Rostislav Ishchenko is arguably the leading international analyst focused on the extraordinarily turbulent Russia-Ukraine relations. He posts regularly on Ukraina.ru, with frequent English translations here.
In contrast to the 24/7 “Russian aggression” demonization campaign effective on all corners of the Beltway and spreading towards selected European capitals, Ishchenko’s analysis, for instance of the information war deployed on all fronts of the Russia-Ukraine saga comes as a breath of fresh air.
Although we were not able to meet in person during my recent visit to Moscow, due to conflicting schedules (the meeting will take place later in the winter), Ishchenko graciously accepted to answer my most pressing questions regarding what could happen next on the Russia-Ukraine front, with translation by Scott Humor.
Ishchenko’s answers on the situation in Donbass should also be expanded to Crimea, after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov revealed he had information about Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko planning an armed provocation on the border with Crimea in the last ten days of December.
Considering the terrain in winter is usually propitious for tank advance, would Poroshenko, in desperation, go for a major provocation in the Donbass, perhaps between Christmas and New Year’s Eve?
First of all, this winter is too warm and the area is not yet favorable for an offensive. Second, even if frost strikes and an attack becomes possible, it is too big of a risk for Poroshenko. He does not have enough military power to defeat the DPR/LPR forces, without even mentioning that surprises are still possible as it happened in August 2008 in South Ossetia. After all, the Minsk peace agreement has not been canceled yet, and it is unlikely that the West will be able to stand against Russia in a consolidated manner at the moment when Russia is conducting a peace coercion of the confectioner, who is out of his mind with fear, and whom the West has already written off. The West requires a mandatory holding of elections, and any war would mean a cancellation of elections. If the war is facilitated by Poroshenko, he will be blamed for the cancellation of the elections and there will be no need to protect him.
Is there any possibility of the Minsk agreements being fulfilled in case of a slightly less anti-Russian government in place in Kiev after the next elections?
No, it’s not possible. Kiev is unable to implement the Minsk agreements because this would imply the federalization of Ukraine, while the Kiev elites are able to rule only within the rigid vertical of the unitary state. They basically do not imagine a different system of relationships. Since 2014, the internal resources which could satisfy appetites of oligarchic groups were exhausted, and there is no material basis for compromise. Therefore, they are doomed to fight among themselves for the dominance. Even if Russia, Crimea, Donbass and the whole world would suddenly vanish, the civil war in Ukraine, no longer restrained from the outside, would only intensify.
Is Kiev aware that in case of a military attack on Donbass, the Russian response would be devastating? And that in Brussels, as I confirmed with many diplomatic sources, nobody really cares about Poroshenko’s fate anymore?
I think that he knows this very well. That’s exactly why he organized his provocations in the Kerch Strait and also in Kiev (attacking the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate), but not in Donbass.
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And in response to this interview, one comment from The Saker blog - by Larchmonter - stood out in its clarity of the situation:
It is very important to recall, or learn, that Putin and the Kremlin did not start the Militia or launch an armed resistance against Kiev. That was Strelkov’s plan. In open defiance of Putin and the Kremlin.
So, once the war began, the Kremlin and the General Staff had to create a means to support the defense of Donbass.
That led to several systemic operations. Voentorg supplied the militia with the logistics of warfare. North Wind supplied the volunteers with military experience and expertise. Strategy and maneuvering of forces was commanded by top officer advisers (Generals and Colonels) who made certain the Militia was not defeated.
The Ukies and Kiev supplied the stupidity and incompetence that led to their devastating losses in boilers.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin welcomed the other stakeholders from the West—Germany and France. The basis of the Normandy Group was formed, four heads of state, including Kiev’s Porky.
From the initial Minsk Accord came failure. But Debaltsevo brought back to life the device for freezing the conflict. Kiev lost thousands of men, NATO had 600 or more men trapped in the boiler with the Ukies, so the three sides facing Putin had to accept what he constructed in Minsk 2.
It froze the conflict, freed the NATO troops, and finished with the utter debacle of Debaltsevo for the Ukies.
The 13 milestones were almost all exclusive steps that Kiev had to take in order to fulfill the Minsk 2 agreement.
There would be a federal government, Donbass would be safeguarded.
This is where the reality and the roadmap diverged.
Kiev could not obey, the government would be overthrown by the nazi battalions.
The US began to step in and manipulate the contact line separation of forces and all-for-all exchange of prisoners, while demonizing the Militia, the two Republics, Putin, the Kremlin and Russia.
But Putin had bigger fish to fry. He had three years of GRU and SVR reports on the war in Syria and intended to rescue Assad. He had Crimea to support, rejuvenate and clean out the corruption. He had secret weapons to complete and test and then surprise the US and the West with Russian military superiority.
Freezing the war in Donbass (even at the cost of a few hundred people per year) was imperative.
His Generals had the militia rotate to Russia for better training, many thousands of them. Training has been ongoing since 2015.
What is in the cards for Donbass is really a product of Kiev and the U.S. If the U.S. wants to, it can keep control of the Ukraine government through financing its survival. Ukraine will remain a basket case for decades. No one wants to reconstruct, invest in, or underwrite any sector of the society. As long as this occurs, the Ukies will be used to terrorize Donbass and threaten the Russian border with irrational military thrusts. One mistake and the U.S. will lose that military proxy. Even FM Lavrov spoke of that yesterday. The MOD presented proof of us of Iskander missiles in Syria. Lavrov indicated such weapons would be used to stop any attack by Kiev.
Donbass’s fate is attached to Putin. They have half a decade of support in all forms coming their way. After that, no one yet can see a solution of any kind.
It is as likely as not that something will happen to change this fate.
Russia will not decide this matter for itself. Russia’s military will not decide this matter as an aggressor.
The initiative is in the hands of the US, or Germany or Ukrainians.
However, what any of these three face is the Russian military and Kremlin, as well as the straightjacket of Minsk 2 which is the legal bondage Kiev cannot escape except through suicidal military action.
They (Ukies) cannot fight their way out of Minsk 2 and prevail.
They cannot bait the Russians into a war.
They cannot walk away from Donbass and leave it to Russia. The nazis will execute them.
They cannot win while trying, because they will lose.
They can only give in to whatever Putin decides he wants. (Of course, such an outcome is unacceptable to U.S.)
So, for five more years, they won’t do anything different. They will try to wait out Putin’s presidency.
You can see the policy in Syria as prototype for Ukraine.
The U.S. has no intention of allowing a full Syrian victory for Assad and Russia.
They will stay for as many years as they can.
And the near term is five more years. They will try to wait out Putin’s presidency.
And they have the Kurds, al Nusra, ISIS proxies to use, like they use the nazis and conscripts in Ukraine.
It is almost painless for the U.S. to follow this policy in both hotspots.
Trump has bought into it for both fronts.
This is why Putin did not want an armed resistance to the Maidan Putsch in early 2014.