In the early morning hours of February 12, leaders of Russia, France, Germany and the Ukrainian junta emerged bleary-eyed from the presidential palace in Minsk to announce a deal that would halt the fighting in eastern Ukraine. At first glance, the 13-point memorandum agreed upon isn’t very different from the first ceasefire negotiated in the Belarus capital last September, the collapse of which in early January caused the current carnage. Are hopes for peace more justified this time? Hardly.
The talks, which began Wednesday afternoon and ended up lasting through the night, were a result of continental European diplomacy. For the past week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel shuttled between Kiev, Moscow and Washington – accompanied by French president Francois Hollande in the first two instances – to try and set up a truce.
There are several reasons for this. In early January, the Kiev junta launched an ill-conceived offensive against the two rebel provinces in the east. Donetsk and Lugansk had declared independence last May, as a response to the US-backed Maidan coup, and inflicted a humiliating defeat to Kiev’s armies in late August, resulting in the first Minsk ceasefire. What had possessed the junta to break it? Most likely, the promises of aid from Washington, in the form of the "Ukraine Freedom Support Act", and the visit from the head of US forces in Europe, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, in late January.
As a result, the rebels took control of the Donetsk airport, and by the beginning of February managed to cut off several thousand government troops at the town of Debaltsevo. Parallel with these military fiascoes, Ukraine’s economy continued its meltdown. Meanwhile, in Washington, a chorus of voices began singing the tune of "arm Ukraine" – a move Moscow warned would cause an escalating response. Having already suffered the brunt of the damage from Washington’s trade war on Russia – launched last year as a supposed counter to "Russian aggression" – the continental European powers decided to do something before the war got out of hand.
A Tentative Truce
Apparently, the reason it took all night to agree on a truce barely different from the abortive September one was that the president of the Kiev junta, Poroshenko, was kept in the dark by his own generals about the real situation on the front. Both the army and the "volunteer battalions" (led by "Right Sector" Nazis) kept claiming there was no encirclement at Debaltsevo, or that they had broken through. Just like Kiev’s repeated claims of "Russian invasion," these were self-serving lies.
Confronted with the harsh reality that his troops were losing, and that no support from Washington was immediately forthcoming, Poroshenko agreed to the truce. However, the actual memorandum was signed by the retired Ukrainian president Kuchma, the two rebel leaders, and the head of the OSCE observer mission – rather than any of the presidents or prime ministers in attendance.
Between that, the similarity of the second Minsk paper to the first one, and the fact that Americans were nowhere to be seen, many have concluded that this truce won’t amount to much. Even if by some miracle it does hold, it is hardly the political solution required to actually stop the war.
The Spin Begins
It was instructive to watch the first reactions to the Minsk agreement, before the spin machine kicked in. The handful of Atlanticists in Russia, for example, screamed about "Western betrayal" of Ukraine. Typical Western coverage cherry-picked quotes from Putin and Poroshenko, continued to uncritically repeat Kiev’s claims of "Russian invasion," and show Kiev-supplied battlefield maps that did not correspond to reality on the ground. In an AFP roundup, one Kiev analyst even claimed that the talks had established "a genuine anti-Putin coalition: Poroshenko-Hollande-Merkel." Meanwhile, the Economist spun a surreal narrative of "Russian aggression" extending beyond Ukraine.
Over at the State Department, the inimitable Jen Psaki called "on both sides to abide" by the ceasefire, but dismissed the question about the possibility Kiev might violate it as "a little bit ludicrous" – basically confirming that in Washington’s eyes, Kiev can do no wrong.
Poroshenko himself told a Ukrainian TV channel that his government had used the previous cease-fire to rearm, resupply and prepare for continuation of the war – clearly implying his intent to do so again, hoping perhaps to replay Croatia’s US-backed blitzkrieg in 1995.
The Kiev junta wasn’t the only one with its mind on the 1990s Yugoslav Wars. The show in Minsk was indeed eerily reminiscent of Western diplomacy during the 1992-95 war in Bosnia: every time the US-backed Muslim regime suffered a battlefield setback, there would be calls for a ceasefire. Europeans would try to broker a deal – usually obsolete by that point – but Washington would encourage the Muslims to reject it, while blaming the Serbs.
The US establishment is openly invoking Balkans parallels, trying to paint Russia’s Vladimir Putin as "another Milosevic." Western media routinely whitewash the Nazis fighting for Kiev, just as they did with Islamic fighters in Bosnia. Kiev’s propaganda is uncritically reported, even when it consists of fake photos. Incidents such as the downing of flight MH17, the bus shelling in Volnovakha, or rocket attacks in Mariupol and Kramatorsk, are used to drum up outrage against the "aggressors" – but vanish from the headlines as soon as evidence of Kiev’s culpability emerges. Even the song-and-dance about giving Ukraine weapons "to defend itself" is recycled from the Bosnia days, when the imperialists in Washington demanded the US arm the Bosnian Muslims.
Ironically, the most recent plan to aid the Kiev junta involved buying ammunition from Bosnia – a deal that the country’s Serb half successfully vetoed recently. The Empire may well go next door instead, as the quisling government in Serbia just announced a sale of heavy weapons…
Battle for Europe
The war in Bosnia eventually ended at a time and place of Washington’s choosing, with little regard for desires and hopes of its Muslim protégés and Croat "junkyard dogs." Though officially the American intervention was all about human rights and values, the architect of Dayton Accords admitted himself that Washington aimed to reassert dominance in Europe following the Cold War.
That helps explain how Washington was so involved in Ukraine’s supposed "European future" – even as senior US officials "midwifing" the February 2014 coup explicitly expressed their thoughts about the EU. Preventing any sort of European independence, let alone cordial relations with Russia, is a principal objective of Washington’s foreign policy; for without dominion over Europe, the US ceases to be a global empire.
This is why Washington is recycling its Bosnia policy, and why the second Minsk agreement will probably end up like the first. Trouble is, Moscow has actually learned the lessons of Yugoslavia’s demise. Russian officials keep mentioning this in their public statements, hoping perhaps to forestall further Western stupidity. It won’t work: memories are not only short this side of the Atlantic, they are also usually wrong.