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Ukraine: the Minsk Agreement and the Push for War

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As the Ukraine army suffered what the Associated Press described as “a horrific government defeat” in the southeast city of Ilovaysk with the culmination of a series of strategic military setbacks, the AFU (Armed Forces of Ukraine) is said to be in a demoralized state as it transits from conducting offensive operations to a defensive ‘holding’ posture in the Donbass.

In Mariupol, a port city on the Azov Sea and scene of heavy fighting for some weeks, even the well-equipped neo-nazi Azov battalion funded by Israeli-Ukraine oligarch Kolomoyskyi was reportedly in retreat.

Once touting that the Kiev government would destroy the militia by Ukraine Independence Day on August 24, NATO officials now believe that the government has lost the military conflict after losing control of the Luhansk airport to the rebels in what was described as an impressive display of military superiority.

Emboldened by a string of successful military operations, the once-identified Federalist ‘rebels’ have assumed an increasing level of confidence and are now seeking status as the independent republic of Novorossia.

After the capitulation of the AFU’s southern front, reports from the newly-formalized Novorossia Armed Forces (NAF), a still outnumbered rebel militia facing a more mechanized Ukraine Army, indicate that any threat to the Crimea has been removed with the preoccupied AFU covering their butts elsewhere.

It was against the backdrop of several swift military reversals in favor of the NAF that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, the stability of whose government is now threatened, readily agreed to attend the Contact Group meeting in Minsk and to negotiate with Donetsk Prime Minister Alexander Zakharchenko, Igor Plotnitsky of the Luhansk Republic and Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Zurabov on adoption of a ceasefire.   The previous June 20th ceasefire was canceled by Poroshenko under pressure from the White House.   Under the Agreement, Ukraine will be decentralized  to establish special recognized status for the Donetsk and Luhansk regions including early elections and amnesty for anti-Kiev forces.

As the ceasefire takes effect with the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) responsible for monitoring and verification, the OSCE released details of the twelve point agreement with a follow-up extended meeting expected later this week.

None of this is to suggest that NATO or its US patron have conceded defeat to the ‘rebels’ or that the Kiev government will fold its tent in the Donbass but there is no doubt that the Obama Administration’s foreign policy in Ukraine is more of a cataclysmic failure than previously recognized.

History has shown that the most powerful military in the history of the world does not take a thrashing well, especially from indigenous upstarts.   As a result of the recent NATO Heads of State Meeting in Wales, the big guns of NATO may step in and pick up the slack as assorted military exercises are scheduled for the Baltics and Ukraine.

In spite of significant movement toward peace in Minsk by the Kiev government and Novorossia representatives, a US Navy destroyer and a French frigate, under the guise of promoting peace and stability, have already moved into the Black Sea to be joined by two other NATO naval vessels    One can only imagine the outrage, the indignation and the fury should a Russian battleship sail into the Gulf of Mexico.

It is fair to say that even as President Obama was delivering perhaps his most strident Presidential speech, to date regarding the US-initiated war in Ukraine while on his way to the NATO meeting in Wales,  he was well aware that the military situation in Ukraine was already  in serious disintegration. And inexplicably with the president’s foreign policy initiative in Ukraine in frayed tatters, the president’s sharp language in the Estonia speech discarded any pretense of offering a diplomatic solution or a voice of reason approach to the Ukraine crisis.

Just prior to the NATO meeting as Russian President Vladimir Putin announced his seven point plan for a ceasefire, the US president offered an unusually shrill world view that was perhaps the president’s most bellicose threat to date regarding the US-initiated war in Ukraine.

More than just a talk-tough, muscle flexing reaction to Republican criticism of being “too cautious” on confronting Russia, it was a speech that disputes every principle of the Minsk Agreement with little rational for the president’s hostility in the face of what he already knew to be a disaster for the Ukraine military.

The president missed a scholarly moment to soften his tone, endorse the Minsk objectives and step into the limelight as Putin’s partner in peace.   Long forgotten is Putin’s key diplomatic role in Syria relinquishing its chemical weapons and bringing Iran to the table regarding development of its nuclear program.

If the American corporate media had an ounce of journalistic responsibility to report accurately on something as mundane as a speech, one can speculate on the deafening roar from the American public as the president pledged that “we will be here for Estonia, we will be here for Lithuania, we will be here for Latvia” as the president promised “more US forces including American boots on ground continually rotating through Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.”  The president’s hyperbole went on to suggest that there is “a commitment that is unbreakable. It is unwavering. It is eternal. And Estonia will never stand alone.”  A rotation schedule would allow the US to maintain a military presence in the Baltics without violating the NATO-Russia Founding Act on Mutual Relations of 1997 which prohibits ‘permanent stationing of substantial combat forces’ on the territory of new NATO members.

Perhaps carried away by the bad news that his Ukraine policy had hit the rocks, is the president seriously suggesting that the US would go to war in defense of Estonia or Latvia or Lithuania, all with sizable Russian minorities and with insignificant standing armies of 15,000 or less?

Most egregiously, the president’s pledge that “We will not accept Russia’s occupation and illegal annexation of Crimea or any part of Ukraine” does not bode well for the success of the ceasefire or the Agreement or for long term peace in Crimea.

Reminding us of the plight of millions of desperate Americans including the pain of the bankruptcy of Detroit, there is little disagreement that the president’s assertion that “Unrestrained nationalism is the last refuge of those who cannot or will not deliver real progress or opportunity for their own people at home” represents a dazzling discrepancy between a devastatingly brutal US foreign policy and an equally brutal domestic policy.

As US attempts to be the good guys frequently fall flat, inconsistencies that never made it into the presidential draft include the UN report that estimated more than one million Ukrainians have been displaced with more than half a million refugees fleeing the violence into Russia – thereby denying the media spin that Russia is still the ‘evil empire’ as refugees do not seek escape into the welcoming arms of those conducting the bombardment.   Nor has the notion that the framework of international law which protects a population’s right to self-determination was decimated with the illegitimate ouster of its elected President in February and Kiev government’s response to wage war on its dissident citizens.

With the Ukraine army on the ropes, it would be helpful to know if the US State Department is considering the implications of enforcing the Minsk Agreement or exploring the implications of endorsing a federalist approach or an autonomous approach for the Donbass?  On second thought, perhaps the State Department has done enough damage and should stay the hell out.

As the Minsk Agreement for political reconciliation and the NATO/US push for increased military preparedness travel on parallel tracks, the president’s Estonia speech where he said that “Article 5 is crystal clear. An attack on one is an attack on all. So if, in such a moment, you ever ask again, who’ll come to help, you’ll know the answer: the NATO alliance, including the armed forces of the United States of America, right here, present, now” hardly seems an intelligent or mature way to approach global disputes in the 21st Century.

Renee Parsons was a staffer in the U.S. House of Representatives and a lobbyist on nuclear energy issues with Friends of the Earth.  in 2005, she was elected to the Durango City Council and served as Councilor and Mayor.  Currently, she is a member of the Treasure Coast ACLU Board.

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Renee Parsons has been a member of the ACLU’s Florida State Board of Directors and president of the ACLU Treasure Coast Chapter. She has been an elected public official in Colorado, an environmental lobbyist and staff member of the US House of Representatives in Washington DC. She can be found on Twitter @reneedove31

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