THE FALL OF DEBALTSEVE AND THE WAY FORWARD IN UKRAINE
"Ukraine has pulled most of its troops out of Debaltseve, the strategic town in the east of the country that has been the focus of fighting in the past few days with Russia-backed separatists. Petro Poroshenko, the pro-western president of Ukraine, ordered the withdrawal on Tuesday after international monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe were prevented from entering the railway hub, according to Reuters. Mr Poroshenko said 80 per cent of Ukraine’s forces in the town had withdrawn from their positions and two more columns have yet to leave the area. Rebels claimed to have seized control of the town over the weekend, despite the introduction of a ceasefire on Sunday, leaving thousands of government forces trapped in the region. Before flying to the east of the country on Wednesday to meet soldiers recently withdrawn from Debaltseve, Mr Poroshenko said: “Debaltseve was under our control, it was never encircled. Our troops and formations have left in an organised and planned manner.” Anastasiya Stanko, a journalist from Ukraine’s Hromadske television channel, posted photographs of soldiers, some on foot, others sitting on armoured personnel carriers, moving north towards the government-held city of Artemivsk. Debaltseve has been the scene of some of the fiercest fighting of the near one-year conflict in eastern Ukraine as Russia-backed rebel fighters fought to seize control of the strategically important railway hub, between the breakaway cities of Donetsk and Lugansk. Fatality and casualty numbers were not immediately available following the government retreat but thousands of soldiers were thought to have been surrounded and reports from the region suggested Ukraine’s army suffered heavy casualties in the run-up to the introduction of the ceasefire on Sunday. It was not immediately clear whether the ceasefire, agreed by the leaders of Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia in the Belarusian capital of Minsk last week, would hold following the events in Debaltseve."Roman Olearchyk, "Ukraine’s forces retreat from key town of Debaltseve". The Financial Times. 18 February 2015, in www.ft.com.
"For all the complexity of Ukraine, there is a way forward. It can be summarised in 14 words: Putin must withdraw his forces and Ukraine have full control of its eastern frontier. So, unlike in Syria, the key lies in a single political actor changing his behaviour. To be sure, this would not overnight stop angry separatists fighting for their Donetsk People’s Republic. In eastern Ukraine, as in Bosnia, as in Syria, the radicalising brutality of war has turned neighbours into enemies. Great statecraft and imagination would then be required from Kiev to rebuild an effectively federal Ukrainian state, one in which people who identify themselves as Russians could again feel reasonably at home. But the path to any lasting peace starts with those 14 words".Timothy Garton Ash, "There’ll be no peace while Putin is squatting in Ukraine’s living room". The Guardian. 16 February 2015, in www.theguardian.com. Timothy Garton Ash's mordent but ultra-pertinent mots are very precise and to the point. Unless and until Grazhdanin Putin chooses to curtail the ravages of his auxiliaries fighting in eastern Ukraine, then any hope that the situation therein will magically resolve itself is completely unrealistic. As predicted here last week, the likelihood that Minsk II would resolve the onging fighting in Ukraine was a complete nonsense from start to finish. As Niall Ferguson wrote in the Financial Times, au fond Minsk II represents a policy of surrender and 'appeasement', pur et simple 1. As the American analyst and ex-ambassador, Stephen Sestanovich, has very cogently argued, it is precisely the absence of military assistance for Kyiv which has encouraged Putin and his cohorts to run rampant in Ukraine 2. And while I do not always agree with his point of view, the Moskva-based analyst, Dmitri Trenin, does have a valid point when he states that the conflict in Ukraine portends a more anarchic and dangerous world in the years to come 3. Only if the crisis in Ukraine is positively resolved by the reunification of the country and the ouster of Russian forces and their auxiliaries will this very dangerous scenario perhaps be blunted. Sans this occurring, expect the current crisis in Ukraine to be repeated in any number of other places in the world in the years to come. As any number of Regional and Great Powers increasingly choose to violate international law and equilibrium in the pursuit of some perceived national interest. 1. Niall Ferguson, "The meaning of the Minsk agreement". The Financial Times. 13 February 2015, in www.ft.com. 2. Stephen Sestanovich, "Diplomacy, Putin, and What Comes After a Cease-Fire in Ukraine". The Wall Street Journal. 9 February 2015, in www.wsj.com. 3. Dmitri Trenin, "Ukraine Points Towards the Start of a Tumultuous New Era in World Politics". Carnegie Moscow Center. 15 February 2015, in www.carnegie.ru . See also: Dmitri Trenin, "The Disturbing Legacy of the Ukraine Crisis". The National Interest. 12 February 2015, in www.nationalinterest.org.