Here is some much-needed historical context
As Russia actually do launch an invasion or “special operation” in Ukraine, we thought now was a good time to recap on how we got here.
The historical, political and ethnic divisions in Ukraine go back decades, if not centuries, but we don’t have the space for that kind of deep-dive. For now, we’ll be keeping it to three simple parts: The fall of Viktor Yanukovych, the Crimean referendum, and the ensuing civil war which puts the region in a direct path to the events of today.
Much like our 30 Facts on Covid, this piece is intended as a quick reference guide to help get friends and family up to speed on the recent history of Ukraine, a handy index of contemporary sources, or a refresher course for those who’ve forgotten the details.
Anyway, let’s get to it.
Following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany, multiple Western leaders give both written and spoken assurances to then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, that NATO does not plan to increase its territory eastwards.
To quote US Secretary of State James Baker:
not only for the Soviet Union but for other European countries as well it is important to have guarantees that if the United States keeps its presence in Germany within the framework of NATO, not an inch of NATO’s present military jurisdiction will spread in an eastern direction.”
The Charter on a Distinctive Partnership is signed by representatives of both NATO and Ukraine. This document is a long-term agreement that Ukraine will move gradually into cooperation with NATO and eventually become a member. This is in direct violation of the assurances given above.
NATO publishes their NATO-Ukraine Action Plan, re-affirming their commitment to “closer ties” with Ukraine, and outlining a long term plan for “reforms” in Ukraine that will make it suitable for “full Euro-Atlantic integration”.
US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko sign the US-Ukraine Charter on Strategic Partnership,the charter “emphasizes the continued commitment of the United States to support enhanced engagement between NATO and Ukraine”.
Viktor Yanukovych, leader of Ukraine’s Party of Regions, wins the presidential election and is named Ukraine’s fourth President. Yanukovych is the former governor of Donetsk, the region of his birth, and wins office with a huge percentage of the vote from ethnically Russian east Ukraine.
As one of his first acts as President, Yanukovych signs an agreement with Russia, extending their lease on the Black Sea naval base in Crimea until at least 2042. This extension is met with consternation and rebuke in the Western press, with one paper asking:
The End of Ukraine’s EU Integration?”
Writing in the Guardian, Luke Harding called it:
the most concrete sign yet that Ukraine is now back under Russia’s influence following Yanukovych’s victory in February’s presidential elections.
Also noting that “the lease extension is likely to increase opposition to Yanukovych in Ukraine’s western provinces”
A PEW poll finds the majority of Ukrainians opposed to joining NATO.
Ukraine’s parliament votes through a new bill barring the country from joining any military bloc. This, as the BBC noted at the time, effectively ends any prospect of Ukraine joining NATO, killing a plan that the West had worked on for 13 years.
Yanukovych’s Party of the Regions secures victory in the parliamentary elections, increasing its number of seats and seeing its biggest rival, Arseniy Yatsenyuk‘s Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party lose 55 seats.
However, the elections also mark the first time Ukraine elected a far-right MP to its parliament, with Oleh Tyahnybok’s Svoboda party winning 37 seats and over 10% of the vote (entirely from the ethnically Ukrainian west of the country).
The Ukrainian cabinet unanimously approves the draft of the long-awaited Ukraine-EU Association Agreement. Yanokuych is expected to officially sign the agreement at the EU’s “Eastern Partnership Summit” in Vilnius on November 28th and 29th.
Russia – Ukraine’s major creditor and biggest trade partner – warns that this treaty would “cause chaos”, break the terms of an existing treaty between Ukraine and Russia, and lead to Ukraine’s economy collapsing. As a counteroffer, they suggest Ukraine sign a new deal with the Eurasian Economic Union.
The Ukrainian government issues a decree suspending preparations for the association agreement (AA). Deputy Prime Minister Yuriy Boyko warns the current terms of the agreement would “seriously damage the economy”.
“Pro European” demonstrations begin in Maidan square within days of the decree being issued. A poll run by the Kyiv Post finds an even split on joining the EU vs the Eurasian customs union: 39% for, 37% against.
Yanukovych attends the Eastern Partnership Summit on the 28th, but does not sign the Association Agreement, instead suggesting a new tri-lateral agreement between Ukraine, Russia and the EU. Russia is open to negotiating such a deal, but EU rejects this offer completely.
Despite not signing the AA, Yanukovych tells the press that Ukraine still intends to work for closer ties with the EU: “an alternative for reforms in Ukraine and an alternative for European integration do not exist…We are walking along this path and are not changing direction”.
Prime Minister Mykola Azarov echoed this: “I affirm with full authority that the negotiating process over the Association Agreement is continuing, and the work on moving our country closer to European standards is not stopping for a single day”.
Nevertheless, this is ubiquitously covered in the Western media as Yanukoych “refusing to sign the association agreement in favour of closer ties with Russia”.
Thousands more gather in Maidan Square and others begin occupying Kiev City Hall. Protests intensify as opposition politicians speak of Yanukovych “committing treason”, they call for a re-run of the Presidential election, despite new elections being only 18 months away.
On November 29th the protesters make their first “official” demands, including the immediate resignation of Viktor Yanukovych.
