A VERY BRIEF HISTORY OF CHINESE RUSSIAN RELATIONS

The response of much western commentary to the Russia China agreements has been scepticism that they can ever burgeon into an outright partnership because of the supposedly long history of mutual suspicion and hostility between the two countries. The Economist for example refers to the two countries as “frenemies”. To see whether these claims are actually justified I thought it might be useful to give a short if rather summary account of the history of the relationship between the two countries.

Official contacts between China and Russia began with border clashes in the 1680s which however were settled in 1689 by the Treaty of Nerchinsk, which delineated what was then the common border. At this time Beijing had no political or diplomatic links with any other European state save the Vatican, which was informally represented in Beijing by the Jesuit mission.

The Treaty of Nerchinsk was the first formal treaty between China and any European power. The Treaty of Nerchinsk was basically a pragmatic border arrangement. It was eventually succeeded by the Treaty of Kyakhta of 1727, negotiated on the initiative of the Kangxi Emperor and of Peter the Great, who launched the expedition that negotiated it shortly before before his death.

The Treaty of Kyakhta provided for a further delineation of the common border. It also authorised a small but thriving border trade. Most importantly, it also allowed for the establishment of what was in effect a Russian diplomatic presence in Beijing in the form of an ecclesiastical settlement there. Russia thereby became only the second European state after the Vatican to achieve a presence in Beijing. It did so moreover more than a century before any of the other European powers. Russia was of course the only European power at this time to share a common border with China (a situation to which it has now reverted since the return to China of Hong Kong). It is also notable that the Treaty of Kyakhta happened on the initiative of Peter the Great. Peter the Great’s decision to launch the expedition that ultimately led to the Treaty of Kyakhta shows that even this supposedly most “westernising” of tsars had to take into account Russia’s reality as a Eurasian state.

For the rest of the Eighteenth Century and the first half of the Nineteenth Century relations between the Russian and Chinese courts remained friendly though hardly close. St. Petersburg was the only European capital during this period to host occasional visits by the Chinese Emperor’s representatives. During the British Macartney mission to Beijing of 1793 the senior Manchu official tasked with negotiating with Macartney had obtained his diplomatic experience in St. Petersburg. As a result of these contacts at the time of the Anglo French expedition to Beijing in 1860 Ignatiev, the Russian diplomat who acted as mediator between the Anglo French expedition and the Chinese court, could call on the services of skilled professional interpreters and was in possession of accurate maps of Beijing whilst the British and the French had access to neither. Russian diplomatic contacts with the court in Beijing during this period do not seem to have been afflicted with the protocol difficulties that so complicated China’s relations with the other European powers and which contributed to the failure of the Macartney mission. This serves as an indicator of the pragmatism with which these contacts were conducted.

This period of distant but generally friendly relations ended with the crisis of 1857 to 1860 when Russia used the Chinese court’s preoccupation with the Taiping rebellion and China’s difficult relations with the western Europeans culminating in the Anglo French expedition of 1860 to secure the annexation of the Amur region. The Chinese continue to see the third Convention of Beijing of 1860 which secured the Amur territory for Russia as an “unequal treaty”. They have however accepted its consequences and formally recognised the border (which was properly speaking part of Manchu rather than Chinese territory). At the time it must have been resented. However it is probably fair to say that Russia would have been seen in China as a marginally less dangerous aggressor during this period than the western powers Britain and France (especially Britain) if only because China’s relations with these two countries were much more important.

As the Nineteenth Century wore on relations between Russia and China seem to have improved with Russia, undoubtedly for self-interested reasons, playing an important role in the Three Power Intervention that forced Japan to moderate its demands on China following China’s defeat in the Sino Japanese war of 1895. Russian policy of supporting China and the authority of the Chinese court against the Japanese however fell by the wayside when Russia forced the Chinese court in 1897 to grant Russia a lease of the Chinese naval base of Port Arthur. This was much resented in China and damaged Russia’s image there. Russia also became drawn into the suppression of the anti-foreign 1900 Boxer Rising, an event which destabilised the Manchu dynasty and which led to a short lived Russian occupation of Manchuria to suppress the Boxers there. This is not the place to discuss the diplomacy or the reasons for the conflict which followed which is known as the Russo Japanese war of 1904 to 1905. Suffice to say that the ground war was fought entirely on Chinese territory and ended in stalemate (though with the balance starting to shift in favour of the Russians), that I know of no good English account of the war or of the events that preceded it, that the war was precipitated entirely by a straightforward act of Japanese aggression and that the popular view that the war was preceded and/or provoked by Russian economic and political penetration of Korea or plans to annex Manchuria are now known to have no basis in fact.

A radical improvement in Russian Chinese relations took place following the October 1917 revolution caused by the decision of the new Bolshevik government to renounce the extra territorial privileges Russia had obtained in China as a result of the unequal treaties. The USSR became the strongest supporter during this period of Sun Ya-tsen’s Chinese nationalist republican movement and of the Guomindang government in Nanjing that Sun Ya-tsen eventually set up. Sun Ya-tsen for his part was a staunch friend and supporter of the USSR. Though many are aware of the very close relationship between the USSR and China in the 1950s few in my experience know of the equally strong and arguably more genuine friendship between their two governments in the 1920s.

In the two decades that followed the USSR became China’s strongest international supporter in its war against Japanese aggression, a war which has defined modern China and of which the outside world knows lamentably little. During this period the USSR had to balance its support for China’s official Guomindang led government that was supposedly leading the struggle against the Japanese with its support for the Chinese Communist Party (originally the leftwing of the Guomindang movement) with which the Guomindang was often in armed conflict. The USSR also had to balance its support for China with its need to avoid a war in the east with Japan at a time when it was being threatened in the west by Nazi Germany and its allies. The skill with which the government of the USSR performed this difficult feat has gone almost wholly unrecognised.

Following the defeat of Japan in 1945 the USSR’s military support was (as is now known) crucial though obviously not decisive to the Chinese Communist Party’s victory in the civil war against the Guomindang, which led to the establishment in 1949 of the People’s Republic. A decade of extremely close political, military and economic relations followed during which the two countries were formally allies. As is now known this relationship in reality was always strained and eventually broke down in part because of mutual personal antagonism between the countries’ two leaders, Khrushchev and Mao Zedong, but mainly because of Chinese anger at the USSR’s failure to support a war to recover Taiwan and above all because of China’s refusal as the world’s most populous country and oldest civilisation to accept a subordinate position to the USSR in the international Communist movement. The rupture was made formal by Khrushchev’s decision in 1960 to withdraw from China the Soviet advisers and economic assistance that had been sent there. Supporters of sanctions may care to note that on the two occasions Russia has used sanctions (against Yugoslavia in 1948 and against China in 1960) they backfired spectacularly on Russia resulting in consequences for Russia that were entirely bad.

