Could Vladimir Putin give peace a chance in Ukraine and beyond?

By John Lloyd
July 3, 2014

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What would it take for Russia to walk a way from violence and seek peaceful coexistence with its neighbors? It’s certainly hard to see a way out right now.

The dogs of war in the east have been let slip again. On Monday, Petro Poroshenko, the recently elected Ukrainian president, said a 10-day unilateral truce with the separatist, pro-Russian forces in the eastern part of his country had ended: Force would now be required to “free our lands.”

Ukrainian units were moved in to try to bring the cities and areas controlled by the heavily armed separatists under control. By Tuesday morning, the Ukrainian military was reporting air and artillery strikes.

“Jaw jaw,” said Winston Churchill, “is always better than war war.” “Jaw” – including a phone call in which Poroshenko took part with the leaders of France, Germany and Russia over the weekend, aimed at prolonging the truce — has again given way to war. Poroshenko justifies it on existential grounds: Armed men are seeking to take control of parts of a sovereign state, fundamentally challenging the monopoly of force any state must strive to maintain. His position, if difficult, is clear.

But what will President Vladimir Putin of Russia choose? Peace or war?

Presently, he’s committed to the latter path. After the easy taking of Crimea in March, Putin first encouraged and then discouraged the pro-Russian forces rebelling against Kiev’s rule.

The weaponry and some of the insurgents taking part in the revolt are from Russia, but are deniable. Ambiguity is the Kremlin’s friend. To be open is to court harsher sanctions, as the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schauble, made clear earlier this week.

But Putin is being pushed by events beyond his control. His strategy for strengthening a “Eurasian Union” in competition with the European Union is now gravely compromised. The former Soviet states of Georgia on the Black Sea and Moldova, whose western border is with the EU member state Romania, joined with Ukraine last week to sign partnership agreements with the EU. In all these states, Russia has sponsored or grabbed  breakaway territories – Transdnestr in Moldova, Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia, Crimea in Ukraine, all now garrisoned by Russian troops.

The pacts the three countries have made will mean that their trade, economies and ultimately politics will lean to the European west, not to the Russian east.  It’s the most radical of challenges: Putin has blasted the EU for forcing a choice — between Russia and Europe — on Ukraine.. But what he means is that Ukraine should stick by the decision of its ousted government and choose Russia. If the Russian president continues to fight the westward drift, he’s likely to provoke, or even actually take part in, conflicts that will become increasingly widespread civil wars.

What’s his alternative? To take a game-changing course not just for Russia but for the world.

Putin could renounce all plans for a reconstitution of even a part of the Russian, or Soviet, empire. He could declare that Russia, within its present (vast) borders, wants only good relations with its many neighbors, and that the only power it would project would be of the soft kind.

This couldn’t come all at once (most observers of Putin would say that it couldn’t come at all). Rather, it would be a gradual weaning away of Russians from beliefs that are widely and often deeply held, though self-destructive.

These beliefs include one that says Ukrainians, whether ethnically Russian or not, are really the same as Russians  – and that Ukraine, whose capital, Kiev, was the birthplace of Russian Orthodox Christianity – is “our (common) land.”  It is genuinely hard for most Russians to see Ukraine, and the neighbouring Slav state of Belarus, as separate national entities — as difficult, perhaps, as it was for most British (and certainly the British monarchy) to see the American colonies, in the 1770s, as the basis of a new state, independent of the country that had founded them.

Ukraine is not again going to be part of Russia – any more than the embryonic American states were (in spite of many loyalists who remained pro-British) to be part again of Britain. Common ancestry, religion, origins, language are not enough. Once the desire for, and an apparatus of, a new state emerges, the old empire’s best course is to gracefully withdraw.

While that certainly didn’t happen in 1776, eventually an alliance grew, which meant that when the United States overtook the United Kingdom as the world’s economic powerhouse in the late 19th century, there was grumbling and regret on one side and pride on the other, but no return to enmity.

