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Boardman writes: "Viewed in their darkest light, the events of the past 20 months (and the past 20 years) reflect an East-West death spiral that is now accelerating, and from which none of the engaged parties show any desire to disengage."

Kiev protester. (photo: Roman Pilipey/EPA)
Kiev protester. (photo: Roman Pilipey/EPA)

Tipping Point in Ukraine?

By William Boardman, Reader Supported News

14 January 15


retty much everything about Ukraine is murky and unreliable these days, and that’s before you take into consideration any of the meddling by outside powers playing carelessly with their Slavic pawns. Viewed in their darkest light, the events of the past 20 months (and the past 20 years) reflect an East-West death spiral that is now accelerating, and from which none of the engaged parties show any desire to disengage.

The civil war in eastern Ukraine has continued fitfully since September, when the parties signed a ceasefire known as the Minsk Agreement. The ceasefire has often been more honored in the breach than the observance, but overall it has led to considerably less bloodshed, especially among civilians, than the previous six months’ fighting. In the spring of 2014, the level of killing escalated sharply, at U.S. urging, when the newly-installed coup government in Kiev chose to attack rather than negotiate with the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk and People’s Republic of Luhansk (now joined in the self-proclaimed federal state of Novorossiya). So far, only the Republic of South Ossetia has recognized these Ukrainian “republics” as independent countries. Only Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Nauru recognize South Ossetia, which declared its independence from Georgia in 1990, but secured it only in 2008 with the help of Russian intervention.

By comparison, the much smaller Republic of Kosovo, which declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, quickly secured that independence thanks to American and NATO military intervention, illustrating the double standard applied by the international community to questions of “territorial integrity” and “sovereignty.” Landlocked Kosovo, population about 1.8 million, is now by 108 UN member countries, including the U.S., Canada, most of Europe, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and Yemen.

During the summer of 2014, the Ukrainian military captured much of the territory of the Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk and other separatist-held areas, but at significant cost to the civilian population. An estimated 2.8 million ethnic Russians have emigrated from Ukraine to Russia during the past year. The Ukrainian army’s advance was halted by Russian military support to the Republics that Russia denies it provided, just as the U.S. and other NATO countries deny the support they have given Ukraine. The two Republics now hold about 3 million people and have access to the Black Sea along the southern border.

Does anyone really want a settlement in Ukraine?

In advance of the then-pending high level international meeting in Kazakhstan, each side was claiming the other had increasingly violated the ceasefire with small-arms fire, mortar shelling, and rocket attacks in recent days. An unnamed AP reporter has reported seeing Ukrainian rockets fired at separatist positions. Now that Ukraine and the outside powers have scrapped the peace talks, the Ukraine government has claimed that a separatist rocket killed ten civilians in a bus at the Donetsk airport, a key battlefield for months now. Unconfirmed, this report is somewhat credulously reported by Reuters and The New York Times, among others, while the Los Angeles Times awaited independent verification.(This is one of the memes of the Ukraine conflict, a war crimethat each side blames on the other while people in the outside world believe the truth is what supports their political bias: another version of the same story played similarly in October.)

Ukraine initiated the January 15 peace talks only to have Ukraine effectively scuttle the opportunity. The self-contradictory sequence of events seems to have gone something like this: Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, the billionaire chocolate oligarch, announced in late December that he’d be meeting in the Kazakh capital of Astana on January 15 with French president Francois Hollande and Russian president Vladimir Putin as well as German chancellor Angela Merkel. As of January 10, these countries had yet to confirm such a meeting. Meanwhile, Merkel met with Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, America’s guy-in-Ukraine, and then threw doubt on whether the January 15 meeting would happen at all, or whether there would be any other meeting to continue working toward keeping Ukraine from collapsing into a failed state.

In other words: when Ukraine’s president announces a peace talks, Ukraine’s prime minister meets with a key player and the peace talks get called off. Who’s in charge here? According to the Ukrainian constitution, both have governing authority – sort of. There is no constitutional mechanism for resolving tension between these offices when the office holders choose to butt heads (as happened earlier with President Viktor Yushenko, a central banker whose policies enraged Communists and oligarchs alike, and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, an enraged natural gas oligarch). This structural dysfunction built into the Ukrainian constitution is one reason Ukraine has been unable to govern itself effectively for more than a decade, during which it has become a world-class kleptocracy.

