Tag Archives: conflict

Formula for Disaster

Since my Youtube channel is currently dedicated to more entertainment-related topics, I figured I might as well do a little serious writing here for the time being (typically I publish that sort of material at Nihilist.li these days). It just occurred to me that apart from scattered tweets, I never really gave a comprehensive opinion on the so-called “Steinmeier formula” that’s been dominating news in Ukraine lately, which is of course another argument against using Twitter. So in case you were wondering, here is my position on Steinmeier, which is inevitably going to piss off a lot of people because Ukraine. 

 

My opinion is as follows: Steinmeier, both the man Frank-Walter Steinmeier (seriously who hyphenates their first name?!), and his “formula,” suck. Powerfully. That being said, Zelenskyy’s position on the matter isn’t necessarily the cause for panic that some see it as. The question is whether Zelenskyy sticks to his guns about the manner in which it is to be implemented. Zelenskyy says he insists on control over the border and foreign troops out of Ukraine before holding elections, which must be held according to Ukrainian law. This is different from what the “formula” originally states.

 

As presented in 2016, the plan could be extremely problematic because it calls for elections to be held before restoring control of the border to Ukraine. While they must be certified as free and fair by the OSCE, there’s nothing specifying exactly what degree of “free and fair” they must achieve to be considered valid under the formula. The OSCE’s ODIHR (Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights) does not simply rate elections in a black and white, pass/fail style basis. This means that Russia’s proxies could potentially rig the elections in such a way that they get their people in key positions in the region but not so much that the OSCE declares them invalid (Russia would also no-doubt send their typical delegation of neo-Nazi and backward Communist “election monitors” who would declare the whole process free and fair). 

 

On the other hand, if Zelenskyy insists on return of the border and removal of troops first, then it is possible that actual free and fair elections could be held on those territories. The catch in this case is that Russia would most likely refuse to abide by the plan because they aren’t going to risk losing their foothold in Ukraine without some kind of guarantee that they’ll have their agents well-entrenched in the political system. So if Zelenskyy doesn’t go back on his promises, Russia is likely to refuse to cooperate and we stay at the long bloody status quo. 

 

Personally speaking, as bad as the status quo is, it is preferable to any scenario which could be presented as capitulation by the Kremlin and its propaganda organs. Apart from the demoralization in Ukraine, Russia would inevitably use such a “victory” to lobby for the removal of all sanctions related to their involvement in eastern Ukraine by severing them from those covering Crimea. This is why I think it’s good that people came out and protested the matter, if only to remind Zelenskyy not to cave to Russian or European demands. It is of course unfortunate that right wing fifth columnist organizations like the National Corps are trying to capitalize on and monopolize this protest movement, but grifters gonna grift, after all. 

 

On the other hand I can’t help but see a lot of the anger being misdirected at Zelenskyy when there are others far worthier of ire. The Poroshenko dead-enders, for example, seem to forget that St. Petro himself had endorsed and tried to push through similar “special status” laws back in 2015. Those moves also provoked major protests and a bomb attack that killed four people. Earlier he’d even voiced willingness for a referendum on federalization, one of Russia’s main demands, back in 2014. Sure, he said he personally was against the idea, and he had to have known the majority of Ukrainians would vote it down, but Ukrainian politics are a minefield where saying the wrong thing or even saying something innocuous with the wrong wording gets called out as ZRADA! (treason), and some of his fans seem to be forgetting these actions, quite conveniently. Furthermore, Poroshenko and his fans seem to forget that they have been pushing the “no alternative to Minsk” line this whole time. This crowd never ceases talking tough about the war and labeling any opponent as being in favor of “capitulations,” but I know from personal experience that when you press them on what their great military solution is they retreat to mumbling about Minsk, “isolating Russia,” and poorly understood military history about Croatia’s Flash and Storm offensives of 1995. It’s all just empty posturing, and Ukrainians see through it. The majority, in fact. 

 

It seems to me that the most anger should be directed at, after the Kremlin of course, Europeans like Frank-Walter Steinmeier. One of the most infuriating things about the behavior of Ukraine’s so-called “friends,” the OSCE, etc. is the constant both-sides tone you hear in their statements and recommendations. Obviously being the victim of military aggression isn’t a license to wantonly engage in any kind of morally reprehensible behavior, but in the case of this war Ukraine has demonstrated great patience and restraint given the circumstances. If there were a will, Ukraine could be fighting this war far more dirtier than it currently is (Yo, Ze, hit me up!). Yet despite this, European states and their leaders, and at times even the US government, still often act as though peace in Ukraine is equally on the shoulders of Kyiv as much as it is on Moscow. Even Emmanuel Macron, who won an election in which he was the only major candidate without an obvious soft-spot for Putin, was recently demonstrating his desire to reintegrate Russia in the West.

