This is one of a series of excerpts from a longer article which originally appeared in Salon under the byline Patrick L. Smith.
The author is a longtime correspondent abroad, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune and The New Yorker. He is also an essayist, critic and editor.
His most recent book is “Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century” (Yale, 2013)
None of the visitors (Joe Biden) to Ukraine of late appear to give a hoot that the Poroshenko government has done nothing to fulfill its obligations on the Minsk II peace accords.
As of Monday 22nd, February we have two exceptions, however. Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Jean-Marc Ayrault, the German and French foreign ministers, have just finished talks in Kiev en route to Russia to negotiate the forward motion of Minsk II’s provisions after months of stagnation.
At the outset, as one of my European sources said, they were “completement exacerbés.”
And they were exacerbés, understandably, because it is lately clear that the Poroshenko government is incapable of moving on Minsk II. It is, in effect, the hostage of the right-wing militias that were long said to exist only in the imaginations of Russian propagandists.
Azov and the other militias, the Svoboda party and Right Sektor, a Svoboda offspring, have made their position clear since Germany, France and Christine Lagarde forced Poroshenko to sign Minsk II last year: Make one move to accommodate the accord and we will bring you down. At this point the barely competent maker of chocolates is squeezed into a corner so tight it is not clear he will be able to breathe much longer.
On one hand the exacerbés Europeans want Minsk II implemented; it was supposed to be by the end of last year. They want tensions on their border with Russia to ease, they are impatient with Washington’s sanctions regime and it is as plain as day now that Ash Carter’s Pentagon and General Breedlove’s NATO will run all the miles they can so long as Ukraine gives them an excuse to do so. This pair loves Ukraine to bits—and may literally do so, depending on how things go.
As Stephen Cohen, the noted Russianist, writes in a comment published in The Nation this week, with Defense Secretary Carter’s recent announcement that the Pentagon will quadruple spending on U.S. and NATO forces in Europe, “Western military power has never been positioned so close to Russia.”
This kind of Russian roulette, as Cohen terms it, is not a game Europeans like playing. Although “the Europeans have no foreign policy of their own,” as Vladimir Putin astutely observed in a video recording released last week, they have at least recognized that Russia is more logically a partner, however attenuated the partnership, than an adversary.
That is the one hand. On the other, Poroshenko is fighting for his political life in Kiev. Last week he called for the universally unpopular Yatsenyuk—bearer of the neoliberal banner, whose approval rating is below 5 percent—to resign. But it shapes up as too little and too late.
Over the weekend and into this week, sections of the ultra-right, calling themselves Revolutionary Right Forces, gathered in Maidan to mark the second anniversary of the revolution. Having bombed three Russian banks while the police stood by without intervening, they effectively called for another revolt by way of a hefty list of demands. They want Poroshenko’s head, too. They want mass resignations of the generals, the bureaucrats, and the politicians. They demand the government repudiate Minsk II en bloc and impose martial law in the eastern regions and Crimea.
Berlin, Paris and Moscow may continue to make common cause and more or less impose Minsk II on Kiev. It is quite possible. In this case the American failure will also be evident, if more subtly. Washington will claim the success, if it stays true to form.Or the war in the eastern regions will escalate and grow very dangerous well beyond Ukraine. This is all too possible at the moment. It is probably the favored way forward in Washington and Kiev, but it will turn out to be merely failure of another, more brutal kind.