Ukraine cease-fire or respite to war?
With news that moments after the Ukraine cease-fire went into effect, there were some serious violations, fingers were crossed with wishes that the “glimmer of hope” as described by Angela Merkel – who together with President François Hollande of France brokered the deal in talks in Minsk, Belarus with Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine – will hold.
Irrespective how it might be wanted to be seen, the Ukraine crisis proved to be the biggest security crisis to confront Europe since the end of the Cold War. Irrespective of which side must be blamed for the escalation of the crisis, the cease-fire became possible thanks to the efforts of Merkel, as well as to some degree of those of Hollande who is otherwise considered a total failure even in France, forget the international scene.
It can be argued that if the West acted decisively and courageously enough in the Georgia problem and did not allow Russia to swallow part of Georgian territory, there would not be the Crimea issue, or the present-day pro-Russia secessionist movement Ukraine. The Russian bear has been using a salami tactic in expanding its political clout and territory in regions that it anyhow considered its imperial heritage.
Will the “glimmer of hope” hold in Ukraine? What will be the fate of the cease-fire? Will the negotiating parties at a later stage manage to consolidate it with a full peace accord, satisfying the “hunger” of the pro-Russian secessionists and Moscow while, at the same time protecting the territorial integrity of Ukraine? Those who remember the September cease-fire – which unraveled shortly after it was negotiated, cannot have much hope from the new one, which unfortunately left most of the tough problems to be tackled in the coming weeks and months. Momentous, yet limited, violations of the cease-fire on one hand, unsettled major issues on the other hand indicate prospects might not be that bright. Furthermore, whatever the Ukraine government or brokers of the cease-fire and the entire West might think of the next step to be taken it is still unfortunately for the Russian Tsar Vladimir Putin to decide whether it is enough and peace should be given an opportunity or the cease-fire was just a time to breathe before taking some further steps to continue dismembering Ukraine.
Turkish Cypriots have been lamenting since they were sacrificed by Germany to the eastern expansion of the European Union in 2014. Greece blackmailed the EU and Germany-led major powers of the EU agreed to include Cyprus without a settlement on the island just for the sake of achieving eastern expansion. In the process, pro-settlement Turkish Cypriots were sacrificed and anti-settlement Greek Cypriots were awarded. Worse, since than Cyprus settlement prospects remain tarnished by EU accession of Greek Cypriots. Now, eastern expansion proved to be a wise move. What if the EU and NATO acted wisely enough in the early 2000s and engaged Georgia and Ukraine in some capacity in the Western economic, political and defensive engagement? Would we have experienced the Abkhazia problem, the Crimea issue or the current civil war-like Russian proxy war in Ukraine?
The cease-fire unfortunately might help pro-Russian separatists to further consolidate their rule of parts of Ukraine before the central government can reestablish control in the regions that are now effectively cut-off from Ukraine proper. With Ukraine military and the rebels withdrawing heavy weapons, there might be an increased feeling of security, but who can guarantee that Russia would withdraw its troops and that the military might get deployed on Ukrainian territory? After all, Russia has never acknowledged its military presence in rebel-held areas. Will the rebels and Russia allow verification of the implementation of a cease-fire deal?
On the political area as well, Ukraine will have to face some very serious challenges, as in between now and Ukraine taking over the security of the border with Russia by the end of 2015, there will be local elections and a constitutional referendum for changes giving rebel-held areas considerable autonomy. While constitutional autonomy has been a key demand of the rebels, the entire debate and changes will be done with Russia freely roaming around and consolidate in any fashion Putin considered appropriate in the rebel-held areas.
In any case, Ukraine has badly needed a lull in fighting, time to breathe and consider the steps to take to stop disintegration of Ukraine and, above all, some degree of normalcy to achieve some economic recovery. Furthermore the high death toll – according to reports up to 5,400 lives perished and hundreds of thousands have been displaced because of the conflict that ravaged the industrial heartland of Ukraine – was dictating on Ukrainian leadership to agree to a cease-fire. The cease-fire might not be the prescription Poroshenko wanted to see, but he badly needed it. Despite all the odds and all the concessions given to the Russian bear, Merkel and Hollande achieved an overwhelming political success. Yet, the key question remains to be answered: Can this cease-fire hold on and usher Ukraine into a peaceful new era by the end of 2015 or will it just be a respite to war...