Is that pie in the sky for Russia? Yes, for the moment; not, we must hope, for the future. Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine are far from ideal states. The  latter two have had governments that were a byword for corruption. Georgia’s independence 25 years ago was accompanied by threats to its minorities, which pushed them into the arms of Russia. Ukraine has had a succession of terrible leaders.

But as sovereign states, they must now find their own place in the world. For the present, that place, or at least that destination, is the European Union, which, in spite of its many problems and deficiencies, offers a prospect not just of relative wealth (which must be earned) but of clean government, stability and the rule of law. Russia’s challenge is to offer the same. Its present preference for threat does great harm, most deeply to itself.

PHOTO: A volunteer stands on guard with official security guards outside the Ukranian parliament in Kiev July 3, 2014. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

9 comments

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Putin has been trying to “Jaw jaw” but The US always wants “war war”.

Posted by Magnavaqua | Report as abusive

What would it take for the west to stop overthrowing Democratically elected regimes every time they don’t do what we expect them to?

This article is pure nonsense. It would have us believe that Russia is the aggressor yet it’s NATO (a purely military alliance) that has been creeping up to its borders and building ever more bases at its periphery; but Russians have nothing to worry about. Left hand holding the gun, while the right waves it off as in “nothing to see here”.

Posted by flojd | Report as abusive

The sole story is build on assumption, that Russia is the real enemy. If one sees the history of the EU and the USA foreign policy, which is doing everything to diskreded the russian people. Who ave stared war after the second world war, yes the vestry countries, because their are counties in the world who have not followed västern leaders policy. It is very difficult to understand that Russia, which has have sawed use from the German nazis, that they are driving us in i a war against the väst. Instead the västern allians, are doing everything to isolate Russia, claiming that it is no democracy, flaming that all the NGO working in Russia, are working for democracy. All or most of those NGO are sponsored by either private US oligarker, or by the US administration. What Väst vants is to try to take over Russia, and then defied it upp, between them exact as they are doing now with Ukraina. Way has Cevron, PB and other multinational, installed their own CO as leaders of the ukrain oil companies. Way are all farm land i bought upp by västern companies. Oligarker are leader of Ukraina, and they want to splitt the whole industry between them. The result will be that the citizens of Ukrain will one day wake upp, and se their whole country are own by oligarker, who leave in taxheaven. This is not a politik which are giving the ukraina a country, who can prosper.

Posted by kommentar | Report as abusive

The comparison of breakaway American colonies from Britain to that of brekaway Ukraine from imperial Russia is rather interesting and future could indeed be similar. But it seems that Putin’s presidency hinges on confrontation with Ukraine.

Posted by Spec333 | Report as abusive

The comparison of breakaway American colonies from Britain to that of brekaway Ukraine from imperial Russia is rather interesting and future could indeed be similar. But it seems that Putin’s presidency hinges on confrontation with Ukraine.

Posted by Spec333 | Report as abusive

The comparison of breakaway American colonies from Britain to that of brekaway Ukraine from imperial Russia is rather interesting and future could indeed be similar. But it seems that Putin’s presidency hinges on confrontation with Ukraine.

Posted by Spec333 | Report as abusive

The fundamental problem is the Putin regime always requires an external enemy as a means to unite and consolidate political control within Russia. Add to this the long agony of decolonization and the toxic nature of Russian nationalism. France almost fell apart and De Gaulle was almost killed when he let go of “French Algeria.” Putin foolishly encouraged a rampant xenophobia and a media-fueled hate campaign. He is a riding a resentful tiger that will devour him if he is not seen to deliver. But he can’t “deliver” Ukraine the way he was able to “gift” Crimea to Russia.

Posted by bluepanther | Report as abusive

[…] Andrey Koshik: ‘I Have Always Wanted From Russia Peacekeepers’ 32. Reuters: John Lloyd, Could Vladimir Putin give peace a chance in Ukraine and beyond? 33. The Economist: Ukraine and Russia. War by any other name. Russia has, in effect, already […]

This article is surreal, either the author is blinded or involved in cheap propaganda with the whole nonsense about Russian ‘agression’ and Putin rebuliding ‘empire’.

