Too weak to invade Donbass, too weak to carry out the Minsk peace deal, too weak for the EU to care about his fate, too weak to postpone the election. He is a goner.
Rostislav Ishchenko is arguably the leading international analyst focused on the extraordinarily turbulent Russia-Ukraine relations. He posts regularly on Ukraina.ru, with frequent English translations here.
In contrast to the 24/7 “Russian aggression” demonization campaign effective on all corners of the Beltway and spreading towards selected European capitals, Ishchenko’s analysis, for instance of the information war deployed on all fronts of the Russia-Ukraine saga comes as a breath of fresh air.
Although we were not able to meet in person during my recent visit to Moscow, due to conflicting schedules (the meeting will take place later in the winter), Ishchenko graciously accepted to answer my most pressing questions regarding what could happen next on the Russia-Ukraine front, with translation by Scott Humor.
Ishchenko’s answers on the situation in Donbass should also be expanded to Crimea, after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov revealed he had information about Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko planning an armed provocation on the border with Crimea in the last ten days of December.
Escobar: Considering the terrain in winter is usually propitious for tank advance, would Poroshenko, in desperation, go for a major provocation in the Donbass, perhaps between Christmas and New Year’s Eve?
Ishchenko: First of all, this winter is too warm and the area is not yet favorable for an offensive. Second, even if frost strikes and an attack becomes possible, it is too big of a risk for Poroshenko. He does not have enough military power to defeat the DPR/LPR forces, without even mentioning that surprises are still possible as it happened in August 2008 in South Ossetia. After all, the Minsk peace agreement has not been canceled yet, and it is unlikely that the West will be able to stand against Russia in a consolidated manner at the moment when Russia is conducting a peace coercion of the confectioner, who is out of his mind with fear, and whom the West has already written off. The West requires a mandatory holding of elections, and any war would mean a cancellation of elections. If the war is facilitated by Poroshenko, he will be blamed for the cancellation of the elections and there will be no need to protect him.
Escobar: Is there any possibility of the Minsk agreements being fulfilled in case of a slightly less anti-Russian government in place in Kiev after the next elections?
Ishchenko: No, it’s not possible. Kiev is unable to implement the Minsk agreements because this would imply the federalization of Ukraine, while the Kiev elites are able to rule only within the rigid vertical of the unitary state. They basically do not imagine a different system of relationships. Since 2014, the internal resources which could satisfy appetites of oligarchic groups were exhausted, and there is no material basis for compromise. Therefore, they are doomed to fight among themselves for the dominance. Even if Russia, Crimea, Donbass and the whole world would suddenly vanish, the civil war in Ukraine, no longer restrained from the outside, would only intensify.
Escobar: Is Kiev aware that in case of a military attack on Donbass, the Russian response would be devastating? And that in Brussels, as I confirmed with many diplomatic sources, nobody really cares about Poroshenko’s fate anymore?
Ishchenko: I think that he knows this very well. That’s exactly why he organized his provocations in the Kerch Strait and also in Kiev (attacking the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate), but not in Donbass.