The Sino Soviet rupture of 1960 resulted in a decade and a half of very strained relations. An attempt to restore relations to normal following Khrushchev’s fall in 1964 was wrecked, possibly intentionally, by the Soviet defence minister Marshal Malinovsky who encouraged members of the Chinese leadership to overthrow Mao Zedong through a coup similar to the one that had overthrown Khrushchev. Relations with the USSR during this period also increasingly became hostage to Chinese internal politics with Mao and his supporters during the period of political terror known as the Cultural Revolution routinely accusing their opponents of being Soviet agents. This period of difficult relations eventually culminated in serious border clashes in 1969, an event that panicked the leadership of both countries and which led each of them to explore alignments against each other with the Americans.

This period of very tense relations basically ended in 1976 with the death of Mao Zedong who shortly before his death is supposed to have issued an injunction to the Chinese Communist party instructing it to restore relations with the USSR. Once the post Mao succession disputes were resolved with the victory of Deng Xiaoping a process of outright rapprochement began the start of which was formally signalled in the USSR by Leonid Brezhnev in a speech in Tashkent in 1982 which he made shortly before his death. By 1989 the process of rapprochement was complete allowing Gorbachev to visit Beijing in the spring of that year when however his visit was overshadowed by the Tiananmen disturbances.

Since then there has been a steady strengthening of relations. Gorbachev refused to involve the USSR in the sanctions the western powers imposed on China following the Tiananmen disturbances. Yeltsin, despite the strong pro-western orientation of his government, remained a firm advocate of good relations with China and worked to build on the breakthrough achieved in the 1980s. In 1997 in a speech in Hong Kong Jiang Zemin already spoke of Russia as China’s key strategic ally. In 1998 the two countries acted for the first time openly in concert on the Security Council to oppose the US bombing of Iraq (“Operation Desert Fox”). Subsequently both countries strongly opposed the US led attacks on Yugoslavia in 1999 and on Iraq in 2003.  Since then their cooperation in political, economic and security matters has intensified. Whilst their relations have had their moments of difficulty (eg. over Russian complaints of illicit Chinese copying of weapon systems) and the development of their economic relations has lagged well behind that of their political relations (inevitable given the disastrous state of the Russian economy in the 1990s) it is difficult to see on what basis they can be considered “frenemies”.

The reality is that Russia and China have for obvious reasons of history, culture and above all geography faced through most of their history in different directions: China towards Asia (where it is the supreme east Asian civilisation) and Russia towards Europe. That should not however disguise the fact that their interaction has been very prolonged (since the 1680s), – longer in fact than that of China with any of the major western powers – and generally peaceful and mostly friendly. Periods of outright hostility have been short lived and rare. Despite sharing the world’s longest border all-out war between the two countries has never happened. On the two occasions (in the 1680s and 1960s) when it briefly appeared that it might, both drew back and eventually sought and achieved a compromise. For China Russia’s presence on its northern border has in fact been an unqualified benefit, stabilising and securing the border from which the greatest threats to China’s independence and security have traditionally come.

Western perceptions of the China Russia relationship are in my opinion far too heavily influenced by the very brief period of the Sino Soviet conflict of the 1960s and 1970s. Across the 300 or so years of the history of their mutual interaction the 15 or so years of this conflict represent very much the anomaly not the rule. Given this conflict’s idiosyncratic origins in ideological and status issues that are (to put it mildly) extremely unlikely to recur again, to treat this conflict as representing the norm in China’s and Russia’s relations with each other seems to me frankly farfetched. The past is never a safe guide to the future. However on the basis of the actual history of their relations, to argue that China’s and Russia’s strategic partnership is bound to fail because of their supposed long history of suspicion and conflict towards each other is to argue from prejudice rather than fact.

IMPRESSIONS OF THE ST. PETERSBURG INTERNATIONAL ECONOMIC FORUM

I am currently in St. Petersburg where I have attended the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Before saying anything further I wish to thank Peter Lavelle of RT TV for very kindly and very generously arranging my invitation to the Forum.

At the Forum I attended three roundtables:

(1) On the InfoWars brilliantly hosted and moderated by Peter Lavelle. I was a participant in this roundtable an edited version of which RT will broadcast and which will be shown in full on RT’s YouTube channel. Since I participated in this roundtable I feel it would be inappropriate for me to say more about it now save (1) that I am very grateful to Peter Lavelle for inviting me (2) that the discussion was outstanding and I would strongly urge everyone to see it either on RT or on YouTube and (3) that I was lucky enough to be befriended by other members of the panel including Pepe Escobar, John Laughland and Ben Aris who I have long known from their writings but whom I never expected to meet. I intend to save any further comments about this roundtable until others have had a chance to see it on RT and YouTube.

(2) On investment strategies in Russia on the part of sovereign wealth funds. The roundtable was hosted and moderated by Alexei Kudrin. Ding Xuedong, Chairman and Chief Executive of China Investment Corporation participated.

(3) On incentives to stimulate domestic Russian capital flows into the Russian economy. Elvira Nabiullina the Governor of the Central Bank was a participant.

I also attended the Forum’s plenary with Putin himself where he gave a lengthy speech, which was followed by an interview that was broadcast on television.

Here are my initial observations of the Forum (save for the roundtable with Peter Lavelle):

On China and Russia

This overshadowed the entire Forum. The Chinese were present in force with the Chinese Vice President and the Chairman of China Investment Corporation (China’s sovereign wealth fund) both present.

I know of no case where two countries have reached bilateral economic agreements on such a scale and of such scope. The Chinese Vice President described it as a “general strategic partnership”. As I have explained elsewhere, China and Russia will not enter into a formal alliance since that is in the interests of neither. De facto allies is however what they are. In reality the level of economic, foreign policy and security cooperation (and coordination) between them is far greater scale than was the case in the 1950s when they were formally allies but in reality in a very uneasy relationship with each other.

This is a major geopolitical shift. Others have noticed and the Forum was buzzing about it. An Indian businessman at the plenary spoke of his anxiety that India should not to be left out. Putin confirmed that he will be meeting Modi shortly.

As to what has brought China and Russia together, the short answer is naked mutual self-interest. Despite ritual pieties about the importance of free trade Ding Xuedong made it abundantly clear that China’s trade policies remain fully mercantilist with China planning massive investments in Russia’s natural resources and extractive industries (including metals) to meet its own needs with refining and processing however happening in Russia. Personally I find this straightforwardly self-interested approach reassuring. I distrust interstate relationships that purport to be based on ideology or sentiment. In my opinion those underpinned my mutual self-interest are always more healthy and tend to be more equal and long lasting.

Ukraine

Putin’s comments have once again been grossly over analysed. In reality he said nothing new or that he has not said before.

Contrary to what some say Putin has never demanded that the Presidential election on Sunday should be postponed. Nor has he ever said that he would not recognise the outcome. On the contrary as a practical man he has always made it clear that he will deal with whoever comes (almost certainly Poroshenko). Similarly as a realistic and practical man he has accepted the reality of Yanukovitch’s fall even though as he pointedly reminded everyone according to the Ukrainian constitution Yanukovitch is still the Ukraine’s legitimate President.

The mistake people always make is that they confuse Putin’s acceptance of the reality of the Ukraine’s Presidential election with the entirely separate question of its legitimacy. As Putin pointed out since Yanukovitch remains according to the Ukraine’s constitution the Ukraine’s legitimate President the election that is taking place in the Ukraine on Sunday is illegitimate under the terms of the Ukraine’s constitution.

