SocraticGadfly: Ukraine: Minsk Agreements, Donbas separatists, warmongers on both sides, more

February 23, 2022

Ukraine: Minsk Agreements, Donbas separatists, warmongers on both sides, more

In a blog post on Monday, I covered a great variety of issues related to the current stand-off in Ukraine. Much of it was about broken promises by the US, followed by the UK then other allies, lining up, ot to expand NATO eastward. 

(Note: I have now written up a massive longform piece about all the intellectual and plain old dishonesty of twosiders — and even beyond twosiders — over this war.)

Well, the chattering class of the bipartisan foreign policy establishment found other things to fixate on that they claimed showed the utter evil of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Now, I don't claim that Putin is a saint. Per John McCain's bon mot riposte to George W. Bush, you probably can look in his eyes and see "KGB." But, you could look in Schmuck Talk Express McCain's eyes and see "uncashable checks about NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia," as well as many other things.

But, as noted, I covered most of the NATO issues Monday. 

I do want to add here one thing that was a late add there.

Many people are quoting Biden's CIA head, William Burns, a former ambassador to Russia in the BushCo era, for what he told his boss, Condi Rice. I'm linking to a particular Substack:

Ukrainian entry into NATO is the brightest of all red lines for the Russian elite (not just Putin). In more than two and a half years of conversations with key Russian players, from knuckle-draggers in the dark recesses of the Kremlin to Putin’s sharpest liberal critics, I have yet to find anyone who views Ukraine in NATO as anything other than a direct challenge to Russian interests.
I link there for two reasons. One, Nonzero calls out the Munich bullshit, started in this case by Zelensky himself quite willfully speaking there. Two, he links to Peter Beinart, who has more insight, including noting that Burns wasn't alone in his thought. Bonus: A commenter at Nonzero notes that even Teapot Tommy Friedman says the US and NATO "aren't innocent bystanders."

So, now, the Minsk Agreements.

They arose, per this CNN article, when separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk areas (oblast is the term for local government administration areas in Ukraine, similar in size to large counties in western states in the US) ... well, started working for separatism and eventually declared their independence.

So, representatives of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France started talks. And eventually agreed to a ceasefire and other items. Most of said items have NOT been implemented, and the fault is NOT all Russsia's!

The bipartisan foreign policy establishment won't tell you that Ukraine was supposed to write a new constitution as part of the Minsk agreements, officially recognizing decentralization and Donbas rights. In reality, it's still running on its 1996 Constitution with early 2000s pre-Minsk amendments. Reuters notes "violations by both sides," which Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon, Noah Smith etc won't tell you. Full text in English here. The CNN piece notes that Ukraine's 2015 prime minister tried to implement amendments, but massive rioting inside Ukraine put paid to that. The US bipartisan foreign policy establishment won't tell you that, either. Nor will current US Secretary of State Tony Blinken, when he said:

"Ukraine's been approaching this in good faith. We have not to date seen Russia do the same."

Bullshit. And, Tony, you, as representative of a US class, haven't approached this in good faith, either. You haven't challenged Ukrainian nationalists to stand down. You haven't called out neo-Nazis among them. Etc., etc.

There was more bullshit in his previous comment at that CNN page:

"Minsk does not spell out some issues of sequencing when it comes to the steps that the parties need to take."

Yeah, Minsk is only "sequenced" when it's to American advantage. We got it.

Katrina vanden Heuvel at The Nation reminds us that, when he ran for office, current Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky promised to pursue a peaceful path on these issues, but after elected, officially reneged on Minsk. Let's not forget, per what happened at the Maidan in 2014, arguably a coup, that the Azov Battalion isn't alone as a neo-Nazi type group. The Nation has more on that, too. Zelensky is, per that piece, surely today letting US aid reach Azov indirectly. There's also the question of just how much the Ukrainian diaspora supports it, Right Sector, Svoboda, etc. More here a year later than that piece.

We must also look at what's involved, per the map that's part of the CNN story. (March 9, 2023: Screengrab, as the cheap-asses have embedded it in a non-linkable way.)