Why does Merkel set conditions she knows are impossible?

In establishing her “reasons” for blocking peace talks, German chancellor Merkel created a cover story that sounded vaguely credible, but made no sense to anyone who understood that the terms she called for were, at best, years away from being achieved, if they were achievable at all. As the Times reported it: “Merkel made clear that the entire Minsk agreement needs to be fulfilled before European Union sanctions against Russia can be lifted.” The American choice for Ukrainian leadership, Yatsenyuk echoed Merkel’s word cloud, but added his own obviously self-serving priority: sealing the border between the Republics and Russia.

The Minsk agreement reflects a peace proposal first put forward by Ukrainian president Poroshenko in June 2014. There are only four material signatories to the Minsk agreement: Ukraine, Russia, and the Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. The agreement was reached under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the only other signatory. One unstated presumption of the agreement is that the Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk will be re-integrated into Ukraine with all their rights intact. The Minsk agreement comprises 12 unprioritized points, each of which is an aspirational goal for both sides, even though some elements can be achieved only by one side or another:

  1. Bilateral ceasefire
  2. OSCE monitoring of ceasefire
  3. Decentralization of power under law to be passed by Ukraine
  4. Permanent OSCE monitoring of Ukraine-Russia border
  5. Release of all hostages
  6. Amnesty for separatists, Ukraine to pass law
  7. Continue inclusive national dialogue
  8. Improve humanitarian condition of Donbass
  9. Local elections consistent with Ukraine law
  10. All sides withdraw illegal and mercenary military forces
  11. Adoption of Donbass recovery and reconstruction program
  12. Protect all participants in consultations

In effect, the Minsk agreement is a somewhat messy 12-step program designed to help those people who, along with their friends and relatives, remain addicted to uncontrolled outbursts of internecine violence. Call it “Ukraine-anon.” Like any 12-step program, the participants typically need the support of those close to them if they are to succeed in improving their lives. When someone like Angela Merkel, who is outside the formal process, colludes with someone supposedly within the process to undermine the process, the process will likely be sabotaged. That appears to be what happened, at least for the short run.

Given the sketchy quality of the Minsk agreement, using it as a standard for international behavior is irrational, or deliberately dishonest and hostile. The agreement calls, for example, for early local elections, which the Republics held, after the elections in the rest of the Ukraine in the fall of 2014. The Republics’ elections were widely denounced in the West as a violation of the Minsk agreement, even though Ukraine had failed to pass the law under which they were supposed to be held.

Until the West stops assaulting Russia, calls for peace are a bad joke

Merkel’s position, reflecting that of Prime Minister Yatsenyuk and his American sponsors, is deceitful and destructive. To suspend the peace process until the Minsk agreement can be fully realized is to knowingly prolong hostilities for an uncertain number of years. To make EU sanctions on Russia dependent on fully implementing the Minsk agreement is to give Ukraine a veto on the EU. The agreement cannot be fully implemented until Ukraine adopts the appropriate laws, and there’s little to persuade Ukraine to do that other than its own motives. If Ukraine fails to pass the promised laws, Merkel would have the EU continue to punish Russia, which seems to be what the game has been about for over 20 years already.

Russia and Ukraine appear to be at a tipping point, and conceivably the delicate balance in those and other affected countries could last for a long time. Or others, including the United Nations, could act to help stabilize the region and to ameliorate the economic and human rights damage that threatens to continue unchecked. More likely, the U.S. and Europe will continue their policies of deliberate destabilization until the day when it all implodes and Washington will point a finger and say: “See what Russia’s done now?!”

There are many straws blowing in that wind, and for now it looks like an ill wind blowing no good. A sampling of those straws:

* The Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014 passed both houses of Congress unanimously, without debate and without a recorded vote. The president signed it into law on December 18th. The 17-page bill is a model of cold-war-style duplicity cloaking a virtual declaration of global war in the rhetoric of high principle, imaginary threats, and sloppy grammar:

It is the policy of the United States to further assist the Government of Ukraine in restoring its sovereignty and territorial integrity to deter the Government of the Russian Federation from further destabilizing and invading Ukraine and other independent countries in Central and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia.

