A ceasefire in the Ukraine war has been brokered after marathon talks in the Belarus capital, Minsk, this week. Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the breakthrough along with his German and French counterparts following 17 hours of intense negotiations that went on through the night.
At one point, the peace bid seemed doomed, with Kiev President Petro Poroshenko and the eastern Ukraine separatist leaders both saying that they would not sign up to an accord.
Many questions remain, such as the status of autonomy in the eastern Donbas region and will the Kiev forces honour this truce unlike previous ones? However, a tentative ceasefire has been agreed to commence on February 15 at midnight. French President Francois Hollande said of the result: «It is a relief for Europe».
But perhaps the biggest relief will be felt by Poroshenko. His attendance at Minsk was notable for appearing to have an added gear of zeal to clinch a deal. That zeal may be not so much out of humanitarian concerns for his countrymen, as out of personal reasons for his own political survival.
Poroshenko’s belated keenness for some good political news is understandable – given numerous reports that the knives are out among disgruntled paramilitary leaders that shore up the Kiev regime. They feel that the oligarch-turned-president and his army General Staff have been waging a disastrous campaign in the east.
Another constituency of seething discontent that needs to be placated is the wider Ukrainian population who are disgusted by the seemingly endless war and cronyism among the new Kiev rulers.
Anger among ordinary Ukrainian citizens is mounting – many of whom were initially supportive of the Maidan protests at the end of 2013 – but who are now battling against skyrocketing inflation, deteriorating social conditions and what they see as a futile, bloody war that is whirring like a meat-grinder.
Energy shortages, utility bills going through the roof, and increasing hardship are pitted against an increasingly heavy-handed regime whose figurehead, Poroshenko, took office last June.
Poroshenko, it is recalled, promised back then that the conflict in the eastern region would be over within a matter of weeks. Eight months on, the violence has escalated, along with the body count of Kiev’s dead and maimed soldiers, many of whom are being forced into the ranks to cover for withering casualties. The latest mobilisation – the fourth such round – has extended service age to men of 60 years old.
While many Ukrainians in the capital Kiev are facing food shortages from soaring prices, one product seems more than abundant in the shops – the Roshen brand of chocolates that made Poroshenko a billionaire in his former business life.
That little observational quirk has reportedly angered many Ukrainians in the capital and in the western region, who are presumed to be loyal to the Kiev regime.
Poroshenko, like several other oligarch figures, seems to be doing very well out of the «new Ukraine» while the majority of citizens are experiencing privation, or conscription into ramshackle armed forces that are being slaughtered in the east by the more highly motivated ethnic-Russian separatist militias.
Another oligarch figure who seems to be doing very well is Igor Kolomoisky. The owner of Privat Bank became governor of Dnipropetrovsk thanks to the patronage of the Kiev regime, which seized power last February with the covert help of the American CIA.
Kolomoisky is the sponsor of the Dnipr Battalion, one of many volunteer brigades that augment the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF). These battalions are paramilitary outfits that don Nazi regalia and are accused of gross human rights violations against the ethnic Russian population in the eastern regions. Ironically, Kolomoisky is of Jewish heritage and holds dual Israeli citizenship.
One of the wealthiest individuals in Ukraine, along with Poroshenko, Kolomoisky is reckoned to have accumulated even more wealth over the past year’s turmoil by using his newfound paramilitary power to illegally expropriate businesses from rivals. In one tawdry episode, the Dnipr governor reportedly made a financial killing by selling $3.5 million-worth of fake body armour to the Kiev ministry of defence. The supposedly bullet-proof vests turned out to be useless.
Unknown numbers of young volunteers and conscripts have doubtless lost their lives during firefights wearing the dud body armour sold by Kolomoisky.
To many Ukrainians the likes of Poroshenko and Kolomoisky are no different from the old regime of the ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, who was plagued with allegations of corruption and cronyism.
That was a big factor behind the popular protests that centred on Kiev’s Maidan Square in November 2013. Of course, those demonstrations were expediently hijacked by the US-backed neo-Nazi Svoboda and Right Sector paramilitaries, which then went on to launch a violent coup against Yanukovych on February 22, 2014.
For too many ordinary Ukrainians nothing much has changed. New regime, same old oligarchs.
The way ordinary people see it, corrupt oligarchs are still in power and making a killing on the back of their misery. Indeed, the social situation of the «new Ukraine» has become a whole lot worse. The ultra-nationalist regime has plunged the state into spiralling debt and is squandering resources on a seemingly pointless war against ethnic Russians, whom the Russophobic regime labels as «sub-humans» and «terrorists».
Moreover, Poroshenko, Kolomoisky and other oligarch businessmen are not new faces. They made their money under previous regimes. Poroshenko served as foreign and trade ministers under both the Viktor Yushchenko and Viktor Yanukovych administrations.