The reality as Putin knows is that as with the Donbas referendum the question of whether the Ukraine’s Presidential election is legitimate or not will be decided not in Moscow or by other outsiders but in the Ukraine itself.

The overemphasis on Putin’s attitude to the election (which derives from a wholly mistaken idea that he has sought to prevent it) has detracted from Putin’s other comments about the Ukraine.

1. Putin made it utterly clear that he considers the crisis in the Ukraine to be entirely the fault of western policy and in particular of the aggressive expansion of the western sphere of influence in a way that pays no regard to Russia’s legitimate economic and security interests or to the feelings of a large section of the Ukraine’s people in the south eastern Ukraine, first and foremost in the Donbas;

2. That the objective of Russian policy ever since the outset of this crisis is talks between the Ukrainian parties to achieve substantive constitutional change;

3. That for these talks to succeed Kiev must bring the “anti-terrorist operation” to an end.

Sanctions

Putin made a comment I personally found especially interesting on a point I had actually discussed the previous day immediately after Peter Lavelle’s roundtable with John Laughland.

Briefly, I am far from sure of the legality of the sanctions the EU has imposed. Unlike the sanctions on Iran, the sanctions the EU has imposed on certain Russian individuals and companies have not been authorised by the UN Security Council. I am not at all clear on what legal basis or authority the EU has imposed them.

I was very interested to see Putin make the same point and urge the private individuals and companies the EU has sanctioned to challenge the sanctions in court.

In the autumn the European Court of Justice ruled illegal the sanctions the EU had imposed on various Iranian individuals and companies that had no discernable link to Iran’s nuclear programme. Putin pointedly said that none of the individual Russian businessmen and companies the EU has sanctioned had any role in formulating Russian policy towards the Ukraine or the Crimea. On the face of it they would therefore appear to have the same argument in their favour that the sanctioned Iranian business people and companies did. In the case of Kiselev, the head of Rossia Sevodnia, he arguably also has a claim that the sanctions imposed on him are an unwarranted restriction on his right as a journalist to express himself freely pursuant to Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

There is also the question of the entire legal basis upon which the EU is purporting to impose sanctions. In contrast to all other sanctions regimes in which the EU has engaged (including those against Iran) the sanctions against Russia and against Russian individuals and companies have not been authorised by the UN Security Council. Whilst I accept (though I do not know) that the EU may have power under the treaties to order member states to deny visas to given individuals I am wholly unaware of any power the EU possesses to order asset freezes as against individuals or companies who are not subject to sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council and who have not been found guilty of any criminal offence. An asset freeze is in effect a form of confiscation of property and thus a type of punishment so on the face of it the asset freezes the EU has imposed on Russian individuals and companies who are not the subject of sanctions ordered by the Security Council and who have not been found guilty of any criminal offence in any court of law look like a violation of the fundamental legal principle that there can be no punishment without law.

When I discussed the question the previous day with John Laughland he told me that he has obtained a written opinion from a prominent French jurist who advises that the EU’s sanctions are indeed illegal. He has generously offered to send it to me. There may be confidentiality issues involved however which may limit my ability to discuss it in a public forum such as this.

I should say that sanctions imposed by the US are an entirely different matter. I have little doubt of their legality unless they violate WTO rules, which they may do but about which I know little.

The economy

Both Kudrin and Nabiullina made clear that the key to Russia’s future economic development is unlocking domestic investment. I have discussed this at length in many places.

First to Kudrin. He has made various criticisms of Putin and of the policies of the Russian government in the recent past and he often comes across as a committed, even fanatical, free market fundamentalist. At this Forum however he came across instead as a fully committed and onside team player. The roundtable he chaired was all about using long term investment from sovereign wealth funds (including and above all Russia’s) to develop strategic sectors of the Russian economy (especially infrastructure) where immediate short term profits are not to be made.

Nabiullina once again explained the central bank’s anti-inflation strategy, which I have discussed previously before. Once again she made clear that reducing inflation is in the central bank’s view the key to unlocking domestic investment. A few further points:

1. Nabiullina confirmed that the central bank’s medium to long term inflation target is 4%. She actually made it clear that the central bank would act to raise inflation if it fell below this level. According to her 4% inflation is pitched at the right level to make long term lending attractive whilst allowing space for the economy to breathe.

2. Inflation fell steadily throughout 2013. Since the start of the year there has however been another inflation spurt, which has obliged the central bank to tighten monetary policy even more. The reason for this was the decline in the exchange rate caused initially by the US Federal Reserve’s monetary tightening and later by the Ukrainian crisis.

Though Nabiullina picked her words very carefully I gained the distinct impression that the central bank in the end decided to use the Federal Reserve’s monetary tightening and the Ukrainian crisis as an excuse to let the rouble fall. Given that inflation in Russia has been consistently higher than in the countries Russia trades with it would not be possible to maintain the level of the rouble without a loss of competitiveness. The central bank appears to have decided to accept a shot term hit in its anti-inflation policy as a price worth paying for a rouble correction that would make the economy more competitive whilst strengthening the budget and the trade balance. Nabiullina seemed confident that any ground lost on the inflation front would be made up quickly over the balance of the year. She predicted an eventual yearly inflation rate of no more than 6% this year with 5% next year. She also explained the high capital outflow in the first quarter as being caused by the fall in the rouble’s value (rather than vice versa) and said that with the stabilisation in the rouble’s value in April capital outflow had fallen drastically that month to just $4.2 billion.

3. Nabiullina and Alexander Afanasiev, the head of the Moscow Exchange also gave a detailed account of various technical steps being taken to clean up the Russian financial services industry to make it more effective and capable of discharging its role to provide the economy with investment. Both were under no illusions of the complexities involved but both seemed to have a clear idea of what they wanted and needed to do.

I was impressed by Nabiullina. She is physically small and intense but she is very clear and authoritative and has all the facts at her fingertips. When two bankers (both American educated as they proudly told us) challenged her that regulation was bad and unnecessary and that the only role for government was to subordinate everything to the market she had no difficulty swatting them away like flies.

Putin

This was the first occasion I have been in the same room as Putin and seen him in action and he made an astonishing impression.

Putin is not a natural orator and doesn’t pretend to be. I struggled to remain focused through his long introductory speech. When he finishes with a peroration it falls flat. When interviewed however it is an entirely different matter. Television simply does not do justice the confidence and humour he brings. At a time when western leaders have never been more filled with self-importance they must find his intelligence and mockery infuriating. If Putin is like that in private he must be fun to work with, which doubtless explains the intense loyalty of his team.

One example of his sheer virtuosity will have to suffice. For me the single funniest moment amongst many came in the part of the interview that dealt with Edward Snowden. Putin first mocked the Americans for scaring off all the countries in the whole world from enabling Snowden to travel to them. He ridiculed the Americans for forcing down aeroplanes with Presidents on board. He cynically (but rightly) pointed out that if the Americans had no behaved in this way and Snowden had been allowed to travel to these countries the Americans could have caught him and he would now be in an American jail. Putin then said that this meant that Snowden was forced to claim asylum in Russia. He then bragged that, “Russia never hands over a human rights activist”. After this provoked a roar of applause he finished by pretended to correct himself by saying that it is Snowden himself who claims he is a human rights activist.

