12 February 2015

Timothy Ash: Minsk II peace deal likely won't last long

Kyiv Post: 12. February 2015
Op-ed — by Timothy Ash

I guess with hindsight, a deal was always going to be done.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was not going to get on a flight to Minsk after Kyiv, Moscow and Berlin, and not get something.
And Russian President Vladimir Putin needed to try and rebuild some bridges with Merkel, after seemingly upsetting her at Brisbane, Australia.

Merkel is probably the honest broker in all this. She really feels for the Ukrainian position, but understands the real threat from Russia - she reads Putin better than any other Western leader, and cannot be bought.
But it is Bismark-style real politick for Merkel, and she was desperate to stop the fighting - almost at any cost, which is entirely understandable.

French President Francois Hollande will likely get his aircraft carriers delivered, and sees all this as offering the hope of ressurection in terms of his presidency at home - a global leader, strutting the international stage and making British Prime Minister David Cameron, et al., look like poodles, or rather a bulldog with no teeth.
Putin gets his aircraft carriers, which will no doubt have a nice shiny berth now awaiting in Sebastopol, Crimea.

Putin also fended off near-term threats of sanctions from the West, and can sell himself to allies in Europe (there are many) as a peacemaker - again heading off further sanctions threats. He has also not agreed to very much, as I don't think his signature is on the document, so if it fails (and it likely will) he can blame others.

He has also headed off the threat of the U.S. arming Ukraine - and therein he is in cahoots with U.S. President Barack Obama himself, who will see this deal as being useful in fending off calls from the D.C. consensus (including within his own administration) now to arm Ukraine - and can return to his own "splendid isolation" or "strategic patience" as it is now called stateside.
That's a nice term for doing as little as possible.

Poroshenko gets his International Monetary Fund program, and can try and roll out reforms attached to this to try and assure the supporters of the EuroMaidan Revolution that this team is really the "real deal" in terms of the reforms they so desire.
Note that the IMF press release was timed for 10 a.m., just as news of the Minsk deal broke - so my sense is that someone was telling the Ukrainians that an IMF deal was contingent on a Minsk cease-fire deal. No cease-fire - no IMF deal.
And the IMF gets to roll out its new program which it has been working on for months.
Poroshenko probably also thinks that the ceasefire will buy time for Ukraine to regroup, rearm against the clear and present danger of further Russian intervention.

But will it all stick/last?
I just do not think so, as I still fail to see from this deal what is different to Minsk I in terms of delivery on Russian strategic objectives in Ukraine.

Minsk I clearly did not deliver for Russia, hence that ceasefire did not last long, so let's see what is really different this time around.
The issues of real autonomy/federalism, and border control don't appear to be properly addressed in this document.
Constitutional reform towards the Russian agenda will be impossible for Poroshenko to deliver. And finally and fundamentally why I do not think that the status quo is sustainable - one year ago Russia felt the need to annex Crimea, and intervene in eastern Ukraine.

But one year ago Ukraine was no threat to Russia as

  • it was non-aligned;
  • popular support for NATO membership was low single digits, and there was little support in parliament or among political elites to drive Ukraine NATO membership;
  • the West really did not want Ukraine in NATO as they saw this as a red rag to the Russian bull, and as events have proved could not defend Ukraine;
  • the Ukrainian military had limited fighting capability as was proven in the early days of the conflict, but subsequently changed;
  • the govt in Kyiv was weak and disarray and the Ukrainian economy on the brink of collapse;
  • as events have proven Russia had de facto control of Crimea via the stationing of 26,000 troops and the long term Black Sea Fleet agreement; and
  • finally Ukrainians were not anti-Russian or even particularly anti-Putin.
If Moscow was not a real threat a year ago, but Moscow felt compelled to intervene, look at the risk from a Russian perspective now from Ukraine:

  • Ukraine is no longer non-aligned.
  • it now wants to join NATO and opinion polls now show majority support for this.
  • Ukraine is rebuilding military capability and the military doctrine is now against the threat from Russia;
  • Ukraine has a reform administration in Kyiv, which has a real chance of succeeding now with IMF support. It can offer a rival and successful model of development to Putin's power vertical and sovereign democracy; and
  • Opinion polls show strong Ukrainian opposition/distaste for the Putin regime.
So the above still suggests the risk of further future Russian intervention in Ukraine.

Timothy Ash is the director of emerging market research for Standard Bank in London.

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