What Russia is doing in fact is DEFENDING its strategic positions against the US/NATO agressive stance of containment and ultimate goal of breakup of Russia as federation. Russia is in this respect in extremely vulnerable position due to the fact that it is federation based on ethnic republics (wanting analogies compare this to the status of native Americans in the US). Now, since Russia can not be broken by overt military pressure due to its nuclear might, it is pressed by ‘soft’ means including buliding up strategic positions around it and enticing internal conflicts. This is pursued relentlessly and systematically, unspoken and covered by ‘human rights’ and ‘democracy’ hats. Regarding the build-up of strategic positions, one look at a map makes plainly obvious there are two most precious ones: Georgia and Ukraine. This makes clear why enormous sums of money where invested in those countries to prepare enormous network of agents of impact. Victoria Nuland told about $5 billion invested officially in “supporting democracy” in Ukraine. Knowing the state of democracy in Ukraine it is evident this money was spent on buying people. More of unofficial money was surely spent too, which has led to the fast-track coup (famous “F*ck the EU” by Nuland). The coup was declared absolutely democratic but as we know its leaders were nominated by Nuland in cooperation with the US embassy in Kiev.

There was similar course of events in Georgia earlier. Its end result was that US-supported fanatical president Saakashvili used CIA-trained army in an attempt for ethnic cleansing with blitzkrieg timed when Putin was observing olympic games in Beijing. The combination of US geopolitical strategy with ethnic hatress led to catastrophic results. It was not Russia who was aggressor there. Russia did in fact a good job protecting ethnic minority and defending its strategic position.

Getting Ukraine and Georgia into the US zone of impact is obviously tremendous strategic danger to Russia. First, Georgia is in direct contact with Caucasus republics where islamic ferment is alive. This ferment was already enticed in the 90′s before 911 during Chechen wars and unveiling the role of CIA in it is waiting for another Snowden. Eastern Ukraine in turn is projecting to the whole southern underbelly of Russia. This is why Russia had no other choice than to make strategic movement by taking over Crimea. This partially saves its position temporarily but not in the longterm.
Do not forget however the ethnic aspect: Crimea has Russian population which has been under constant pressure of ‘ukrainization’ (suffice to say children in schools had to learn Russian as foreign language.
Add to all this that whole southeastern Ukraine is a land with ethnic/cultural Russian majority. Go back to the history and see that Ukraine in its present format is creation of bolsheviks. Now it is taken by virulent nationalists poisoned by ideology originating from the former “Galicia” which hails its heros, among others, from the ranks of SS Galizien division. Their idea is to subordinate people from southeastern regions or to push them out. This obviously agrees with the geopolitical game of the US/NATO of weakening strategic position of Russia as those regions are critical. Thus, even though Ukraine is the country with deep ethnic/cultural rift we can see full backing of the US/NATO for “unitary” Ukraine. This is obvioulsy dictated by pure interests as e.g. in Serbia it was completely opposite. In Iraq there is a talk about splitting the ‘artificial’ country. But in the case of Ukraine the ‘unity’ must be kept for any price.

The problem however is that the idea of ‘unitary’ Ukraine has died in people’s minds. One can try to subordinate people by force and terror but this will not eventually succeed. Russia is not a problem here. The problem is US/NATO and their agents in Kiev. A mixture of geopolitical game and ethnic conflict will thus create yet another black hole as result of the US policy intents mixed with ethnic rifts.

Posted by wirk | Report as abusive

A territory spanning nine time zones is not enough for Russia. Posters defending Russia have this myopic state that every former Soviet territory wants really to be in the Russian Federation. To oppose such a move, has got to be some connived US/EU/NATO conspiracy. No, Ukranians, Georgians and Moldovans, for example, have not liked Russians before these organizations existed. They know what it means to be ruled by Russia. Let’s not fool ourselves. Russia has not changed its thinking about its neighbors. Instead of tanks, today’s tactic is economic blackmail and sabotage, threats and extortion.

Posted by cvj63 | Report as abusive