The audience (made up of businesspeople who are not Putin’s natural constituency) loved it. So did the Chinese Vice President. He burst into a smile as he said in his concluding remarks that what Putin had said would be favourably noticed in China.

THE “ANTI TERRORIST OPERATION” IN THE UKRAINE HAS BEEN A DISASTER

In a short piece I wrote on 11th April 2014 on my Facebook page under the the title “More evidence of the Ukrainian security forces’ refusal to carry out Kiev’s orders” I said:

“A report I read on Novosti citing an anonymous but apparently senior source in Kiev suggested that the force deployed today in Slavyansk consisted of all the available units in the western Ukraine that could be deployed there. If so then this may explain why the unit that will be sent to the eastern Ukraine tomorrow is according to Turchinov so small……If this does indeed turn out to be the case then I for one cannot help but think that Kiev is going to have to rely increasingly on the right wing militias to enforce its control since it doesn’t seem likely that such small forces would be sufficient to suppress such a large territory as the eastern Ukraine. Given how people in the east feel about the militias and given their lack of discipline and propensity for violence deploying them on any significant scale in the east must however run the risk of inflaming the situation even more”.

At the time a month ago when the above words were written, shortly after the “anti terrorist operation” was launched, most cities and administrative centres in the Donbas were at least nominally under Kiev’s control with only Slavyansk being in open revolt. Today there are more reports of defections from the regular military including incredibly from the supposedly politically reliable National Guard (http://voiceofrussia.com/news/2014_05_17/Ukraine-National-Guard-soldiers-accused-of-treachery-7264/), the junta’s forces remain bogged down around Slavyansk – which they have so far repeatedly failed to capture despite boasts from the likes of Yarosh that he was engaged in “mopping up operations” there – Mariupol (Donetsk’s second biggest city) is lost, more towns and territory are being lost, border posts are under attack and are in the process of being lost, a large swathe (in my opinion a substantial majority) of the local population has voted for some form of independence from Kiev, alternative bodies of power and administration independent of Kiev’s are being set up and the junta has been forced to call off its plan to hold its second “roundtable” conference in Donetsk (it took place in Kharkov instead).

By any objective measure the “anti terrorist operation” has from Kiev’s point of view been a total disaster. Far from securing the Donbas and suppressing the resistance there it has antagonised the local people and confirmed them in their support for the resistance and in their hostility to the Maidan movement and to Kiev.

There is no evidence however that either the junta or its supporters in Washington have learnt any lessons from this debacle. Whilst one of the key reasons for the failure of the “anti terrorist operation” (as I predicted a month ago) has been the violent and undisciplined behaviour of the right wing paramilitaries enlisted in the National Guard upon whom the junta is increasingly coming to rely (see their actions in Mariupol) the junta is astonishingly proposing to rely on them even more.. See this comment on VoR

http://voiceofrussia.com/news/2014_05_17/Ukraine-legalizes-Maidan-fighters-creating-all-Ukrainian-public-organization-4598/

I reiterate what I said on 11th April 2014: reliance on right wing militias to suppress resistance in the Donbas is a certain guarantee of disaster given (1) their violent and undisciplined behaviour and (2) the feelings the local people have for them.

After the Odessa fire and the response of Maidan supporters to it I have lost the wish I once had to see the Ukraine hold together. However to those in the west who still want that I say do what Russia urges and what was agreed on 17th April 2014 in Geneva and pressure Kiev to:

1. Stop the “anti terrorist operation” immediately. Persisting with something so politically counterproductive is an exercise in political perversity;

2. Disarm the right wing paramilitaries and clear Maidan without further delay. It should be obvious by now that the right wing paramilitaries are the problem not the route to the solution. Maintaining these people in arms is a recipe for more violence, gross human rights violations, atrocities against the civilian population such as we saw in Odessa and Mariupol and ultimately for civil war;

3. Open immediately negotiations with the leaders of the resistance and other interested parties in the Donbas and elsewhere with all options including sweeping federalisation and even outright secession on the table. I think it might still just be possible to persuade a majority of people in the Donbas to stick with the Ukraine if sweeping federalisation is now conceded (though I am far from sure of this) but as I said in an interview I did for RT on 7th April 2014 such willingness as there is in the Donbas to compromise diminishes with every day that substantive negotiations fail to take place and if the “tipping point” I spoke of in that interview has not actually already been reached it will be reached very soon now:

“RT: Do you think the protesters – who seem very hands-on, to put it mildly at the moment – will be willing to negotiate? Should Kiev, as you say, be forced to back down and go for negotiations?

AM: Yes, I think they probably would be, but their demands are very clear and the longer Kiev takes to actually address those demands, the more their demands will escalate. And there will come a point, a tipping point, beyond which negotiations are no longer possible. I do not think we are there yet, but we are coming close”.

http://rt.com/op-edge/eastern-ukraine-tension-negotiations-985/

All this means recognising that this is first and foremost a domestic Ukrainian dispute and not a dispute between the Ukraine and Russia. It also means returning to what was purportedly agreed in Geneva on 17th April 2014. To reiterate what was agreed there was:

1. Suspension of all use of force including of course and primarily the “anti terrorist operation”;

2. Disarming of all paramilitaries and militia including first and foremost Kiev’s right wing paramilitaries (who are the only paramilitaries so far actually guilty of atrocities) and the freeing of all occupied buildings and squares including not just those in the east but also Maidan;

3. Comprehensive negotiations involving all parties for a political settlement involving sweeping constitutional change.

As I have discussed previously the junta and its western supporters have misrepresented the 17th April 2014 Geneva Statement as requiring the unilateral disarmament and demobilisation of the resistance in the east. That is hopeless. As should by now be obvious it is not going to happen and to insist on it is a guarantee of failure and ultimately of civil war and eventual partition. A stool designed with three legs cannot stand on half of one.

Alexander Mercouris

MASSACRE IN ODESSA

Russia’s Channel Odessa has done a real piece of investigative journalism on the Odessa massacre.

It appears to show that the street fighting in Odessa that preceded the massacre bore the hallmarks of a carefully staged provocation in which sections of the police and of the local authorities were actively involved. It shows that the “pro Russian protesters” (if such they were) who initiated the street fighting were a different group from the anti Maidan activists who were driven out of their protest camp and who were then burnt alive in the most barbaric way in the Trade Union building in what can only be called a massacre. These “pro Russian protesters”  appear to have started the street fighting with the active assistance and complicity of the local authorities and of the Odessa police. Once the larger group of Maidan activists who were involved in the street fighting moved towards the anti Maidan protest camp where the local anti Maidan activists were based the “pro Russian activists” who started the street fighting simply melted away.

I understand Channel One did not try to identify who these “anti Russian protesters” actually were.  Given that the local authorities in Odessa support Kiev if this was a provocation as seems likely then their  involvement and that of sections of the police tends to suggest that it was aimed at discrediting the anti Maidan protests in Odessa.  Certainly the provocation cannot have been arranged by Russian Special Forces unless one accepts the entirely farfetched possiblity that they have successfully suborned Odessa’s local administration and polce department.