1/12/2013 – Thousands of protesters chanting “revolution” storm the metal barriers erected by riot police. Protesters throw Molotov cocktails:
The police withdraw from the square. Over 200 people are injured, including over 100 police officers.
In a press conference, far-right MP Oleh Tyanybohk officially calls it a “revolution”, and asks that police and members of the military defect to their side.
3/12/2013 – Writing in the New Republic, Julia Ioffe praises the Maidan protesters, citing specifically the throwing of Molotovs at police:
When the police came, unlike the Muscovites, they didn’t leave. They swung chains and threw Molotov cocktails and built barricades in the streets. They took over municipal buildings. They nearly toppled the city’s main statue of Lenin. They sang the national anthem and chanted “Revolution!”
8/12/2013 – Protesters topple a statue of Lenin. Grafitti reading “Yanukovych you’re next” is scrawled on walls. An effigy of Gadaffi’s severed head is carried around the square to chants of “Yanukovych the game is over!”. Kyiv Post reports preparation of Molotov cocktails.
10/12/2013 – Berkut riot police attempt to break down the barricades and clear the square. Tear gas is deployed. They are beaten back.
11/12/2013 – US Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt visit the protests and talk to opposition leaders. They are photographed shaking hands and distributing food:
That same day Foreign Affairs, the official publication of the Council on Foreign Relations, runs an article headlined: “Yanukovych Must Go”
Also that same day, former President Leonid Kravchuk hosts a “roundtable” political discussion with members of all parties and all of Ukraine’s past presidents, the aim is to diffuse the crisis. The talks have Yanukovych’s blessing, the opposition refuses to attend.
13/12/2013 – US Senator John McCain visits Kiev where he gives a speech telling the crowd “We are here to support your just cause”.
Later he is photographed shaking hands with Oleh Tyahnybok, leader of the far-right Svoboda party:
The UK’s Channel 4 news reported [emphasis added]: “Far-right group at heart of Ukraine protests meet US senator”.
14/1/2014 – Protest activity resurges after a lull over the Christmas/New Year period.
15/1/2014 – At a meeting of the US Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Melia admits that the US State Department has spent 5 billion dollars “assisting Ukraine”.
This includes 180 million dollars on “development programs” for “judges, members of parliament [and] political parties”.
16/1/2014 – After weeks of stalemate, the Ukrainian parliament passes ten new bills into law. Known collectively as the “Anti Protest Laws”, these laws allow a strict crackdown on protest activity, including removal of parliamentary immunity from MPs promoting violence and stripping of drivers license from those that used vehicles to obstruct public roads.
19/1/2014 – Clashes between riot police and protesters on Hrushevskoho Street, many of the protesters are from far-right groups such as Svoboda and Right Sector, and are seen wearing neo-nazi symbols and slogans.
25/1/2014 – President Yanukovych reaches out to opposition leaders, offering them a power-sharing agreement that would install Yatseniyuk as Prime Minister and Vitaliy Klitschko as his deputy. The opposition refuses the offer.
28/1/2014 – In a gesture of compromise, the parliament repeals 9 of the ten protest laws, passing a new law granting amnesty to all those involved in the protests, providing they cease occupying government buildings. The oppostion refuses these terms.
7/2/2014 – A recorded phone call between Nuland and Pyatt is leaked to the press, famously dubbed the “fuck the EU” call.
In the conversation, dated January 28th, Nuland and Pyatt discuss at length the structure of the Ukrainian cabinet once Yanukovych is gone. This is still 25 days before Yanukovych was removed from power
A poll published that same day by the Kyiv Post found more Ukrainians opposed the Maidan protests than supported them.
16/2/2014 – In yet another attempt at compromise, the government releases all prisoners arrested during the protests, this time the opposition responds, lifting their 3-month long occupation of Kiev City Hall.
19/2/2014 – President Yanukovych declares a “truce” in a joint statement signed by the three main opposition leaders. The statement committed to negotiation for a lasting peace.
20/2/2014 – Snipers open fire on the crowd in Maidan Square, resulting in at least sixty deaths. Both protesters and police officers are killed in the gunfire. EuroNews reports that the “truce is shattered” mere hours after it was signed.
21/2/2014 – Despite the bloodshed, negotiations continue, resulting in the “Agreement on settlement of political crisis in Ukraine”, signed by all parties plus the foreign minsiters of Germany and Poland.
The agreement required the creation of a temporary “National Unity Government”, to be replaced following new Presidential Elections by the end of 2014. It also called for a full investigation into the shootings on the Maidan the previous day.
Yanukovych pledged that the government would not declare a state of emergency or call in the military, and would pull all police back from the site of the protests, in return for protesters surrendering all public buildings and illegal weapons.
Leaders of the militant protesters – including Dmitryo Yarosh of the neo-Nazi Right Sector – rejected the agreement, and threatened to storm the Parliament and Presidental Residence if Yanukoyvch did not resign immediately.
22/2/2014 – Rather than abiding by the terms of the agreement, once the police pulled back the protesters stormed government buildings and seized control of Kiev. Yanukovych flees to the city of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine.
