Friday, April 26, 2019

Is This Ukraine's War of 1812?

Is Russia really signaling a way out of the Ukraine War?

Ukraine's new president could regain control over the separatist-controlled east of his country within months and get cheap gas and major investment from Russia if he repairs ties with Moscow, the Kremlin's closest ally in Ukraine said.

Viktor Medvedchuk, a prominent figure in Ukraine's Russia-leaning opposition, outlined the prospect in an interview before a presidential election runoff in Ukraine on Sunday which polls show political novice Volodymyr Zelenskiy should easily win.

He said the Kremlin was keen to know more about Zelenskiy, a 41-year-old Russian-speaking TV comedian who has no political experience, to understand if he is someone it could do a deal with, something it failed to do with incumbent Petro Poroshenko who polls show will be soundly defeated by Zelenskiy.

Of course, it depends on what Russia means by regaining control of the Donbas areas Russia controls. If it means that it formally goes under Ukrainian control but allows Russia to maintain effective control with para-militaries under Russian control, that offer means nothing.

And it depends on what Russia means by repairing ties with Moscow. If that means Ukraine has to subordinate its foreign policy to Russia and cut military and economic ties to NATO and the European Union in favor of integrating with Russian institutions, that offer means nothing.

And then there is Crimea. And the Sea of Azov Does Russia get to keep their conquests? That is unmentioned and so is completely off the table.

I think the only way forward is one that gives Russian-occupied Donbas back to Ukraine with no Russian strings, but with some local autonomy; which accepts Ukrainian independence in policy; and which allows Russia to keep an expanded Sevastopol base complex under a long-term lease with rights of way to the bridges over the Kerch Strait that Russia is building since the 2014 conquest.

And Russia has to pay rent for all that--including back rent for their occupation of Crimea with subtractions from that debt for relocating any Crimean residents who want to move to Russia.

The rest of what Russia owes Ukraine could be paid back with cheaper energy exports.

The Russian base in Ukraine could solve Russia's worry about Ukraine joining NATO by restating the NATO policy that no state with a non-NATO military base on its territory can become a NATO member.

I outlined much the same a couple years ago, based on the rent idea that I offered early in the war.

Russia should seriously consider this type of deal. Russia's military grows weaker while Ukraine's grows stronger (with their military grown from 130,000 largely ineffective troops to 250,000 better equipped, trained, and motivated troops), and eventually Ukraine will try to retake eastern Donbas. With the local Donbas residents growing tired of the war and becoming unreliable enough to compel Russia to take over more of the fight while disappearing uncooperative local rebels, could Russia hold the territory it gained?

And could Russia use their Sevastopol bases if Ukraine then adopts a Hezbollah strategy of bombarding Russian-occupied Crimea periodically? And laying mines off of Crimean ports?

Is that the future Russia envisions? Or would Russia prefer to cultivate a stronger Ukraine that might help against the ancient Turkish foe should Erdogan go full Ottoman revival on the region?

And peace with Ukraine would help defuse the tension with NATO that prevents Russia from facing their real threat in the Far East and Central Asia.

Or maybe Ukraine just writes off Crimea and the Donbas, but sends Russia the bill for the land transfer and sues Russia for the price of the land and resources. By writing off the territory Ukraine would face no territorial dispute roadblocks to NATO membership. Which would be kind of hilarious.

Regardless of how the war Russia launched against Ukraine in 2014 is resolved, maybe it will be like our War of 1812--sometimes called the Second War of Independence--which finally got Britain to actually accept American independence formally granted in 1783. Could the Ukraine War begun in 2014 be the fight that gets Russia to actually accept Ukrainian independence that Russia formally granted in 1991? It's even about the same length of time between the events, coincidentally enough.

And Georgia should not be forgotten. Russia continues to control Georgian territory which Russia solidified in their brief 2008 Goons of August War invasion.