Petro Poroshenko’s inaugural speech as President of Ukraine was bad news for the people of Ukraine, and perhaps for the rest of us too. Of course it was upbeat. And of course he said he wanted peace. Warmongers always do. But it was the speech of a leader determined upon civil war.
He offered an amnesty to those “who illegally took weapons in their hands”. But he excluded those who “have blood of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians on their hands”. He made no mention of supporters of the Kiev regime who have blood on their hands.
And he excluded those “involved in funding terrorism”. So billionaire Petro Poroshenko wishes to jail rival oligarchs, especially Viktor Yanukovych and what he called the “clan of Yanukovych”. No surprise there.
He offered nothing likely to make Ukrainians who are hostile to the Kiev regime or suspicious of it feel happier about their future.
Terrorism, terrorism, terrorism. Petro Poroshenko was singing from a song sheet perfected over the years by George Bush, Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin, Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu. It’s the song of anyone who is anxious to avoid dialogue and believes himself strong enough to make language itself take his side.
There will be dialogue, but not with “bandits”. There will be democracy, but current local deputies in Donbas “do not represent anyone there”.
There will be national unity and tolerance of diversity in those matters that foster the construction of right-wing nationalism. Local communities will be allowed “their peculiarities in the issues of historic memory, pantheon of heroes, religious traditions.” In other words, people may lionise historical figures who fought with the Nazis against the Soviet Union, as well as those who fought with the Soviet Union against the Nazis. Ukrainians may have whatever heroes they wish, so long as they can be made to support the idea of Ukrainan nation-hood.
Poroshenko said that Crimea “was, is, and will be Ukrainian soil.” That statement might, just possibly, be a formality. It is probably too early for any Ukraine president to say anything different. But Poroshenko’s insistence on control over the east of Ukraine, and his rejection of any federal arrangement, are in in earnest.
“For peace to become lasting, we must get used to living in constant combat readiness”, he said.
So there will be war.
Why does Poroshenko want civil war? Possibly he believes it is the best way to unite the Maidan movement around him without meeting its aspirations for economic and social justice. And possibly he believes it is the best way to eliminate the risk of a comeback by Yanukovych, without a transformation of politics that would end oligarchy altogether.
The international community – that old euphemism, useful because it is hard to pin down – seems willing to go along with Poroshenko’s choice of language. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) includes the United States and the Russian Federation. It has a special monitoring mission to Ukraine, mandated “to contribute to reducing tensions and to help foster peace, stability and security.” The 6 June update of the monitoring mission uses the term “anti-terrorist operations” to refer to military operations of the Ukraine government in the east of the country.
Why are Poroshenko’s friends in the governments of the US and Europe willing to countenance civil war in Ukraine? Probably for the same reasons that Poroshenko wants war. But the US may have another reason too. Instability in Ukraine is almost certain to be more troublesome to neighbouring Russia than to the faraway USA. Things may look rather different to European governments closer to the scene of the crime. But EU expansionism has become so entangled with US and NATO expansionism – hijacked might be slightly too strong a word – that they may now feel they have little choice but to hold tight and enjoy the ride. For them, a swift and relatively painless victory for Ukraine government forces may seem like the best option.
Perhaps international pressure will be enough to deter Putin from annexing eastern parts of Ukraine. If he does so anyway, then all bets on the next steps are off. But even a “successful” annexation – one without too high a price for Russia – will by no means be game, set and match to Putin. A united Ukraine, outside NATO and with tolerably cordial relations with Russia, would have been a much better outcome for Russia than a diminished, but hostile and NATO-aligned Ukraine and a piece of annexed territory that may not prove easy to digest.
Short of annexation, Putin is free to choose the level of support he gives to rebels in the east of Ukraine, and the extent he wishes to be open about it.
The power-brokers are all playing with fire. Perhaps they will be sane enough, skilful enough, and lucky enough to avoid a conflagration. But even smouldering gently, at a level the power-brokers find beneficial, the fire will be bad news for those who have to live amongst the cinders.
Photo: US State Department