The former came out of the US-inspired so-called Orange Revolution in 2004, but was soon widely reviled as a byword for sleaze and cronyism. Poroshenko and other oligarchs are thus seen as having their snouts back in the trough – albeit under the guise of a «pro-European, pro-NATO» so-called new direction for the country.
The current Kiev parliament is desperately trying to staunch a financial crisis, which may see the state default on unpaid international loans this year. This is in spite of the latest IMF promised bailout announced this week of $40 billion.
The parliament, dominated by rightwing ideologues under Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk who owes his position to CIA and US State Department leverage, is reportedly moving to legislate a Cyprus-style assets seizure on ordinary citizens, as well as impose swingeing tax hikes.
These drastic measures are in large part prompted by the dire fiscal shortfalls that have arisen from the military offensive in the eastern Donbas region. Some estimates put the military cost to Kiev of $8 million a day from its war in the east. The country is already up to $100 billion in foreign debt.
But this war «adventurism» is stirring an increasing revolt among the hard-pressed populace – and in the territories that are under the nominal control of the Western-backed Kiev junta.
Not only are people paying for the regime’s trigger-happy jingoism through their pockets; they are paying with their very lives. The latest onslaught in the eastern region has taken hundreds of (some say over 2,000) lives among Kiev forces in the past month alone.
The surge in violence can be attributed to the Kiev regime’s refusal to implement the ceasefire that was first brokered last September in Minsk. Although, Washington and its European allies misattribute the blame for this violence to «Russian-backed aggression».
Thousands of young men of service age have fled to neighbouring countries claiming that they are seeking work in seasonal agriculture in Russia, Moldova and elsewhere. Many others have resorted to bribing doctors to write fake disability assessments in order to avoid military recruitment. Several towns and villages in the west and southwest have mounted protests and forcibly ejected would-be recruitment officers, declaring that they refuse to be part of the army and its war in the east.
Even within the ranks of serving personnel there are growing reports of mechanised units experiencing sudden breakdowns of vehicles and equipment – usually around the time of these units being about to be sent to the front lines.
The word is that disillusioned soldiers are quietly sabotaging their own equipment, rather than being thrown into battle zones to be used as cannon fodder. Their reluctance to serve is also underscored by recent commands from Kiev to officers at the front to shoot deserters on-sight.
The seething rancour is not just among regular troops of the UAF. The neo-Nazi paramilitary battalions and the Right Sector are also increasingly loathing of what they see as the «parasite oligarchs» and the incompetent General Staff of the UAF. Kiev has sacked three defence ministers over the past year.
The military brass are loyal to Poroshenko but are seen as «useless» by the volunteer and Right Sector squads. The latter are loyal to figures likes Donbas Battalion leader Semen Semenchenko and Right Sector commander Dmytro Yarosh. Yarosh was instrumental in executing the US-backed coup that brought the Yatsenyuk-Poroshenko regime to power.
The paramilitaries are believed to be close to Oleksander Turchynov, who is head of Ukraine National Security. Turchynov was formerly the interim-president before Poroshenko took office after a dubious election held last May, noted for low voter turn-out.
Right Sector leader Yarosh is on record for having a low opinion of oligarchs, whom he brands as «Jewish-Moskal Mafia» – a derogatory anti-Russian term. Yarosh has said: «We don’t take oligarchs’ money in politics, but in a war we do not object to their cash».
Well, the war is not going well at all, as the body count among Kiev forces testifies. That has led the likes of Semenchenko and Yarosh to some treacherous conclusions about their erstwhile money-bag men. Fleeting social media comments by these two figures suggest that the knives are out among the neo-Nazi shock-troops for Poroshenko and his rich oligarchic ilk.
According to insightful reports on the Fort Russ website, a practical reason for why Kiev’s beleaguered forces are incurring such heavy losses recently around the Debaltsevo enclave in Donetsk is because the General Staff have withdrawn their best units to defend the Poroshenko presidency in Kiev.
The units that are being routed by the Donbas separatists are often under-trained, under-equipped demoralised callow recruits who have been dragooned to the front line. The tactical withdrawal by the Kiev General Staff to protect the office of the president is not out of fear of advancing «Russian-backed militia». It is out of fear that the Right Sector and its neo-Nazi associates are making ready for a putsch to get rid of Poroshenko.
The self-proclaimed heirs to Nazi hero Stepan Bandera no doubt feel it is their right to rule by dint of ideological and racial purity, as well as from having provided the muscle in the first place to pull off the US-engineered coup in Kiev last year.
That perspective provides a very different explanation for the rapid military gains made by the separatists in recent weeks. The Western media, Washington and Brussels would have us believe that those gains are due to covert Russian forces invading Donbas to support the separatists. More likely it is because the Western-backed regime under Poroshenko is crumbling from within.
No wonder then that Poroshenko went to Minsk this week with a keen focus on finding a peace deal over eastern Ukraine and to generate some good news for a change. His political survival and fat assets depend on it.
Finian CUNNINGHAM | SCF