A contemporary Time article reported:
Ukraine’s beleaguered President Viktor Yanukovych fled Kiev Saturday as protestors took full control of Ukraine’s capital, signaling a dramatic turn in the three-month crisis just hours after the signing of an European Union-sponsored peace deal […] As police abandoned their posts across the capital, the opposition established control over key intersections and captured the presidential palace, setting up a perimeter around Yanukovych’s former residence
Within hours of the storming of the city, the Ukrainian parliament votes to strip Yanukovych of his office by 328 votes to 0, with over 120 MPs absent from the vote. This vote was unconstitional and not a legally binding form of impeachment, in any way.
From the eastern city of Kharkiv, Yanukovych gives a televised speech, declaring he was still the “legitimate elected President of Ukraine“, and that he had no intention of fleeing the country.
25/2/2014 – Yanukovych’s own Party of the Regions disavows him in parliament, and he flies to Russia, claiming his life is in danger.
27/2/2014 – Arseniy Yatsenyuk is sworn in as Ukraine’s interim Prime Minister, a post he would hold onto following elections in May 2014.
Vitaly Klitschko is relegated to the somewhat lower office of Mayor of Kiev, and Oleh Tyahnybok resumed his office as a simple MP.
Ukraine’s new government takes shape exactly as predicted by Nuland in her phone call of January 28th.
The same day Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Secretary General of NATO, tells the press that “the door is still open” for Ukraine to join the military bloc.
28/2/2014 – UK current events show Newsnight runs this segment, titled “The Neo-Nazi Threat in New Ukraine”:
Evidence emerges that the snipers shooting at the crowds were not employed by the Ukrainian government, but were shooting at both sides in an effort to stoke chaos.
This evidence is presented to the EU’s Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton by Estonia Foreign Minister Urmas Paet in a phone call that is later leaked to the press, and confirmed to be genuine by the Estonian government.
Neither the EU, nor the new government of Ukraine, makes any effort to investigate this evidence or bring the killers to justice.
On the 21st of March the interim government of Ukraine officialy signs the controversial European Union Association Agreement into law.
Following the 2014 parliamentary elections, the 5-party coalition government officially makes joining NATO a “national priority”.
So, there it is, a timeline of the key events leading to the fall of Viktor Yanukovych. Genuine grassroots revolution, or NATO backed coup? You decide.
We’ll catalogue Ukraine’s further collapse into chaos and civil war in parts two and three of this timeline, coming soon.
Comments from Joaquin Flores, who I used to follow
Looks to me like Russia tricked Ukraine into thinking it was about to hit and send troops into Kiev on the 27th.
So Zelensky releases violent offenders from prison, and arms those ‘willing to fight for Ukraine’, knowing what they would do. Then blame that on the Russian invasion of Kiev.
Instead, now we see them running around, robbing stores and evening old scores. Crime wave has hit Kiev. Hundreds dead. Police overwhelmed.
These predictable homicides would be blamed on the Russian troops.
This was going to set the stage for some White Helmets (Soros) drama, like in Syria.
But the Russian troops never materialized.
But yet we have the killing spree and crime wave.
There’s a precedent for this, by the way, exactly in Syria.
Russia announced it would commence an aerial campaign onto ISIS sites in Syria about two weeks before it actually did.
Erdogan coordinated with Merkel at the behest of the Deep State.
They told refugees who had long left Syria and had been living in Turkey, that now Germany would give them residency, cash, and welfare if they could arrive in Germany with a Syrian passport.
Soros NGO’s organized a human caravan, it was called the refugee crisis caravan, like the one he did out of Honduras through Mexico and through the Gulf of Mexico, that you may be better familiar with.
So suddenly about ONE MILLION already re-settled refugees from Syria who were then living in Turkey, embark for Germany.
The media campaign was hilarious, because the script was supposed to refer to this being caused by the Russian bombing.
The problem is that Russia didn’t bomb. And they wouldn’t bomb for several more weeks.
Now of course in some sort of pseudo-mandela effect fashion, the English langauge mainstream internet by now has probably re-inserted this big lie and scrubbed the internet of the actual time-lines and order of events.
But importantly at the time, it couldn’t be said because it wasn’t happening.
The aim was to get a UN Security Resolution going against Russia, to condemn them. Of course, as a member of that council, Russia would veto. But the PR damage would be done. The justification for more sanctions, done. etc.
The entire Sorosian ploy was a failure. When the Russian campaign started, the ‘refugees’ were already safely in Germany or stuck at the border of Croatia or Hungary.
Now, they wouldn’t have been near any targets had they not left yet, because they had already been living in Turkey for a few years.
But the whole thing was a hilarious mess when it went down. Then the Russian campaign started, and the Kerry had to reach out to Lavrov for ‘deconfliction talks’. This is because the more serious ISIS units with anti-air capacity, i.e. the first targets of the Russian campaign, were actually Blackwater/Greystone/Xe mercenaries. The ISIS guys didn’t have the training to operate these SAM systems.
Anyway, there’s some history for you on how this stuff works.
I believe we should expect more false flags, but in some way Russia has just avoided one already.
“These are the relevant factors which produce the strong sense that these Normandy 4 meetings involve some very serious things and some complex levels that are beyond the scope of what is reported. Russia conducts itself in these meetings from a position of strength.”
