, but they certainly know each other.

      So listen to what Angela Merkel said about the debate in the U.S. military, in the Congress, and even in the White House about sending direct American military aid to the Ukrainian government. “I cannot imagine any situation in which improved equipment for the Ukrainian army leads to President Putin being so impressed that he believes he will lose militarily,” she said. “I have to put it that bluntly.”

      Does anybody think that Angela Merkel is wrong about this? Does any sane person think Putin would flee in panic if he hears that the U.S. is going to send Ukraine “defensive weapons” (anti-tank weapons, anti-artillery radar and the like)? If not, then this is crazy talk.

      Nobody in the United states is talking about sending state-of-the-art U.S. tanks and planes to Ukraine, and they’re certainly not offering to send American troops. Secretary of State John Kerry is merely talking about giving some sophisticated “defensive weapons” to an army that doesn’t even use the weapons it has very well. The Ukrainian army is poorly trained, badly led, and controlled by a government in Kiev that is as incompetent as it is corrupt.

      It sometimes wins when it is fighting the equally ragtag troops of the two breakaway “republics” of Donetsk and Lugansk. But if the Ukrainian government troops and the assorted volunteer battalions that fight alongside them start to win, then the Russians send in a few thousand well-trained soldiers and push the Ukrainians back.

      That’s what happened last August, and now it’s happening again. Putting more advanced “defensive weapons” in Ukrainian hands is not going to change this pattern, and military professionals in Washington know it. This proposal is pure, strategy-free tokenism.

      Of course, Putin’s stated concerns about Western plots to draw Ukraine into NATO are not very rational either. He’s exceptionally ill-informed if he thinks that Western European countries like France and Germany would let Ukraine join NATO, since that would mean they were taking on a treaty obligation to fight Russia on Ukraine’s behalf.

      He’s completely deluded if he takes his own military’s hoary arguments about Ukraine’s military importance seriously. It is 2015, not 1945, and Russia has lots of nuclear weapons. It simply doesn’t matter whether NATO’s tanks are far from Russia’s border or close to it. Wherever they are, nuclear deterrence still works.

      And Putin can’t really be worried about the example that a democratic and prosperous Ukraine might set for his own people. Ukrainian incomes are far lower than Russian ones (thanks mainly to Russian oil and gas), and the West shows no inclination to pour money into Ukraine in quantities large enough to change that. And though Ukraine is more democratic than Russia, its government is no less corrupt.

      What drives Putin, therefore, is a grab-bag of emotional motives. His man in Kiev got overthrown, and he doesn’t like to lose face. Even if Ukraine has little strategic or economic importance, it was part of Russia for 300 years, and he hates the idea that it might just slide into the West on his watch. He shares the paranoia about the evil intentions of the West that every Russian inherits (for very good historical reasons).

      None of this is worth a full-scale war in Ukraine, let alone a serious military confrontation with the West or a new Cold War. Maybe if the United States were prepared to go in boots and all, showering Ukraine with weapons, money and even U.S. troops, Putin might back away, although it would be a terrible risk to take.

      But some token “defensive weapons”, basically to make Americans feel better? That involves less risk of a huge Russian over-reaction, admittedly, but it would still be a big step towards a new Cold War, and for no possible gain.

      That is why Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande flew to Moscow last Friday: to head Kerry off by patching up some new ceasefire (or reviving the old one) in eastern Ukraine. They will be meeting with Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Minsk on Wednesday in the hope that they can make it happen.

      At best, that would mean the effective loss of Ukrainian sovereignty over two more provinces (Crimea is already gone), and a semi-permanent “frozen conflict” on Ukraine’s eastern border. Not great, but realistically Ukraine has no better options anyway.

      We know that Putin is willing to settle for such “frozen conflicts” in order to cripple disobedient former Soviet republics, because he has already done it with Moldova and Georgia. We know that the victims of such tactics can thrive despite Moscow’s games. Georgia certainly does, and Ukraine could do even better with strong European Union and U.S. support.

      There is no satisfactory military solution for either side. Settle for a stalemate, and move on.



      I Chandler

      Feb 10, 2015 at 12:12pm

      DYER: "Settle for a stalemate, and move on."

      Stalemate? Sounds like a recipe for perpetual war?

      DYER:" Putin’s stated concerns about Western plots to draw Ukraine into NATO are not very rational either. He’s exceptionally ill-informed ..."

      ill-informed? The issue of of Nato membership came up again last year. Putin was well-informed of NATO’s two eager prospects, Ukraine and Georgia:

      A 27 year CIA NIE analyst writes: "As NATO expansion drew in countries closer to Russia’s borders, the Kremlin drew a red line when, despite very strong warnings from Moscow, an April 3, 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest declared: “NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO. We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO.” Both countries, former Soviet states, press up upon Russia’s soft southern underbelly."

      "Often forgotten – in the West, but not in Russia – is the impulsive reaction this NATO statement gave rise to on the part of Georgia’s then-President Mikheil Saakashvili, who felt his oats even before the NATO umbrella could be opened. Less than five months after Georgia was put in queue for NATO membership, Saakashvili ordered Georgian forces to attack the city of Tskhinvali in South Ossetia. No one should have been surprised when Russia retaliated sharply, giving Georgian forces a very bloody nose in battles that lasted just five days.

      Ultimately, Saakashvili’s cheerleaders of the George W. Bush administration and then-Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who had been egging Saakashvili on, were powerless to protect him. Instead of drawing appropriate lessons from this failed experiment, however, the neocons running the foreign policy of Bush – and remaining inside the Obama administration – set their sights on Ukraine."

      Dyer: "some token “defensive weapons”... would still be a big step towards a new Cold War..."