At this stage any views as to who was responsible for instigating the provocation that led to the street fighting must be tentative. In order to arrive at a definite conclusion there would need to be a proper, impartial and independent investigation. Of course that will not happen at least whilst the present political conditions prevail just as there will not be a proper, impartial and independent investigation of the sniper incident on Maidan.

A few further points:

1. Regardless of who was responsible for the original street violence, film and eye witness evidence make it abundantly clear that the fire at the Trade Union building and the massacre there was carried out by Maidan supporters. Even if it eventually turns out that the “pro Russian protesters” who were behind the original street clashes were actually what they appeared to be that can in no way excuse or justify the barbaric actions of the Maidan supporters at the Trade Union building. The utterly appalling comments about the massacre from certain Maidan supporters that have appeared on social media and the perfunctory response to the massacre from the present authorities in Kiev (Yatsenyuk for example has criticised the local police but he has utterly failed to condemn those responsible for the fire and the massacre) only make things worse.

I am afraid this is consistent with the pattern of behaviour we have seen ever since the start of the Maidan protests in November with Maidan leaders and supporters (Klitschko being the occasional exception) reacting with extreme and often disproportionate anger when force is used against themselves (even when that force is lawful) whilst being callously indifferent and mostly supportive to the far greater force and violence used by their supporters

2. The conduct of the British media in response to this massacre has been beyond appalling.

Following the sniper attacks on Kiev the British media had no hesitation in putting the blame on Yanukovitch though the evidence (to put it mildly) was far from conclusive. At an earlier stage in the Maidan protests sections of the British media devoted a phenomenal amount of time, reporting and commentary to the attack on Chornovil with all sorts of unsubstantiated speculations that Yanukovitch was personally behind it though evidence of that there was none.

Not only has the British media by contrast failed to give the Odessa massacre anything remotely approaching the amount of reporting the scale of the massacre justifies or to carry out anything like the soñrt of investigation into it we have seen from Channel One but it persists in pretending that there are uncertainties about who was responsible for the massacre even though film and eye witness evidence is conclusive and even though (as I understand it) persons involved in the pro Maidan organisations involved in the massacre have openly bragged about it.  Instead

The Guardian in its editorial the day after the massacre preferred to editorialise about the wickedness of Russia holding a May Day party on Red Square

http://www.theguardian.com/global/2014/may/02/editorial-ukraine-kievs-eastern-question

We had an article in the Daily Telegraph calling the local people who demanded the release of the surviving anti government activists saved from the fire and arrested by the Odessa police following the massacre a “mob” threatening Odessa with “anarchy”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/ukraine/10808244/Ukraine-crisis-mob-frees-separatist-heroes-as-anarchy-grips-Odessa.html

We have an article in the Guardian today calling readers who post comments on Comment is Free critical of its pro Maidan editorial line “Kremlin trolls” (thanks to Mark Sleboda for this).

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/04/pro-russia-trolls-ukraine-guardian-online

Whilst The Times editorialises that Putin must stop his campaign of “subversion and coercion” against the Ukraine which has in  Odessa has “inspired separatists” into “acts of war”

. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/opinion/leaders/article4080839.ece

I invite people to imagine how the British media would have reported this massacre if roles had been reversed and if it had been Maidan supporters who were burnt alive in the Trade Union building with an anti Maidan crowd filmed throwing Molotov cocktails into the building whilst baying for blood outside.

As for the political consequences of this massacre, its immediate effect will be to harden anti Maidan feeling in the south eastern Ukraine first and foremost in Odessa itself. That also for the moment appears to be the principal effect of the “anti terrorist operation” in the eastern Ukraine. Needless to say that makes the prospect of any sort of constitutional negotiations as required by the Geneva Statement all but impossible. It also makes the prospect of outright civil war in the Ukraine ending eventually in the violent partition of the country and the loss of the Ukraine’s eastern regions to Russia also more likely.

WHY CONSTITUTIONAL TALKS IN THE UKRAINE SHOULD START NOW

The US, Kiev, their EU allies and their media echo chamber are up to their invariable game of rewriting last week’s Geneva Statement to mean not what it says but what they want it to say.

To repeat the Geneva Statement contains NO time line (see my previous post where I discussed what the Geneva Statement actually says). It does NOT require buildings and public places in the east to be evacuated before buildings and public places in the west. It does not require people in the east to disarm before people disarm in the west. Above all it does NOT require the vacation of buildings and public places in the east and the disarmament of the people there before the start of negotiations on constitutional change or make the vacation of buildings and public places in the east or the disarmament of the people there a pre condition for the start of the negotiations on constitutional change.

I make this point because that is how Kiev and its present supporters are currently trying to misrepresent the Geneva Statement. Needless to say if the buildings and public spaces in the east were vacated and the people there disarmed he pressure there currently is to start serious negotiations on constitutional change would abate with the strong probability that negotiations would then never take place at all. In reality there is nothing in the Geneva Statement that says that negotiations cannot start right away whilst the buildings and public places in the east remain occupied and the people there remain armed with the buildings and public places in the east (and the west) and the people in the east (and the west) disarming as part of an overall settlement achieved as a result of the negotiations. Given the history of broken agreements on the part of Kiev and its western sponsors (eg. the 21st February 2014 agreement) the continuing mobilisation of the people of the east whilst the negotiations are underway and until an agreement is reached and secured would seem to be a basic precaution.

I would remind everybody that the people who currently form the regime consistently refused to vacate Maidan whilst they were negotiating with Yanukovitch and he (wrongly in my opinion) never insisted that they do so.

I make this point because so far there is no sign from Kiev of any attempt to begin negotiations at all. We have not even had the announcement of a negotiating team or discussions about the venue for talks. Instead Kiev and the US administration are hiding behind the continuing occupation of the buildings and public spaces in the east and the presence of armed men there as a pretext for not starting talks. It needs to be said clearly and unequivocally that this is a false pretext and that there is no reason or excuse to delay the start of talks on constitutional change which is the overriding priority at the moment if this crisis is to be brought to a peaceful and satisfactory end.

DECONSTRUCTING THE RESULT OF THE FOUR PARTY TALKS

The media refers to the document that emerged out of today’s four party talks as an “agreement”. This is not strictly correct. The text of the document is here:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/17/ukraine-diplomats-meet-in-geneva-in-bid-to-ease-crisis-live-coverage?view=desktop#block-5350089ce4b056a9012cda6f

As its text makes clear what this document is in reality is not an an agreement to settle the Ukrainian crisis or even an outline of such an agreement but rather a statement of basic principles around which an agreement should be negotiated. The real agreement (if it comes about) will emerge from negotiations based on the principles set out in this document.