Critical events since the February 12th ceasefire tell us what the real underlying factors beyond the scope of what was reported indeed were. With the Ukrainian Army having been encircled in the Debaltsevo region and without provisions, mass surrenders are already underway. There are already reports of thousands of UAF dead. Close fighting in the town itself have resulted in the UAF being pushed out, with the town now under Novorossiyan control. The UAF had nowhere to go, and were out of ammo.
Attempts to push out anywhere resulted in more needless deaths for the disheartened and broken Ukrainian force whose numbers range between five and eight thousand. Putin has publicly urged Poroshenko to allow the UAF soldiers to surrender. Unsurprisingly, Poroshenko has declared victory.
The encirclement was complete in the week leading up to the Minsk II meeting. The political reality in which the EU gave its blessing to Novorossiya and Russia to finish of the encirclement was based in a few things, and US agreement on other points was based in other things. There are three sides at play here, even though it often appears as two. The Minsk II agreement enshrined the EU blessings. In return, the EU got something, but what exactly is the subject of some speculation.
Debaltsevo is a critical area because it has rail through it which connects Lughansk to Donetsk republics. The September 5th Ceasefire was intended to have this in control of Novorossiya. The September 19th memorandum explicitly restates this, and the map of the de-militarized and pull-back lines clearly show that Debaltsevo was to be withdrawn from.
Poroshenko stated that the Cauldron was actually a bridgehead. In fact, he is right, this was not a new development but an ongoing occupation of Debaltsevo which was in violation of the 9-19 memorandum.
All together, this agreement is reflective of the general direction things have gone, and reflects Russian mastery of geopolitical strategy, meaningful diplomacy and “lawfare”, hybrid warfare, and thorough planning all around.
Why Debaltsevo was an apparent exception to the ceasefire, what the new ceasefire agreement actually compels, what was really said at Minsk, what to make of the UN Security Council resolution, and what this says about the present state of affairs are all serious questions that are raised from this. These are the pressing questions surrounding this that we will try to answer in brief.
1.) The EU was forced to agree to a revised form of the September ceasefire, including the memorandum of the 19th of that month. US policy is failing, or rather succeeding in producing an unstable situation, precisely what most of European decision makers want to avoid. Even EU Atlanticists are not in it for the whole wild ride, and their Trans-Atlantic sensibilities are still based upon general notions of wealth creation and regional stability.
Evidence of this was the impending doom of thousands of UAF fighters, leaked information indicated a number of these may be from NATO countries, and Merkel and Hollande were right in knowing that they had better get clarification on this matter directly from the Russian head of state.
Indeed, this is why European leaders called the meeting, and rushed themselves to Minsk.
Poroshenko does not answer to the EU, they are not his guarantor, and they are not capable of pressuring him too much. They can only pressure the US, and by only by extension Poroshenko, by not going along with US plans for Russia and Ukraine. EU has said no to Ukraine in NATO, and no to the EU Association Agreement after all. The EU says on these critical points, over and over, the same thing that Russia says.
To understand the Minsk agreement is to understand the EU’s relationship with the Kiev Junta. The EU knows that when it talks to Poroshenko, it is talking to a US sock puppet. The reason that Poroshenko was at the meeting, and not the US, was because the EU and Russia wanted to tell Poroshenko certain things in a security environment which only the nominally neutral Minsk could provide. No one really thinks that Belarus is neutral, but everyone can pretend that they do.
The EU generally is not happy with how the US has handled things, and yet it is sitting in two chairs on the question nevertheless. So this is about the US using its pull on the Atlanticist forces within the EU, and also within less formal NATO structures, to make a policy for Europe and on Europe outside of the scope of European agency.
This prior agreement among other things specifically placed control of Debaltsevo in the hands of Novorossiya. Both the September and February agreements contain some apparent defects, which work out favorably again for the Russians. This is why we have heard rebel commanders and DPR leader Zakharchenko affirm both that the agreement is vague and contains contradictions, and also that Debaltsevo was not included in the ceasefire. Rather, he means the opposite on these points.
First, the terms are vague and do not compel the rebels to end the rebellion (it places onus on Ukraine to do things first that it will never do, and is not compelled to do by the language). Second, abiding by the ceasefire, it entirely justifies the use of arms to resolve the UAF’s violation of the agreement through its intrusion into the Debaltsevo area. At least on paper, it boils down to how one interprets specific language from the Minsk II agreement of February 12th. We will look at this in a moment.
This map includes the September 19th line as a dotted black curving series of dots, which have Debaltsevo on the Novorossiyan side of the line. There are at least two ways to interpret the language of the latest agreement.
2.) The agreement itself is vague in ways that help Novorossiya. This is mostly because the power to act on terms of an agreement in a manner which is beneficial is really a reflection of one’s advantage on the ground. As with anything, the ability to favorably act in one’s own interest is a practical question which is constrained by real existing forces and considerations. By and large, the memorandum in the abstract contains serious defects and cannot really be said to be an executable document by itself as it has many blank spots. It requires further agreements to fill in those blanks, both formal and tacit, between the two parties. These are not minor issues, but the core issues which strike at the heart of the civil war itself. These terms favor the party with the most agency. Each party has different kinds of agency and likely view that they will be able to, on the balance, make more out of this defective document than the other party.
The agreement has 13 points, most of which use terms which at first glance seem to compel certain actions, but in fact rather are contingent upon events which either do not have a specific time table, attach a time table to events which do not have a time table or are not executable, or still require future agreement.