Among other things, the bill authorizes the president to impose seven pages of further sanctions on Russia, interfere in Russian democracy and civil society, expand American propaganda broadcasting in the region, expand non-military support to Ukraine and to initiate $350 million in military aid to Ukraine over the next three years. The bill’s last section says it is not to be “construed as an authorization for the use of military force.”

When President Obama signed the bill into law, the White House issued a statement having the president say, in part, with all due sanctimony and duplicity:

My Administration will continue to work closely with allies and partners in Europe and internationally to respond to developments in Ukraine and will continue to review and calibrate our sanctions to respond to Russia’s actions. We again call on Russia to end its occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea, cease support to separatists in eastern Ukraine, and implement the obligations it signed up to under the Minsk agreements.

* Ukraine is an impoverished country approaching economic collapse. The new Ukrainian finance minister, Natalie Jaresko, is an American citizen who managed a Ukrainian-based, U.S.-created hedge fund that was charged with illegal insider trading. She also managed a CIA fund that supported “pro-democracy” movements and laundered much of the $5 billion the U.S. spent supporting the Maidan protests that led to the Kiev coup in February 2014. Jaresko is a big fan of austerity for people in troubled economies.

* Writing in the New York Review of books for January 7, billionaire George Soros sees Europe and the United States dithering toward failure not just for Ukraine, but for Europe. Soros doesn’t challenge the official view of “Russian aggression” or “attempts to destabilize Ukraine” and the rest of that propaganda line that underpins sanctions. Challenging conventional wisdom, Soros focuses instead on the current, inherent, unaddressed, and enduring instability from maintaining a kleptocratic state:

… the old Ukraine is far from dead. It dominates the civil service and the judiciary, and remains very present in the private (oligarchic and kleptocratic) sectors of the economy. Why should state employees work for practically no salary unless they can use their position as a license to extort bribes? And how can a business sector that was nurtured on corruption and kickbacks function without its sweeteners? These retrograde elements are locked in battle with the reformists.

Essentially, Soros argues that reforming Ukraine into an honest modern state that offers opportunity and reliable justice will be at least as effective a response to Russia as the current continued hostility and half-hearted efforts in Kiev. To achieve this, he posits a $50 billion aid package, when the EU is having a hard time managing $2 billion. His view is openly idealistic:

By helping Ukraine, Europe may be able to recapture the values and principles on which the European Union was originally founded. That is why I am arguing so passionately that Europe needs to undergo a change of heart. The time to do it is right now.

Right or wrong, this is visionary, and the world of conventional wisdom is not buying it. The U.S. and the EU seem determined to continue taking the familiar and comfortable actions they know will fail in the same old ways.

* Perhaps the most vivid sign that the failures of the past foreshadow the failures of the future is the rise of Senator John McCain to the chairmanship of the Senate Armed Services Committee, where he will sometimes be able to exercise near-veto power over the White House’s constitutional authority to conduct foreign policy. In a fawning verbal lap dance in the N.Y. Times of January 13, Sheryl Gay Stolberg characterizes McCain’s apparent inability to learn from failure as his being “untamed.” The reporter allows that McCain is “bellicose,” but frames his responsibility to the nation and the world as a question of whether he will “make war or some accommodation with the White House.” McCain is on record to increase Pentagon spending and to keep the Guantanamo prison camp open, and speaks with open bitterness about the president’s failure to give him a phone call. As Stolberg says about McCain: “If he had his way, the United States would have ground troops in Syria, more troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a steady supply of arms going to Ukraine.”

Evan as the Ukraine ceasefire was taking effect after the Minsk agreement was signed, McCain was calling for the U.S. to arm Ukraine for defence against a “Russian invasion” that he sees as part of Putin’s plan to “re-establish the old Russian empire.” McCain also called for the U.S. to send military “advisors.”

Maybe the future won’t be dominated by the struggle between those who are satisfied with just a little war on Russia’s border and those who want a whole lot more war because that’s all they know. We’ll see, no doubt. And for now, the unheeded warnings of former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev continue to fall on unhearing ears, and unseeing leaders on all sides grope their way into “a vortex with no way out. How long can the present balance of instability last?”

