Ukraine needs a diplomatic, not military, solution

  • 2014-05-05
  • by Ildar Yunusov

Brush aside both the Kremlin and Kiev propaganda machines: In a de-facto state of Cold War, both of them are respectively biased and non-objective. The Russian one has a single task now - to mobilize Russian public opinion in support of Kremlin's Ukrainian policy. That's what journalists are paid for, and that's how they earn their wages. Kiev’s mass-media are a distorted mirroring replica today, with one difference: The events they cover are happening in Ukraine, NOT Russia. Therefore, every word they drop has much more of direct implication on what happens on the ground.


One of the most horrible mistakes the regime in Kiev (supported by Ukrainian mass media) is doing now is introducing into the public psyche two opposing and confronting cliches: "pro-Russian separatists = terrorists," and "pro-Ukrainian activists" ( meaning "kind of the right guys").


What would it mean in a country like Ukraine?


Let's look at facts, not cliches. As of 2013, roughly 20 percent of the Ukrainian population (a total of 45 million people at the time) declared themselves ethnically Russian - that gives us roughly 9 million people. After centuries of living in the same country (first the Russian Empire, then the USSR) many more are an ethnically-mixed Ukrainian-Russian "blend," with varying self-identification choices, which brings the so-called "Russian or pro-Russian" population to unknown dimensions. 


After Crimea's departure, the total population of Ukraine supposedly dropped to 43 million - still leaving at least around 8 million ethnic Russians in mainland Ukraine.


Before the Maidan events, and especially the beginning of the "anti-terrorist operation" in eastern Ukraine by the Kiev regime, "Russian" or "Ukrainian" self-identification was largely irrelevant and did not matter at all. NOW IT WILL.  


The Ukrainian Army and National Guard assault on largely ethnically-Russian rebels in Slavyansk and Kramatorsk, and torching ALIVE 41 "pro-Russian" activists in Odessa will inevitably start to polarize Ukrainian society, drawing the border on ethnic principles - "blood calls blood," exactly the way it happened in ex-Yugoslavia. This is not unique to Ukraine– the same happens in many multi-ethnic, multi-cultural societies, be it Europe, Africa or the Middle East...


Now, count the figures: Assuming there is a population of 8 million Russians in Ukraine, the male population would be slightly under 4 million. The active part of that (aged 20 to 50) will (demographically) give us around 1.6 million. Assuming that only 5 percent of that will now join the uprising against the Kiev regime, that will add 80,000 rebel fighters - twice as much as the Russian military group on standby near the Ukrainian border. Add to that thousands of pro-Russian volunteers which will be inevitably infiltrating across Ukrainian borders from Russia itself, Crimea, Trans-Dniestrian Republic, Belarus, Kazakhstan or other, and you are getting a guerilla force well surpassing 100,000 fighters.  


So far, the government in Kiev has been barely able to collect and mobilize 12,000 troops against the uprising in the Donetsk region. Those troops are totally unprepared to fight an urban guerilla war, which will be the nature of this war.


QUESTION: Is Kiev likely to win this operation? As I see it, the answer is clear NO. So why start it, instead of looking for smarter solutions?


"Anti -Terrorist Operation": Military Perspectives


Kiev authorities are making a mistake very typical all across the world in the aftermath of World War II: They try to win a guerilla war by use of the regular army (or National Guard, which is even worse, as it is totally unfit and unprepared for that kind of mission).


Even if they manage to seize Slavyansk or Kramatorsk, it will change strictly nothing - guerilla forces are mobile and fluid by nature, so after a straightforward defeat by overwhelming enemy forces, you will see the same fire burning around somewhere in the neighborhood...


And there will be no end to that, unless you undertake the physical deportation of the population of Donetsk, Lugansk, Kharkiv regions and re-populate these territories with western Ukrainians - a favorite exercise of the late Uncle Joseph Stalin...


BOTTOM LINE: If even Russian troops at the border stand still and remain inactive, chances for Kiev to crush the eastern uprising will be getting slimmer with every passing day. There is no military solution, only a political one. The longer Kiev continues to push through a military solution, the higher are the chances of seeing Ukraine 2.0.


Partition of Ukraine: Now almost inevitable


Taking over by force 3 key cities (Donetsk, Slavyansk, Kramatorsk) is hardly possible; if done, it will result in massive casualties on both sides, leading to a civil war in Ukraine. If that fire starts, the south of Ukraine will hardly stay neutral - people will be forced to take sides. A civil war in the heart of Europewill be unacceptable both to Russia and the EU - which will mean deployment of international disengagement forces, either under the UN or OSCE umbrella. These forces are likely to cement a military status-quo at the time of deployment - i.e. a de-facto partition of Ukraine. After blood is shed, neither part is going to embrace re-unification, as the experience of ex-Yugoslavia has demonstrated.


Presidential elections of May 25 (the only way to legitimacy for current Kiev leaders) will be impossible to be held normally; even if most Ukraine regions do vote, some others will not, which will cast serious doubts on the legitimacy of a new president. What is clear already is that Moscow will be highly unlikely (under the circumstances) to acknowledge the legitimacy of these elections, with Russian-Ukrainian relations remaining in limbo. As long as they remain in limbo, economic recovery will not pick up in Ukraine– the national economy will continue its downward spiral, with the IMF-led aid package being de-facto used only to pay for the natural gas  imports (irrespective of where it comes from - East or West ) and service the debt. 


QUESTION: This is so obvious that it's hard to believe that authorities in Kiev do not see this scenario. If they do, why do they insist on following a kamikaze course?


Economic implications


Loss of eastern Ukraine (3 regions) will mean loss of roughly 25 percent of Ukrainian GDP.


Loss of the broader eastern-southern Ukrainian regions (Kherson, Nikolayev, Odessa) will mean loss of roughly 50 percent of Ukrainian GDP.


The current IMF program will become obsolete as macroeconomic metrics and forecasts will need to be revised. The debt load will become unsustainable, leading to pre-default status and a debt haircut.


The current regime in Kiev will not be able to survive, and will be overthrown by the same Maidan forces which brought it to power in February. Key figures will face the same criminal charges (by the same logic as key figures of the Yanukovich regime) and will have to emigrate. The international aid program may well be suspended following yet another regime change.


QUESTION: Who needs all of that in Ukraine?

This article was submitted as an opinion piece