What will figure prominently in the coming disagreements over implementation is the meaning of point 2 and point 4. The Minsk II agreement of February 12th refers back to the Minsk Memorandum of 19th September twice. These are in relation to the borders, one way or another, of Novorossiya.
In point 2 we read:
- Pull-out of all heavy weapons by both sides to equal distance with the aim of creation of a security zone on minimum 50 kilometres (31 mi) apart for artillery of 100mm calibre or more, and a security zone of 70 kilometres (43 mi) for MLRS and 140 kilometres (87 mi) for MLRS Tornado-S, Uragan, Smerch, and Tochka U tactical missile systems:
* for Ukrainian troops, from actual line of contact;
* for armed formations of particular districts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine, from the contact line in accordance with the Minsk Memorandum as of 19 September 2014
The pullout of the above-mentioned heavy weapons must start no later than the second day after the start of the ceasefire and finish within 14 days.
This process will be assisted by OSCE with the support of the Trilateral Contact Group.
This refers to artillery pull-out, but note that there are different lines to withdraw from for each of the two sides. This can be interpreted different ways: the word ‘actual’ means ‘in reality’, but which reality – the past, present or the future; the line on the 12th, on the 15th, or 14 days after the 15th? Whatever the case what it does do inarguably is draw us back to the Minsk Memorandum of the 19th and reaffirms those lines. The line for Novorossiya in that 19 September agreement includes Debaltsevo within it.
Other points, such as the disbanding of illegal groups and removal of foreign soldiers and mercenaries might at first glance apply to either side. With the Novorossiyan militias, as a legal party to the agreement the LPR and DPR cannot simultaneously be those illegal groups. The agreement does not say which party does the disarming (or what constitutes an illegal group), and in the context of limited federal autonomy or rather ‘local self governance’, we infer that both parties have this authority in the areas which they respectively control. Being able to disarm an illegal group implies the power to do it, i.e. having a legally armed group capable of the task. All of this has been pointed out previously when similar language appeared in the September agreement.
It is not strange that western media, to the extent that any details of this are covered, refers to continued fighting at Debaltsevo as a violation of the February ceasefire.
What we will see ultimately as a default reason for continued hostilities, that must work in conjunction with a favorable interpretation of the agreement, is the rationale of self defense. In reality a case of acceptable use of force during a ceasefire is in particular when a party defends itself from violations of the ceasefire. One element of one party, whether or not under orders, who violates the ceasefire does not deprive the other side of a means of response within the framework of a ceasefire. Thus it is possible for a party (being fired on) to simultaneously be adhering to a ceasefire and yet also be engaged in hostilities.
The next reference to the September 19th Minsk Memorandum is in point 4:
- On the first day after the pullout a dialogue is to start on modalities of conducting local elections in accordance with the Ukrainian legislation and the Law of Ukraine “On temporary Order of Local Self-Governance in Particular Districts of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts,” and also about the future of these districts based on the above-mentioned law.
Without delays, but no later than 30 days from the date of signing of this document, a resolution has to be approved by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, indicating the territory which falls under the special regime in accordance with the law “On temporary Order of Local Self-Governance in Particular Districts of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts,” based in the line set up by the Minsk Memorandum as of 19 September 2014.
These two cited sections taken together mean that some things in point 2 are obligated to have taken place on or about March 1st, and point 4’s ‘Rada resolution’ must be approved by Ukraine by mid March. But what is approved is a resolution that ‘indicates’ the territory, which is not the same thing as ‘recognizing’ that territory or vesting those local authorities with any specific rights and obligations.
In the course of the execution of the September agreement, each side accused the other of having violated it. Over the course of time, with each side making it known to the other, it can reasonably be said that much of it was no longer in effect.
With those changes having effectively taken place to the original agreement, references to the Minsk Memorandum of 19 September begin to take on elements of vestigial clauses or vestigial language if they lack meaning or if subsequent practices and events have diminished their effect.
While point 2 seems to refer more strongly to the 19 September borders when it constrains the Novorossiyans, in point 4 in which the Ukrainian Rada ‘indicates’ their territory, the language is much softer and states that it be ‘based in’ that line. Other problems in point 4 which may make the entire agreement defective and void notwithstanding (this may relate to the details of the referenced Ukrainian law on local self-governance), we can see clearly that the Rada must ‘indicate’ – which does not carry the force of ‘determine’, and certainly not ‘recognize’. Furthermore it states that the boundaries are ‘based in the line’, not precisely the line determined then, but possible a new line which is ‘based in the line’ in some day – determined by the same rationale, recognizing the same interests, or closely resembling – so it would be argued – the September 19th line in some credible way.
It was required, therefore, to agree again on the terms, so that this ‘reset’ supersedes the previous deviations, which if unchallenged may actually establish a new tacit agreement. Even though the references to the September 19th line are not coupled with firm language which compels specific actions coupled with specified consequences for inaction and remedy process, they are still referenced too. This means that parties can justify their ‘ceasefire’ actions of this already confused document as being based on the agreement.