William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner


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+29 # Activista 2015-01-14 20:54
"those who want a whole lot more war because that’s all they know...
For US neocons (McCain) the success (winning) is permanent civil war/permanent killing (Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria ... and now Ukraine).
Like our ONLY "friend" in the Middle East - Bibi.
World is ruled by psychopaths.
-7 # bmiluski 2015-01-15 10:03
No, my dear Activista..the world is ruled by MEN.
+7 # Activista 2015-01-15 12:09
Quoting bmiluski:
No, my dear Activista..the world is ruled by MEN.

Then Hillary Clinton must be a man ...
0 # Granny Weatherwax 2015-01-23 12:20
The jury is still out on that :)
+8 # wrknight 2015-01-15 10:28
If Bibi is our friend, we don't need enemies.
0 # A P 2015-01-15 14:41
Boardman, like so many other "progressive" media misses the point that the US-centric 0.01% want to maintain the corrupted Bretton Woods/US$-sole- reserve-currenc y system which allows the systemic rip-off of all economies and leverages US destructive "foreign policy". The rest-of-the-wor ld-centric-0.01 % is busy building the BRICS+/multi-cu rrency system to do business outside the US$ system. WW3 is the US/NATO's only hope of resetting the collapsing Bretton Woods and redraw the various Middle East/former-SSR borders. The US elite is doing it's level best to instigate a direct military attack by Russia against US "interests", and it is backfiring at every turn.

Real news from Ukraine?

Independence-seeking militia has captured basically all of the Donestsk Airport, where the Kiev junta blames the militia for killing a busload of civilians which was actually the junta's army's work.

Russia has told the EU that as soon as the Blue Stream pipeline/termin al in Turkey is operational, all gas to the EU via Ukraine routes will be stopped. The EU must build/fund its own pipes/transit to get the gas from Turkey to the southern EU.

The Ukraine gov't is bankrupt, having recently "discovered" much of the "gold bars" in the Central Bank vaults were painted lead (really), and the rest (several$billio n-worth) having been stolen and shipped to the US as the junta took over Kiev.

Russia is demanding repayment of $3billion in loans due to the Kiev junta default on key terms.
+3 # WBoardman 2015-01-15 18:57
Interesting comments from A P

Not mentioning Bretton Woods was partly a function
of not being convinced it's THE overarching motivation for
US/Western behavior. No doubt it is a part.

The other items I don't doubt, but would like to see sources.
+16 # jdd 2015-01-15 05:02
You make a major mistake in identifying only Netanyahu as the only ally. For decades, since the Bushes and now Obama, foreign policy has been aligned with the wahabists of the Kingdoms of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar. It is the Saudis, the greatest sponsors of terrorism, who are the key to understanding Al-Queda, ISIS, etc. as well as 911.
+7 # Anarchist 23 2015-01-15 09:19
Not 9/11...that was an inside job but there is plenty of evidence that the Saudi's ran support services so to speak...since 5 of the hijackers are still alive, one fact among many other facts like the 3 buildings falling at almost free fall speed as Newton's Law proves, the "Official State History' can is mostly myth and until the people overcome believing in the myth, all thinking based on it, including our present wars (except for Ukraine, that is based on old Cold War myth...back to the future!) will continue along with the destruction of liberty in 'Der Heimat' (the Homeland) The very phrase, also introduced with 9/11, should chill you!
+5 # Activista 2015-01-15 12:05
"Like our ONLY "friend" in the Middle East - Bibi."
is a satire ...
aka "If Bibi is our friend, we don't need enemies."
+10 # jdd 2015-01-15 06:45
The headline is not suppoprted by the narrative, as if "both sides" are equally to blame. Omitted is the fact that on Jan. 5 Pres. Hollande openly declared that he's spoken to Putin and that Russia sought only to avoid a NATO absorption of Ukraine and he called for and end to the sanctions against Russia. Two day later... well you know what happened.
+6 # WBoardman 2015-01-15 12:06
Not sure how jdd comes to his inference,
which was definitely NOT my intent.

A "tipping point" seems to me neutral and descriptive –
something at a tipping point is still in some sort of balance
and may be affected by any number of factors
(NOT just two) and it may or may not tip in any direction,
360 degrees, or it may wobble and right itself, or it may remain
in a state of incipient instability for a very long time.

There is NO blame inherent in a tipping point.

And to speak of "both sides" in Ukraine is to miss
the polygonal nature of the struggle.