A number of points:

1. Kiev’s claims to the contrary notwithstanding, the statement that “all sides must refrain from all violence, intimidation and provocative actions” clearly rules out the “anti terrorist operation” in the eastern Ukraine that Kiev launched on Sunday;

2. As Lavrov has correctly pointed out the provisions in the third paragraph that require the disarmament and dissolution of armed groups is clearly intended to refer as much to Right Sector and the Maidan Self Defence Force as it does to the protesters in the east. Note specifically that the statement calls for a general amnesty except for those who have committed capital crimes (ie. murder). So far no protesters in the east have murdered anyone. Even Kiev admits that none of its soldiers have so far been killed. The same obviously cannot be said of Right Sector and of the Maidan Self Defence Force even if one disregards their likely responsibility for the sniper killings in Kiev on 20th February 2014;

3. The document clearly refers to Maidan itself, which it says must be cleared. Specifically alongside illegally occupied buildings the document refers to “all illegally occupied streets, squares and other public places in Ukrainian cities”. The reference to “squares” clearly is intended to refer to Maidan, which the militants in Kiev have said they will continue to occupy at least until the elections on 25th May 2014 and even beyond;

4. Importantly there is NO time line in the document.  There is no demand therefore that buildings be evacuated by any particular date or time.  That has to be agreed and coordinated with the OSCE monitors on the ground.  The people in the eastern Ukraine are therefore entirely within their rights to stay in the buildings at the moment until a timeline is agreed with the OSCE monitors, one requirement of which will surely be parallel evacuations of occupied squares and buildings in Kiev and the west including Maidan.

5. The referral to the OSCE as the enforcement and mediation agency between the regime and its opponents gives Russia a formal role in the process since it is a member of the OSCE. By contrast the negotiations which took place before 21st February 2014 were negotiated and mediated by the EU of which Russia is not a member;

6. The reference to the fact that in the negotiations concerning constitutional changes there should be “outreach to all the Ukraine’s regions and constituencies” (note especially use of the word “constituencies”) gives a role to the protesters in the east in the negotiations and not just to those formal official bodies currently recognised by Kiev.

This document on its face therefore represents a shift towards the Russian/east Ukrainian side. Indeed it basically sets out principles Russia has been arguing for ever since Yanukovitch was deposed on 22nd February 2014.

Unfortunately that does not mean this road map is going to be successfully followed. Already Kiev is trying to argue that the “anti terrorist operation” it has ordered is somehow exempt from it (it isn’t) whilst the US is threatening to impose more sanctions on Russia if following the weekend Russia fails to impose pressure on the eastern Ukrainians to evacuate buildings they occupy without the US undertaking to put any corresponding pressure on its clients in Kiev (shades of Syria here). It is very easy to see how the US and its allies could then blame Russia for the failure of the road map whilst having caused that failure themselves.

However the Russians do have a number of strong cards to play of their own:

1. The growing unrest in the Donbass, which will almost certainly spread to more regions of the eastern Ukraine unless some serious concessions are made. The events of the last few days have exposed Kiev’s difficulties in suppressing this unrest. Significantly no further step in pursuit of the “anti terrorist operation” seems to have been taken today as Kiev reels from the military defections of yesterday;

2. Russia as Putin pointedly reminded everybody in his television marathon today can always refuse to recognise the results of the Presidential elections on 25th May 2014 if the negotiations are failing to make progress and also has authority from the Federation Council to send troops into the eastern Ukraine if the situation there deteriorates further. A refusal to recognise the results of the election will further undermine the legitimacy of whoever is elected. It is now clear that there will be no significant military resistance from forces loyal to Kiev if the Russian army moves into the eastern Ukraine. If that happens the likelihood is that Kiev will lose the easterh Ukraine forever (note Putin’s pointed reference to “Novorossiya” in his television marathon today) – a nightmare scenario for both Kiev and the west though not one Russia is pursuing at the moment;

3. It is now clear that without Russia’s assistance the possibility of stabilising the Ukraine’s economy quite simply does not exist. The last paragraph specifically refers to the importance of the Ukraine “financial and economic stability” to “the participants” and says “the participants…. would be ready to discuss additional support as the above steps are implemented”. The most important of the “participants” in this regard is Russia. It bears repeating (as Putin has recently pointed out) that Russia is the only participant so far providing any economic assistance to the Ukraine at all. The US is only offering $1 billion in loan guarantees and the EU is offering just 1.6 billion euros none of which have so far been provided. What this document in effect therefore says is that whilst Russia is prepared to assist in the stabilisation of the Ukraine’s economy its help is conditional on the fulfilment of the provisions of the road map;

4. It is becoming increasingly clear that there is growing resistance within the EU to further sanctions against Russia. The fact that a process has now been launched to settle this crisis will redouble European reluctance to introduce more sanctions and will increase pressure within the EU for the process to be treated seriously so that it can succeed.

In conclusion, we are not out of the woods or anywhere close. This is not the beginning of the end of the crisis. But we may be a small step closer to that point. A lot will depend on what happens next and the key decisions will be made on the ground in the Ukraine itself.

Russian Federation Sitrep 20140417

 

KIEV ATTACKS. On Tuesday what remains of Kiev’s army, accompanied with threats of destruction, entered two eastern cities, Kramatorsk and Slavyansk. The soldiers soon switched sides (or as they say in Kiev “Russian terrorist sabotage groups have been captured six units of armored vehicles”), up went the Russian flags and St George ribbons and the townspeople fed them; I guess the American rations didn’t get to them. Interview. And another column stopped. Good news – especially when you think of what the rhetoric of easterners as “terrorists” and Washington’s enthusiastic encouragement could have led to. Today will probably tell: if the attacks fizzle out, there’s still hope for a federalised Ukraine. I look forward to watching Washington, Brussels (and Ottawa, I am ashamed to include) try and spin their way out of this shattering confutation of their fantasies. Reminds me of the Ossetia War when Wikileaks revealed that the US Embassy had uncritically transmitted whatever nonsense it was being fed by the Saakashvili regime.

TIME TO GO? Staff in Kiev’s power ministries are changing sides, refusing to attack the protesters, melting away; there are more dismissals in the power organs. Kiev’s new rulers have, apart from the uncertain loyalty of the most extreme, little force available (vide Kramatorsk). Moody’s has dropped Ukraine to “default imminent with little prospect for recovery”. Their sponsors in Brussels and Washington have kicked in only a sum that would about cover what China is suing Ukraine for. Meanwhile conditions worsen for the ordinary stiff. Large areas of the east ignore Kiev and demand more autonomy or a referendum. And where’s Right Sector? Disarmed? Mobilising? Or beating up presidential candidates and demanding resignations in Kiev? Can’t think Yatsenyuk will be around for much longer: no power, no money, no support. A visit from the CIA head isn’t much comfort.

SNIPERS. It’s almost forgotten now, but the Ukraine crisis was negotiated to a satisfactory result on 21 February. The agreement collapsed thanks to the snipers on the Maidan. So who were they? The new people in Kiev, predictably, blame Yanukovych and hint at Russian involvement. However, the simple application of the principle of cui bono would query that. The Ashton-Paet intercept raised the possibility that the snipers were connected with the people now in power in Kiev. A German investigation supports this conclusion. This question is at the core of the nature of the regime now in Kiev and, Dear Reader, its coverage, or ignoring, will be another test of whether your local media outlet is reporting or re-typing. Original in German, English translation on JRL/2014/84/1or here.