Taken all together, we can see we have drawn several distinct interpretations. One seems to not, but rather to to be based in the ‘actual line of contact’ for the Ukraine side, which would be where the UAF positions ‘are’ (but vague about ‘when’ we look. The other one allows us to interpret the language as effectively returning the strategically Debaltsevo region to Novorossiya in accordance with the September 19th agreement.
When we look at the following series of situation report maps, September, October, and November: we can see that soon after the September agreement characterized by a Novorossiyan Debaltsevo, the UAF took it in violation of that agreement.
Those who have been keeping an eye on these developments during the ‘ceasefire’ months will already appreciate that the encirclement did not form out of a recent advance of the UAF. This was not a blunder that pushed forward too far as a result of poor communication or bad planning. This ‘bridgehead’ it maintained was extraordinarily well fortified. It had intended to be surrounded on three sides and function like a fortification that could tolerate a near-siege. Indeed it was thought even that this bridgehead could become the focus of Novorossiya efforts, wicking them away from elsewhere, and once drawn in and then ground down, the protrusion could push farther south-east. Their strategy has been to develop this cleavage further until they can split Donetsk off from Lugansk entirely.
3.) In standard form, the US misjudged the Russian willingness to enter into a ceasefire without pre-conditions as a weakness.They encouraged Poroshenko to attend at Europe’s request for a number of reasons. One consideration was due to the matter of the fate of thousands of soldiers in the Debaltsevo protrusion, and how these facts revolved around any Russian advantage. The US is ultimately on track to destabilize the region, but only with a Russian over-commitment which places it on course for its own internal destabilization as well.
A large number of those elites in Europe who are cautiously sitting in two chairs and trying to appease US policy, will only continue to entertain the US course so long as it does not result in further destabilization. In a mid-intensity conflict such as this where the information war is central, it is a poor move to be the party which turns down unconditional overtures for ceasefire talks.
The US thought it was in a ‘win-win’ with this situation.
If on the one hand Poroshenko could get the Russians, in light of the recent advances and the statements from Zakharchenko, to stop the push and return to the September lines, this would be good. If they gain more territory which is not strategically important, this is also fine. Over the course of the last few months, the US lost control of the narrative and accusations that Novorossiya had violated the ceasefire fell on deaf ears. Additionally, as with the MH17 downing, the US failed to get a false flag to result in real shift in the public discourse and the position of their European partners.
The core of this also then for the Us is that this provided a new opportunity to bind Russia to terms, the vagueness of which allows the US to construe as an abrogation on the part of Russia in the media war and as a justification for increased sanctions.
If it fails, and Poroshenko’s army there is destroyed, then Poroshenko faces being removed from office in a Pravy Sektor type coup, and the US goes forward with the next part of its plan. The UAF had reason to believe, days before the talks, that a well executed push could keep the encirclement from finally closing, allowing necessary provisions and ammo inside. This only was need to work, or last, until after the agreement was made.
The US deemed that if it was not a party to the talks, then there was nothing binding on them and in the US view. Conversely, Russia was a party to the talks, and could be held responsible as a guarantor of commitments stemming from these talks.
The US knew that among the UAF soldiers were also mercenaries from NATO countries, and even NATO advisers. It is unclear to what extent the French and the Germans are capable of assessing things which might first arise as leaks or rumors. It is also unclear to what extent the US would inform civilian authorities like Merkel and Hollande of the extent of NATO involvement. We do know that German intelligence is in a process of creating an inner network independent of US intelligence networks. In other words, Germany is in the process of becoming a sovereign state.
So there are various scenarios concerning the degree of European knowledge about the mercenaries and NATO soldiers in Debaltsevo. What we do know is that the Russians know about it, and these sorts of rare face to face meetings away from the US are places where the other players are free to share what they know and speak bluntly about what facts they have and what they are working with.
4.) The US was fooled into thinking that it was fooling the public and the Russians. Hollande’s public statements prior to the Minsk II talks were a critical part of the illusion performed on the US. Recall that before the Normandy 4 met, his statements were critical because they set a clear expectation that the agreement would entail different borders than the September ceasefire agreement, and more autonomy for Novorossiya within a federalized Ukraine (new constitution, etc.).
In particular certain things were referred to here. Not only would the framework of the September ceasefire and memorandum be used for a new ceasefire, but also that both more territory and more autonomy than had previously been realized would be given to the Novorossiyan side. Recall that after the resumption of military operations of scale in December, it was the Novorossiyan forces that gained territory. This, then, would seem to refer to that territory.
Hollande and Merkel communicate in wooden language, even with other heads of state. Nuance can only be inferred through context, and subordinates reassure their counterparts in the parallel structures of what the president or prime minister really meant to imply. The US was encouraged by Hollande’s public statements prior to Minsk II because it held out the possibility of the Russians agreeing to concede ground to the Junta in Debaltsevo in exchange for more territory elsewhere, as well as reaffirming that Novorossiya is to remain inside of Ukraine.
Thus we could read this as the EU willing to go in to negotiations and push to redraw the borders in a way which this time recognized the fact of Kiev control over Debaltsevo.
Putting 3.) and 4.) together, what we can reasonably deduce is that Poroshenko was thinking that if the language of the ceasefire could be interpreted with a focus on the ‘line of contact’, that holding onto the bridgehead (or claiming it was so) would recognize the UAF’s new territory, even though it went against the borders of September Minsk Memorandum. After all, the Novorossiyan forces elsewhere had picked up territory, and were intending to keep it.