 

Zelenskyy himself is something of a mixed bag, but given everything I’ve covered above, it’s hard to imagine him seeing any alternatives. Since 2015 the world as well as Ukraine’s own president had been saying the only way out is Minsk, and Steinmeier is basically a simplified version of key points of that agreement. And bear in mind they were singing this refrain of “no solution but Minsk” even as the very first point on that agreement was flagrantly violated on a daily basis for years, even up to the present. Ukraine’s establishment and its supposed allies all demanded that the corpse called Minsk II be worshipped, insisted there was no substitute, and now people are supposed to get angry that a former comedian is basically acquiescing to that very notion? 

 

If one wants to rage against Zelenskyy over this, by all means do so, but don’t exclude those that came before him and set the rules of the game. Better yet, don’t engage in chest-beating posturing only to seek refuge in “fulfill Minsk!” whenever someone asks about your supposedly non-capitulationist position. At the moment I hope Zelenskyy sticks to his guns, causing the Russians to refuse, and maintaining the status quo, as bad as it may be. However, because I have a bit more imagination than “Minsk II then Operation Storm somehow,” I can see plenty of opportunities for Ukraine to strike back even if they did accept the formula as is and gave Donetsk and Luhansk  “special status.” But whatever happens, perhaps instead of pointing the finger at this or that Ukrainian politician it would be better to attack the bigger problems such as Minsk II and the broken, capitalist international nation-state system that leads Ukraine’s so called “allies” to treat Ukraine equally to Russia when apportioning blame for the war while chomping at the bit to reconcile with Tsar Putin. Ukraine’s hope was never going to come from some president. 

 

Escalation

As planned I deliberately held off writing anything about the recent crisis involving the Kerch strait and the Azov sea in order to size up the situation. While Russia’s response to a non-threatening, unarmed tugboat was ridiculously over-the-top, eventually involving several air assets including Kamov attack helicopters, at the moment it does not seem as though the big open Russian invasion is coming. I suspect this is just the latest chapter in a long-running story of Russia trying to assert full control over the Azov sea while simultaneously putting more economic pressure on Ukraine. Since that entails blocking Ukrainian vessels’ access to the Kerch strait, it makes sense that they’d start with some provocative gesture like the one on Sunday. Of course being idiots, they released a video of the event that clearly shows their coast guard ship acting in a needlessly aggressive manner.

The day’s events were soon followed by a panic over the declaration of “martial law” by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. I put that in quotes because while the term is in fact “martial law” in the 2015 legislation, even his initial proposal was pretty weak by the usual measure of martial law. He wasn’t even going to declare war or mobilization. After some wrangling from the Rada, more limitations were secured, most importantly the limiting of the “martial law” to 10 regions and the reduction from 60 days to 30 days. In any case, I’ll be in Ukraine during part of this “martial law” so if I get picked up for breaking a curfew, you’ll know about it. In any case, a lot of this hysteria could have been avoided had the government used some more appropriate term like “state of emergency,” but “martial law” was the term they went with so there it is.

Still, I can’t help but say “I told you so” to those slavish bootlickers who believe that sticking up for Ukraine means fanatically defending its leaders, as though the state is the highest expression of Ukrainian self-determination. Apart from holding a view not very far removed from the predominant ideology of Putin’s Russia, i.e. that citizens exist to serve the state and must not question their leaders, the government’s panicked and ultimately ineffective response to this crisis shows how ill-prepared they are to deal with a Russian escalation. After all, if Russia decides to claim the Azov sea as its own internal waters as it may be planning to do, what will Poroshenko or anyone else in Ukraine’s government do? And we’re not even speaking about an outright Russian invasion here. I’ll tell you what the various factions will do. The liberal centrists will cry for the West to solve the problem for them, the pro-Russian and secretly pro-Russian factions will call for “peace,” and the nationalists will beat their chests, burn a few more tires outside the Russian embassy, and commit some acts of petty vandalism before going back to their usual routine of attacking innocent LGBT activists, feminists, and Roma. The Kremlin knows this, and it has their number.

So what are the alternatives? Well some things are best left unsaid in public, but suffice to say here that things like hearts and minds, living standards, fighting corruption, and tackling far-right activity matter. You win hearts and minds and increase living standards to show Ukrainians under Russian occupation as well as those bordering those areas that they will have a better future with Ukraine. You fight corruption because corruption undermines the war effort in a myriad of ways and you must show that the post-Maidan Ukraine will not be more of the same with a new coat of paint. You tackle the far-right because they provide grist for Kremlin propaganda mills, they are a stain on Ukraine’s international reputation, they routinely liaise with and invite in members of pro-Kremlin or Kremlin-linked organizations and parties, and first and foremost because their ideology is contrary to a prosperous, free Ukraine whose people live in harmony.

You do these things even though they me be difficult or sometimes unpleasant because more than anything they are necessary. And those who dismiss these things are traitors, shirkers, or con artists, rest assured of that. And if the current Ukrainian state is incapable of doing these things in the face of an existential threat after a certain amount of time, then it has forfeited its right to govern, and the people of Ukraine would do well to seek a better form of governance.  I’m not going to pretend that these tasks are simple, but at least the concept is.