Hollande's Jan 5 comment is right on point,
and illustrates the unwillingness of others to move
out of their rigid, self-serving, and dangerous stances.

I'd be surprised is no one has responded to Hollande
with a reference to Munich....
+1 # wrknight 2015-01-15 15:06
For your edification, jdd, "tipping point" is standard jargon. Webster's Dictionary defines it as: the critical point in a situation, process, or system beyond which a significant and often unstoppable effect or change takes place. It's sort of like a ball bearing on the back of a spoon which could go one way or the other, but once started, can't be stopped.

That's actually a very good description of the substance of Boardman's article.
-7 # arquebus 2015-01-15 09:54
A mess to be sure, but an invasion of Russia? Where? I have yet to hear of any western troops that have invaded Russia...there has been no attack on Russia as Boardman claims.

And, what is Putin's fixation on NATO and the Ukraine? He's living in 1940.
+10 # wrknight 2015-01-15 10:34
Boardman never said anything about military attacks on Russia. The attacks on Russia are economic, not military. And yes, there have been lots of them in the last couple of years.

And 1940 has nothing to do with anything.
+7 # WBoardman 2015-01-15 11:54
thank you wrknight –
that's exactly what I thought I didn't say ;-)))

I wasn't even obliquely alluding to the actual invasion
of Russia by American troops... in 1917.

Arquebus seems not to understand that one window
to understanding is the analogy:
Ukraine is to Russia as Cuba is to the US.

Except that Ukraine is an actual past invasion route and
has a long actual border along which hostile armies
are not much comfort.
-6 # arquebus 2015-01-15 18:00
Financial shenanigans aren't attacks....a cannon shell is an attack. Nothing anyone can do with financial sanctions are going to have the effect war would.

And, if 1940 means nothing, why is he acting as if he thinks the Wehrmacht will come marching across his borders if Ukraine joins NATO (which seem mostly to be more of an economic organization that a war making one.
+3 # WBoardman 2015-01-15 19:03
Of course financial attacka are attacks, and
of course they are different from military attacks,
or psychological attacks,
or personal attacks,
or propaganda attacks,
or attacks of any other sort.

from the NATO page:
"Today, just under 20,000 military personnel are engaged in NATO missions around the world, successfully managing complex ground, air and naval operations in all types of environment. These forces are currently operating in Afghanistan, Kosovo, the Mediterranean, off the Horn of Africa and in Somalia. NATO is also conducting air policing missions on the request of NATO member countries, and Allies are supporting Turkey’s air defence system with the deployment of Patriot missiles."
0 # Granny Weatherwax 2015-01-23 12:21
Actually Woodrow Wilson invaded Russia not once but twice (10000 troops on one side, 5000 on the other) in 1917.
+3 # Activista 2015-01-15 12:08
What is a function of NATO in Europe, except to start/perpetuat e Cold/Hot war?
+11 # Archie1954 2015-01-15 13:07
Most of the world already knows which nation precipitated the destruction of Ukraine's nascent democracy and it most certainly was not Russia.
0 # geraldom 2015-01-15 21:53
Imagine what the death toll would be in eastern Ukraine of innocent civilians, men, women and children, if Russia would have sent in its military, as it should have done very early on soon after the U.S.-instigated coup in Kiev and before the Poroshenko/Yats enyuk government sent in its Nazi stormtroopers into eastern Ukraine to bomb civilian targets in major cities like Slavyansk, Mariupol, Kramatorsk, and Donetsk.

If Russia would have sent in its military, not to annex eastern Ukraine into the Russian federation as it did Crimea, but to establish, temporarily, an impenetrable military shield in order to protect the people living in eastern Ukraine from Kiev's war machine, then no one would have died and homes and buildings would have remained intact and not one eastern Ukrainian would have been displaced or forced to leave the country. Eastern Ukraine would still be a functional and viable region.

By not using the Russian military to directly protect eastern Ukraine and its people before Kiev sent in its military force, Russia has allowed this situation to develop into the current mess that it is in.

Russia had every justification to use the full force of its military to do what I suggested since the overthrow of the Yanukovych government was instigated by the U.S. in order to put in place leaders that it can control, Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk, and to establish NATO forces within Ukraine along Russia's border, which to Russia would be considered an act of aggression.

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