The US and Poroshenko were both encouraged by the signed document that came out of the contact group. As we can see, it recognizes the Ukrainian gains since September (the actual line of contact) but restricts the Novorossiyan side to the borders of September, thus negating their achievements in territorial terms.
Nevertheless, at the end of the day we see now what Hollande’s pre-meeting public comments were all about. In a rare example of transparency, he was saying exactly what he thought would be amenable to France.
5.) What seems likely to have happened on February 12th, probably was a very big surprise though. A very likely scenario was that Putin informed Merkel and Hollande in front of Poroshenko that the ceasefire language would indeed go by line of contact. But that this all around means clearly all of Novorossiya’s territorial gains including Debaltsevo which, before fourteen days, would be completely in Novorossiyan hands.
This is where Putin was able to directly share Russian satellite and drone imagery establishing that the cauldron would not be a ‘line of contact’ either by the 15th or the 1st of March. At this time also, Putin clarified and confirmed fears that indeed foreign western backed mercenaries, some perhaps even still in NATO armies.
Indeed, based on numerous confirmed reports and official statements from brigade commanders like Motorola who are known for unfiltered moments, is that indeed as much as a third of this encircled group, acting as a vanguard for the salient, were from NATO countries. They may have had some kind of ties, past or present, with NATO military structures. Past connections would be typical of mercenaries or special forces on temporary separation or retirement. Active duty personnel would be those that can be termed military advisers.
The EU is really a Berlin-Paris axis, and Hollande and Merkel can only exist as representatives of an EU in its present incarnation, a mixture of Eurasianist and Atlanticist tendencies which are at odds with each other. What would be extraordinarily upsetting, and what would corrode the EU leadership’s ability to maintain credibility with its own constituencies, would be the video footage of hundreds or thousands of dead and surrendering Polish, German, and American mercenaries encircled at Debaltsevo. This was a hand that Russian leadership played masterfully.
Now we can see the rush on the part of the Ukrainians to keep a reality distinct from the language of the September ceasefire agreement. They wanted to prevent the Novorossiyans from creating new facts on the ground. The Kiev Junta never adhered to the borders designated by the September agreement, and maintained the Debaltsevo protrusion as a bridgehead. It was not a zone of operations until the matter of Donetsk – the removal of the UAF and the PS militias from operating in the immediate area – was complete.
6.) Despite all the problems with this agreement, the UN Security Council unanimously voted to approve the agreement. That the US allowed Ukraine to sign on to this, and also approved it at the Security Council can mean several things. On the one hand, they see an opportunity now to blame Russia for being in violation of a Security Council resolution. But the language of this resolution is important, as we have learned from past wars starting with Iraq.
While the US regularly violates international law and claims the status of ‘exceptional nation’, Russia’s whole narrative has been one of adhering strictly to it and upholding the universality of its principles.
The US likes that it can use its own media to attempt to blame Russia for what inevitably will be a violation of the ceasefire. For that, it is pleased that it can point to a Security Council resolution to that effect.
But the resolution of the Security Council is also toothless. It does not require anything if it is not adhered to. It does not contain a mechanism for determining fault, nor does it create a process for remedy or correction.
Because, however, this is now a subject which the Security Council has a made a resolution ending with the phrase ‘is seized of the matter’, it means that the General Assembly or any other body like the UNHRC cannot weigh in with any recommendations. This will be useful for Russia, especially for these other bodies which the US often has an undue degree of influence over.
Finally, should the US begin again to go overboard, Russia will be in the position make public a range of other things which it knows and which the US would rather not be made public. Specifically relating to the conflict in Ukraine, Russia may surprises evidence of EU-NATO involvement in a manner in line with its agreement on that matter with the EU, and rather instead go public with US-NATO involvement. In such a scenario, the year old mantra of a ‘Russian Invasion’ will be flipped in the EU media into a US invasion. Besides Ukraine, the European public is the only non-Russian public of course that matters because of its parliamentary system and plural-civil-democratic institutions. When Americans are totally opposed to a critical feature of US policy, it has no affect on US policy, only visible is a change in the branding and packaging.
7.) Putin likely told Merkel and Hollande outright in front of Poroshenko that Poroshenko needs Russia and the EU. Poroshenko might be okay with being the last Ukrainian head of state in terms of legacy alone. His thinking has nothing to do with any fealty to a Ukrainian “ideal”, let alone the people. Rather there are certain real benefits, mostly economic, to being in the position he is in. If the Ukrainian state fails in the way the US seems bent on doing, then there will be no more IMF payments and no more skimming off the top. War is also profitable for him, but not in his case if he’s not the head of state. Poroshenko can also be held responsible for the war crimes and crimes against humanity, but this is only a card that makes sense to play as a threat.
Behind the closed doors at Minsk, Putin tried to disabuse Poroshenko of his thinking that the US would be able to pressure the EU into saying Russia had violated the ceasefire by putting the final squeeze on the Cauldron at Debaltsevo. Putin has to remind Poroshenko of the obvious, but state it plainly and not through filters and monitored channels.