      November DYER: "The world is on the brink of a new Cold War. said Mikhail Gorbachev, He’s 83 years old. Surely he knows what he’s talking about. No he doesn’t. Not only has this new Cold War not begun already, but it’s hard to see how you could get it going even if you tried."

      A failure of imagination?For a 83 year old, Gorbachev, has an imagination.


      Feb 10, 2015 at 1:15pm

      Oh Chandler, you really do have trouble representing people accurately.

      A) People often change their minds when presented with new information. This is to be encouraged, not mocked. You should try it sometime.

      B) The two claims you mentioned are not really contradictory.

      November: "it’s hard to see how you could get [A new cold war] going even if you tried."
      Now: "[Giving Ukraine weapons] would still be a big step towards a new Cold War, and for no possible gain."

      All this means is that in November, he couldn't see how Ukraine could lead to a new Cold War, and now he has figured out a way it could. He's not predicting that it will happen. Note the conditional language.

      Also what does a wikipedia link to an Australian biker gang have to do with anything?


      Feb 10, 2015 at 1:35pm

      "His man in Kiev got overthrown, and he doesn’t like to lose face."

      Cuba and Iran faced decades of disproportionate hostility from the US after their men where overthrown. The Russian could make the same mistake.

      It took decades to the annexation of East Timor to be reversed. Maybe it will take as long for these annexations to be reversed.

      Since World War II the fact that countries haven't been allowed to invade and annexed each other has gone a long was to preserving world peace. I fear that what Russia has done will create a precedent that will end that.


      Feb 11, 2015 at 6:10am

      Right now Ukraine is using artillery to take out rebel/Russian armour at a distance, causing unnecessary civilian cavalry. Similarly, without anti-artillery radar their counter-battery fire is haphazard and imprecise, also leading to more civilian deaths that could be avoided (although not all as the rebels have their artillery set up in densely populated civilian areas to stave off counter-battery fire and also for the ensuing propaganda victory when non-combatants are inevitably killed).

      If the Ukraine army at least had the Javelin system to deal with Russian armour and anti-artillery radar to add precision to their counter-battery fire less non-combatants would be killed, a lot less, so it wouldn't just be for show. Merkel is right though, it would probably lead Putin to up the ante again, maybe sending a full-blown "peace-keeping" contingent as he did in Georgia.

      Jason R

      Feb 11, 2015 at 6:23am

      @McRetso I also was wondering what bikies in Oz had to do with the Ukraine. Thank you for helping to de-program me after reading I Chandler's rants; he reminds me of the type of person who would argue endlessly with a prof back in school just to hear the sound of his own voice and put how well read he is on display, regardless of the actually topic of discussion.


      Feb 11, 2015 at 12:11pm

      "He shares the paranoia about the evil intentions of the West that every Russian inherits (for very good historical reasons)."

      As always, this journalist reveals his anti-Putin bias--Putin is paranoid... but for good historical reasons. Can't have it both ways Gwynne.

      There's nothing paranoid in seeing ethnic Russians in east Ukraine targeted by a reappearance of neo-nazi Einsatzgruppen--they are there in plain sight; unless, of course, you only read the new York Times and other propagandistic rags that airbrush out the Nazis in every article they publish about the Ukraine.

      "What drives Putin, therefore, is a grab-bag of emotional motives."

      Really? From this remove he appears as the only real statesman amongst a plethora of Washington Euro lackeys. Contrast this with the grab-bag of hysterical anti-Russian politicos in Washington.

      Russia has every right to defend it's interests and is to be commended for the restraint it has shown in the face of unending provocations. But make no mistake about it--if the fools in Washington start sending arms and advisers into the Ukraine there will likely be a larger war.

      Dyer has been on the wrong side of history for a few years now. I used to read his dry appraisals of world events with interest; at this point they are hardly worth reading.


      Feb 11, 2015 at 2:31pm

      One thing the author forgot to mention is Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances. Ukraine gave up their nukes and basically felt like any military advancement is not required since they are protected by it. USA and UK are obligated to help Ukraine and their military help is long overdue.

      US Invasions

      Feb 11, 2015 at 4:53pm


      The US has a long list of invasions since World War II and Israel has been invading and annexing land for many decades, including after World War II. The precedents have been set, and not by Russia.


      From what I see, the US and its European lackeys arranged a coup in Ukraine to install a neo-Nazi. Crimeans and East Ukrainians who are mostly ethnic Russians are justifiably afraid of what that means and are looking to Russia for help. Had it not been for US and European meddling, none of this civil war would have come to pass in the first place. The fault for this problem does not lie with Putin, and he has in fact shown far greater restraint than any US president would under similar circumstances.


      Feb 12, 2015 at 10:53am

      Tell me more about "Crimeans and East Ukrainians who are mostly ethnic Russians are justifiably afraid of what that means and are looking to Russia for help". I have dozens of relatives and friends in Crimea and 90% of them voted 'NO' in the referendum last April. There were armed "green man" watching a voting process. Do you think the result of this referendum reflects a real situation? BTW when was a last time you visited Crimea or Donbass or you just beleive RT and other BS media?


      Feb 12, 2015 at 3:55pm

      I can't believe you got so many down votes just for mentioning the Budapest Memorandum! You didn't even take a political stand, you just mentioned its existence and the fact that Russia, the US, and the UK signed an internationally legally binding agreements guaranteeing Ukraine's borders as inviolable and permanent.

      Reminds me of the old saying, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but they are *not* entitled to their own reality. The Budapest Memo is something the pro-Putin fanatics would love to have never existed, so I guess they are trying to down-vote it out of reality. I feel very badly for the Ukrainians having been naive enough to trust those three great powers to keep their word. If they still had even a small arsenal of nukes none of this mess would ever even have happened.