Ukraine after the debacle

Submitted by Matthew on 25 February, 2015 - 10:13 Author: Marko Bojcun

The debacle at Debaltseve in the days following the Minsk 2 accords has given rise to two major developments.

The Ukrainian government is seeking a European Union police mission to help it hold the line against the separatists and their Russian backers; and seventeen volunteer battalions have established a joint leadership and headquarters to make them a more effective fighting force.

Both developments stem from the same recognition of the military inferiority of the Ukrainian side facing an adversary that is ready and willing to press forward into new territory.

The announcement of a new joint leadership came from Semen Semenchenko, leader of the Donbas volunteer battalion. He has fiercely criticised the military and political leadership for the Debaltseve debacle:

The new leadership is headquartered in Dnipropetrovsk and has appointed an initial staff of 35 people.

They insist that the headquarters for the volunteer battalions is not a parallel or alternative or competing authority to that of the Armed Forces General Staff, but rather a supplementary institution.

Immediately after the joint leadership and headquarters were announced, Ukrayinska Pravda published statements from several battalion commanders and paramilitary group leaders declining to take part in the initiative. They said that it challenged the authority of the armed forces command and undermined the unity of the forces themselves.

The volunteer military movement is splitting under the pressure of these developments. Some whole battalions as well as separate units breaking away from their battalions are going over. So there is a new crack opening up in the already fragile unity of the military forces.

Meanwhile the Poroshenko-Yatseniuk coalition government wants to appeal to the European Union and the United Nations to send an EU police mission to patrol two borders.

These are the section of the Russian-Ukrainian border that Ukrainian authorities are prevented from reaching by the separatist forces, and the front line of fighting between the separatists and the Ukrainian forces further to the west.

The proposal is not for a UN peace-keeping force because Russia as a member of the UN Security Council can veto such a proposal, or on the other hand insist on Russian peacekeepers taking part in that force.

But Poroshenko and his close circle will not long tolerate a bifurcated chain of command, especially one that weakens their control over the volunteer battalions, which are their most motivated and battle hardened forces. The European Union will not even contemplate sending any kind of peace keeping or peace-making force into a zone where all sides have not agreed to cease fighting. And there still isn’t sufficient evidence yet that the pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian volunteer battalions want to end the fighting, even if Kyiv and Moscow do now.

The wider problem, however, is that greater military capacity from within Ukrainian society or from without cannot on its own prevent further defeats and losses of territory by the Ukrainian side, unless Russia stops backing the separatists.

The current state of the Ukrainian armed forces alone demonstrates quite convincingly that the Ukrainian state’s leaders are also failing on several other critical fronts — ideological, social and economic — to rally the society and put up an effective national resistance to Russian imperialist aggression.

The Ukrainian people deserve better than that. But where will an effective strategy and leadership of national resistance come from?

And who will embark on a radical transformation of the rotten political, social and economic order, and in a time of war?

• Abridged, with thanks, from here

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