SNIPPETS. Far extreme anti Russia propaganda (but note what Tymoshenko said and how The Telegraph chose to frame the story.) Note this photo of Kiev’s Interior Minister; what’s the story on the flag patch on his guard’s uniform? You may be sure that people in south and east wonder. Here are some easterners stopping a lone tank. The “Russian colonel” video is a fake. These are former Ukrainian vehicles that switched sides.

SANCTIONS. Remember how Russia’s stock market was going to be badly hurt by the sanctions? Not so much.

AND EVEN BIGGER CONSEQUENCES? The “petro-dollar” is a pillar of US power. There are straws in the wind: the BRICS talking about setting up their own IMF. Russia, China and India thinking about by-passing the US Dollar in oil deals. Et Cetera. I wonder if the fall in the US stock market has anything to do with this. After all, Washington does not look like a good bet at the moment: hugely overextended, empty blustering, incompetent and destabilising interference. Time to bring it down? Or time to get yourself out from under the crash?

RUSSIAN MASSING. Finally NATO issued some pictures of the Russian forces “massing” along the border. Nonsense! all clearly bases: everything neatly lined up, fences around the edges, buildings, no tactical grouping. Not evidence at all. In some cases you can find same or similar photos on Google Earth from months ago; the airfield at Primorsko-Akhtarsk for example; same aircraft in different places. Holly finds no Russians.

PUTIN LETTER. Trying to inject some reality, Putin sent a letter to Russia’s European gas customers. It says: Ukraine’s economy is collapsing; Russia has been providing cheap gas, other money and discounts totalling about US$35 billion in the last 4 years; the EU has contributed nothing; Ukraine hasn’t paid anything for gas for several months. Russia is close to demanding payment in advance for deliveries; this “increases the risk of siphoning off natural gas passing through Ukraine’s territory and heading to European consumers”. We must all get together to figure out a solution. Merkel has indicated she is taking this seriously.

 

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/ http://us-russia.org/)

Hyperlinks ought to work immediately but, if not, right-click, copy link location, put it in your browser.

 

 

 

Russian Federation Sitrep 3 April 2014

 

THE FUTURE OF UKRAINE. The Ukraine of six months ago no longer exists; it has been destroyed by the scheming of Brussels and Washington. If there is to be something on the map named “Ukraine” at the end of the year that in anyway resembles what was there six months ago, Moscow’s plan must be adopted. Autonomy for the regions so that one half can’t bully the other half; minority language rights; neutrality, neither NATO nor Russia. As to Crimea, it is part of Russia; that is done. If it offends you to call this the Moscow plan, you may call it the Kissinger plan. If these principles are not accepted, and fairly soon, then by the end of the year south and east Ukraine (known as Novorossiya – New Russia – for two centuries) will be independent or part of Russia while rump Ukraine will be in full economic collapse and even civil war (and eventual absorption by Poland?). The only thing left undetermined will be the border of Novorossiya and rump Ukraine. None of this was necessary; all of it was predictable. (Here I am in December. But I claim no special prescience: everyone who knew anything about Ukraine knew it was fatal to the project to force an all-or-nothing choice. The West did this twice: ten years ago with NATO and now with an exclusive EU trade relationship, with NATO in the background). So here we are: hard times ahead for the citizens of any conceivable future Ukraine.

RUSSIA’S INVISIBLE ARMY. Much about how Russia is “massing” its army along the Ukrainian border. These reports are so confused as to be valueless – read this one carefully for example, noting contradictions; note the rag-bag elements tossed together of this one. No “massing Russian troops” were found in a 200 mile trip by Daily Telegraph reporters; nor in a 500-mile trip by NBC reporters. But it’s still hyped by NATO. (Once upon a time I believed NATO over Moscow. No more. Kosovo wounded it; Libya killed it; Ukraine has buried it. From now on my base assumption is that NATO is lying.) There is no need for “massing”: Russian troops in Crimea (already there, which is why US int couldn’t find them) were welcomed by an enormous majority and 90% of the Ukrainian forces either joined them or quit. There is every reason to expect that the reception of the Russians would be the same in Novorossiya, as we should perhaps get used to calling it.

UN VOTE. A General Assembly vote saying the Crimea referendum was unlawful passed 100-11 allowing various organs to trumpet that Russia was isolated. But closer scrutiny adds 58 abstentions and 24 who didn’t vote at all to the 11: a total of 93. Given that established states strongly disapprove of secession, a 50-50 split is a sign that Russia is not isolated at all. By now many know they might be on the list for a “humanitarian intervention” and they are happy to see the West humbled in an attempt.

LONGER TERM EFFECTS. I think this will prove to be pretty big; maybe even the moment when the EU and NATO will be seen to have begun their slide to oblivion. The final effects are of course contingent on many factors but some can be seen on the horizon. I think Putin (and most Russians) feel that they have been lied to by the West for the last time. (Just what did happen to the 21 February agreement, by the way?) China has taken sides in an occidental squabble for the first time I can recall. Most of the opposition groups in Russia so loved by the West are revealed to be sock puppets. All intelligent observers now know that Western N“G”Os have hostile intent (Nuland’s $5 billion). The BRICS have moved closer to becoming a political entity. NATO is further weakened (Poland would not want foreign troops stationed on it if it trusted Article 5). The EU has taken another step towards irrelevance (notice that the discussions now are Kerry-Lavrov; Ashton doesn’t exist). As a reminder, listen to Nuland’s speech in December: not at all the landslide she thought she was starting.

BOSTON BOMBING.In September 2011, Russia’s FSB sent a cable to the CIA restating their initial warning, and a second note on Tsarnaev was entered on the TECS system, but his name was misspelled ‘Tsarnayev’”. Umpteen billion dollars’ worth of NSA communications capture and storage goes for naught because the Russians have their own alphabet. Who knew? No one at State apparently.

THE “PUTIN MYSTERY”. Read what he says, watch what he does, think about it (hint: the fact that people are asking who he is after 15 years shows they haven’t been paying attention). Start with the idea of patriotic Russian. As a indication, what does Putin find so funny here? the interviewer hasn’t a clue.

NASA. Has severed relations with Russia. Except for the International Space Station. Which is prudent, given that Russian rockets are the only way to get there. Washington had better hope that Moscow doesn’t get really angry – Afghanistan is the other location Washington depends on Moscow to get to.

 

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/ http://us-russia.org/)

Hyperlinks ought to work immediately but, if not, right-click, copy link location, put it in your browser.