He had to say to Poroshenko something like this in front of Hollande and Merkel: “The US is setting you up to fail. Everything they have you do only destabilizes things further. You’ve only made enemies on all sides. This is fine for a politician, but not good if you are on the run. You can’t carry all that cash; those bank accounts, they will seize them once they are through with you.”
So long as he is in power, and holds the rest of Ukraine together in a way workable for the EU and Russia, then he will not be toppled and will not be held responsible.
Poroshenko has already tried to lay responsibility for the crimes in Novorossiya on Yatsenyuk and Turchinov. Novorossiya parliament leader, Tsarev, has made similar statements which hold out the possibility of a later ‘truth and reconciliation’ in which Poroshenko can avoid certain thing which may be coming his way.
There are a lot of different ways that one could play out, including those who want to hold him responsible also for betraying the Ukrainian military effort. Really, the possibilities are quite numerous. His safest bet is to remain the head of state. This means that there has to be a state for him to remain the head of. The US seems more inclined to use its extraordinary influence over the Pravy Sektor umbrella militias as well as Svoboda – even Yatsenyuk to some extent – to usher in the final stage of a failed state.
What is holding the US back among other things is the inability to get the EU to commit, through NATO or otherwise, to militarily support some or other future possible faction within the Ukrainian failed state which will be also against Russia.
There are certain definite pressures acting upon Poroshenko which explain his general behavior from the start as well as his public denial of the Debaltsevo Cauldron reality at Minsk. For one his denial of the Cauldron would have been true if those in the US who assured him it would be were right. Poroshenko has gone through a long process of being assured by his US handlers of things which consistently have turned out to be grossly in error.
8.) Putin proved to Merkel and Hollande that the real negative influence on Poroshenko is the US, and in the course of the meeting it was proved that Poroshenko has no agency. He probably was unable to speak at the secured meeting beyond general phrases and public relation type statements, which revealed that he is unable to make policy for Ukraine.
Russia wants Poroshenko to keep Ukraine together, and the US wants to increase the mayhem and create upon the collective and historical consciousness a new galvanizing and polarizing event, in order to shape future discourse and resuscitate blood feuds. That would take the form of an ongoing conflict and a ‘black hole’ which sucks in the efforts and resources of the region, leading up to a destabilization of Russia itself.
This is what the US has done in Syria and Iraq, and yet have not been able to destabilize Iran. In a more perfect world for the US, what is happening in Ukraine today would have been in the aftermath of a removed Assad, and a ruined Iran. At some point the decision was made to go ahead with the Ukraine plan as Ukraine was looking at increased integration into the Eurasian economic union.
What to expect: Poroshenko is already trying to spin this major defeat as either a victory, a moral victory, or an orderly movement which relates somehow to the ceasefire. Western media, especially in the US and UK, which has an increasingly smaller audience in the world and in the west, will push the line that the Novorossiyan side is violating the ceasefire.
Ukraine violated the ceasefire unilaterally last time, which is how the occupation of the Debaltsevo area came under Ukraine control after the September agreement which placed it in Novorossiyan hands. That is the critical fact to remember when looking at how these brokered agreements are later trounced on.
We know that the Novorossiyan’s had a justification for maintaining the cauldron at Debaltsevo given that history, and the legal meanings and implications we discussed in the above.
The US is going to latch onto the Security Council resolution, and we should expect Psaki to latch onto this in her press briefings, and will state without evidence that Russia is violating numerous provisions of the cease. This Security Council business is a big deal for the US, and they may try to hype some distorted meme about this and milk it much as they can. If they don’t attempt to do things in the Ukrainian theatre which cross Russia’s implied red line, they will probably return to Syria and create the pretext for a more robust presence and more attacks in Syrian infrastructure, attacks which so far the international community has tolerated to some degree.
Russia does not want things to escalate, that is not in their interest. If forced, they will respond adequately and their moves will be decisive and unannounced, and will create new facts on the ground which will polarize the European discourse. Russia will be able to go public with its video footage of the US mercenaries at Debaltsevo and the Donetsk Airport. These are the kinds of things which are proven effective in moving the European discourse in a desired direction.
Now Poroshenko is going to have to figure out how he can effectively spin this catastrophe. The Russians were looking for ways to minimize the impact, perhaps even help him stage a faked victory elsewhere which he could point to, and draw the attention of the Ukrainian media. But Poroshenko followed his US advisers and made the UAF stuck in the cauldron take thousands of casualties.
It is not something supporters of Russia and Novorossiya will advertise or even be aware of, but Russia now will help Poroshenko do some damage control. As was the pattern last summer, we should expect the Novorossiyans to talk about some set-back, even if it is not really true.
It is most likely that in the aftermath of Minsk II and the way that Novorossiya went ahead and handled the cauldron anyhow, that the US is only barely now starting to realize that they’ve been left with an unplayable hand.
Joaquin Flores is an American expat living in Belgrade. He is a full-time analyst at the Center for Syncretic Studies, a public geostrategic think-tank. His expertise encompasses Eastern Europe, Eurasia, and he has a strong proficiency in Middle East affairs. Flores is particularly adept at analyzing the psychology of the propaganda wars. He is a political scientist educated at California State University. In the US, he worked for a number of years as a labor union organizer, chief negotiator, and strategist for a major trade union federation.