See how small a portion of Ukraine is involved?  When you go to the pullout of the entire map, we're talking about 3.5 percent of the country in the two separatist areas, and maybe 1.5 percent under separatist control. And, Tuesday night, Joe Biden monged war by claiming this is "a big chunk of Ukraine." Of course, that was probably only the second-biggest lie of the speech; the first was claiming that Russia had invaded. Russia said it hadn't. Good thing that several nations have satellites these days, and we don't have to rely on Russia or the US. India has enough, and has no dog in the hunt,  unlike China, indirectly, so maybe it has one good enough to show us some pix. Beyond that, one of Biden's own allies undercut him, per news Down Under, as Australia warned Tuesday night US time that a "full scale invasion" could occur within 24 hours (my emphasis), and Aussie PM Scott Morrison also weaselly said that an invasion had "effectively already begun." Full quote:

“The invasion of Ukraine has effectively already begun,” Morrison said. “Russia is at peak readiness to now complete a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and that is likely to occur within the next 24 hours.”

Yep, that's weaselly. (And, last I checked, Australia isn't a NATO member anyway.)

And, that's not totally Ukrainian anyway, hence the drive for separatism. And, to get behind that, we need Russian history and another map.

Czarist Russia was a traditional empire, and, other than the late addition of the largely Turkic-language Central Asian lands being administered separately, it did not have separate ethnic or linguistically based administrative divisions. It DID have internal lower-level administrative divisions, but not ethnic or linguistic ones, unlike the USSR.

Indeed, a map of 1914 Czarist Russia at Wikipedia shows that except for Poland (a separate kingdom ruled by the czars before 1864 — it was really Russian internal territory after that, legal fictions aside) and Finland (a separate grand duchy), governates, the main administrative division below the imperial whole, did not follow ethnic or linguistic boundaries at all.

As for Ukraine? No such country existed at the time its current lands were acquired, in a series of wars and other actions, by Moscow. In general, the Crimea and chunks of eastern Ukraine, the "Wild Fields," were held by khanates that were fragmentary descendants of Genghis Khan's Mongol world, along with various free-roaming Cossack groups. Northwestern Ukraine was part of the Poland-Lithuania commonwealth. Bits of southern Ukraine belonged to the Ottomans. And, as shown above, no such region called "Ukraine" existed afterward.

As far as ethnic and linguistic boundaries, or linguistic ones? Much of the northeastern portion of today's Ukraine was Russian-majority pre-1918. Russian emigration to "left-bank Ukraine" started in the 1800s. So, tankies and western imperialists alike can blame Commissar of Nationalities Uncle Joe Stalin for drawing bad borders. They can also blame Nikita Khrushchev for adding Crimea to Ukraine when he was premier. (That said, the Donbas area, with its two small separatist "republics" just recognized by Putin, has had a plurality, if not a majority, of Ukrainians by ethnicity, but a Russian majority by language. And, to riff on a Counterpunch piece, said recognition by Putin would seem to be an anti-confidence building measure.)

In short, there hadn't been a Slav-led (or quasi) "Ukraine" as an independent country between the last days of the old Kievan Rus and the breakup of the USSR. And, even Kievan Rus only extended to a limited area of today's left-bank Ukraine, most of which at that time was non-Slavic, plus, until its breakup, even if they spoke Slavic first, they were still Vikings by descent. Where we're at, in one sense, is something halfway akin to Sarajevo 1914.

Of course, a Hahhhvahd like St. Julian-Varnon will blithely ignore the NATO meddling issue,and also pretend that ethnic or linguistic Russians in Ukraine don't exist, and not even look at larger framing issues, after claiming in a tweet that this was never about NATO. I quote-tweeted to say that I'd accept it never was SOLELY about NATO, but never about NATO period? Wrroonnnggg.

With that, back to the Minsk Agreements. I support elections in the separatist areas before Ukraine takes control again, but, with the rebels setting aside their arms at the same time. That means the UN as well as the OSCE patrolling the separatist areas. And, it means election observers that aren't totally NATO/EU biased — but ones that Putin can't reject without massive hypocrisy, either.

At the same time, people who actually think outside of boxes better than Max Blumenthal and Aaron Maté are appalled by Putin. This analysis is very good, noting that Putin had won most of what he sought without firing a shot, but then went off the rails. But comments there note that new fiscal sanctions will probably do little more than the ones already in place. Russia has much more oil than, say, Iran, has little debt, has a more robust general economy and had even, during the past few years, become a food exporter. James Dorsey, whose thought I greatly respect, offers a stellar take, not calling Putin mad, unlike that UnHerd link, but maybe ... "truculent"? He also differentiates Putin's endgame from Xi Jinping's. At the same time, other allegedly independent thinkers can be worse. At Counterpunch, Patrick Cockburn thinks this will turn out for Putin like invading Kuwait did for Saddam Hussein. I doubt it, especially if he doesn't move troops beyond the Donbas. Cockburn is right, that American military aid to Ukraine has perhaps gone down a deeper hole than in Afghanistan.

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