 

 

 

The Lavrov-Kerry Meeting

We do not have anywhere near complete information about what happened at the Lavrov Kerry meeting on Sunday.  That in itself is a good sign.  It almost certainly means that with the Crimean issue out of the way (and with the western powers having tacitly admitted that the Crimea is now part of Russia) real negotiations have begun.  Lavrov described the talks he had with Kerry as “very constructive” and a Russian diplomatic source has said that for the first time since the start of the Ukrainian crisis there was straightforward talking.  That suggests serious negotiations and that we have at last got past the point of grandstanding and positioning.
A few points:
1. We know what the Russian demands are: (1) federalisation (2) official status for the Russian language and (3) a binding treaty securing the Ukraine’s neutrality.
2. It is completely unclear what US demands are.  Obama has spoken about Russia withdrawing its troops from the Ukraine’s eastern borders.  These concentrations of troops do not exist and Obama has anyway admitted that Russia has the right to deploy its own troops on its own territory.  There are also references to the OSCE mission and to Russian troops in the Crimea returning to their bases.  These are holdovers from an earlier stage in the crisis when it was primarily about the Crimea.  The OSCE mission is now in place and does not include the Crimea whilst the demand that Russian troops in the Crimea return to their bases is now redundant.
3. We also know that the Lavrov Kerry talks began following a telephone conversation between Obama and Putin and that Obama in that conversation asked that Russia put its proposals in writing.  That together with the absence of any demands or proposals from the US side suggests that it is the Russian demands/proposals that are the basis of discussion.
Though the US has not made its demands clear there can be no doubt about what is the predominant wish of its European allies: an end to the crisis and the Ukraine’s stabilisation.  It has become utterly clear over the last few weeks that the Europeans have no wish to be drawn into a prolonged confrontation with Russia that would seriously harm their economies.  If only for that reason the pressure will be on to achieve a settlement that will bring this crisis to an end.  Given that the Germans have already made know that they are sympathetic to the Russians’ proposals that means that the pressure is on the US to compromise.
The important thing is that the US is not rejecting the Russian proposals.  Obviously it is saying that it is the Ukrainians who must ultimately decide questions of federalisation etc.  The Russians are saying that too.  No one wants to appear to be imposing a diktat.  However “Ukrainians” as everyone by now knows includes east Ukrainians who favour these proposals.
There also seem to be some glimmers of possible compromise coming out of Kiev.  Amongst Ukrainian politicians Yatsenyuk has already spoken strongly of the need for what he calls decentralisation whilst Poroshenko today is reported as saying that he is prepared to compromise with the Russians about everything except the Crimea (which is not coming back) or European integration (which is not on offer and which Barroso again ruled out). Lukashenko’s meeting with Turchinov may have been intended to open a line of contact between Moscow and Kiev (Lukashenko is due to meet Putin in Minsk soon) whilst the threatened crackdown by Kiev on the radicals including Right Sector whilst largely driven by internal factors nonetheless meets a Russian demand.
This is not going to be an easy negotiation and it is going to take time.  There is no certainty about its outcome and there is a real risk that the negotiations could fail and that things could go seriously wrong.  The hardliners in Washington (Nuland etc) and in Kiev (Tyagnibok etc and probably Tymoshenko) will resist compromise every inch of the way.  We are at a start of what is probably a long and difficult process.  It is most unlikely anything will be resolved before the Presidential election in May.  However at least the Americans are finally talking to the Russians whilst the Russians have some strong cards to play in that without their help the stabilisation of the Ukraine’s economy is probably impossible at any remotely acceptable cost.  Given that this is so and given the pressure to find a settlement from Europe it is more likely than not that some sort of deal involving the setting up of a contact group that will then present Kiev with “proposals” for constitutional reform which Kiev will have to accept in return for economic help will at some point come to pass.

Russian federation Sitrep 20 March 2014

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 20 March 2014

PUTIN SPEECH. After the referendum (by the way, perfectly normal numbers for this sort of thing see Falklands Islands, Kosovo and others) the process of re-joining Russia has begun – Putin’s speech here. One of his points was the illegality of Khrushchev’s transfer in 1954 “What matters now is that this decision was made in clear violation of the constitutional norms that were in place even then. The decision was made behind the scenes. Naturally, in a totalitarian state nobody bothered to ask the citizens of Crimea and Sevastopol.” He quoted the UN International Court ruling of July 22, 2010. If I were to pick two sentences to sum it up, they would be these: “Our western partners, led by the United States of America, prefer not to be guided by international law in their practical policies, but by the rule of the gun. They have come to believe in their exclusivity and exceptionalism, that they can decide the destinies of the world, that only they can ever be right.” The second: “Are we ready to consistently defend our national interests, or will we forever give in,  retreat to who knows where?” But it should be read: again, read what he says, not what people tell you he says.

UKRAINE FUTURE. Putin said he has no intention of absorbing other parts of Ukraine but this must be considered conditional. The warning is here: “But it should be above all in Ukraine’s own interest to ensure that these people’s [ie Russophones] rights and interests are fully protected. This is the guarantee of Ukraine’s state stability and territorial integrity.”  If it gets bad, he will. Yatsenyuk has said he will disarm the extremists. Let’s hope that he does but I think he’s the von Papen of this revolution and I doubt he’ll be around in six months.

LIFE IN UKRAINE. Now that the Crimea issue has been resolved, maybe our intrepid reporters can find the time to turn their attention to investigating fake voting in the Rada, vigilantes “lustrating” doctors, press people being beaten up (congratulations to Huff Post for carrying this one), neo-nazi thugs parading through towns, ditto beating up passers by, ditto beating up cops, ditto smashing up buildings, the “heroes” shaking down a gas station, people in the east turning back Ukrainian armed forces, big pro-Russia demos. Then again, maybe not.  But they won’t have to go far or stay in uncomfortable hotels: this stuff is all over the Net and just has to be looked for.

UTTER FAILURE. Whatever the EU and Washington thought they were doing in Ukraine, it has been an utter failure. And there is more failure to come. Ukraine is broke, thousands and thousands of people in the south and east want out, some very nasty people hold the power in Kiev. The West’s absurd “sanctions” (parodied here) have been mocked by the whole Duma requesting to be put on the list. Is Ukraine more united? more democratic? richer? Is NATO stronger? more attractive? How about the EU? Does it look like a good bet for the future? Are Washington-EU relations stronger? Is Russia weaker? divided? poorer? Putin less popular? Do the people of Western countries think their leaders are smarter, more competent, more electable than they did a month ago? Do people believe their media outlets? (read the comments, for example, here). And they just keep digging their hole deeper. Just think, if Nuland, Ashton and the rest had kept their meddling hands out, Crimea would still be part of Ukraine and the tensions inherent in the Ukraine concept would not have burst open. But the concept has been broken and it will likely get nastier before it’s over. Biden may think that Russia is “naked and alone” but note Putin’s thanks to India and China. The world has changed;  a lot of people are glad to see the “West” humbled.

SEA OF OKHOTSK. The relevant UN commission has agreed that a 52,000 sq kms section of the Sea is part of Russia’s continental shelf giving it exclusive rights to what may be a lot of resources.

HMMM. There is a report that more than $100B worth of US treasury bills were shifted out of New York.

JIHADISM. The Caucasus Emirate has announced, without details, the death of its leader Doku Umarov. It doesn’t say when so it may be that Kadyrov was correct when he said earlier this year that he had been killed. He was around for a long time – I see my first reference to him was in a Sitrep in June 2006 when he became President of the Chechen Republic/Ichkeria. As the obituary says, soon after he “raised the banner of monotheism and proclaimed the Caucasus Emirate.”

SYRIAN CW. The OPCW announces that more than 45%  of the Syrian CW stockpile has been removed with 2 more shipments loaded at Latakia in the last week.

 

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/ http://us-russia.org/)

Hyperlinks ought to work immediately but, if not, right-click, copy link location, put it in your browser.