Iced Out In Donetsk – And Brisbane


On Saturday, Ukrainian President Poroshenko ordered his government to withdraw all state services, including funding for hospitals and schools, from rebel-held provinces in the country’s east:

Poroshenko told his cabinet to take steps within a week “to terminate the activities of state enterprises, institutions and organisations in the various territories where anti-terrorist operations are being conducted,” a statement on his website said. “This is a decisive step, the games have stopped,” the security official added. “All the structures that the state finances will be withdrawn from there. Ukraine will no longer finance them.” The decree also proposed that Ukraine’s central bank take steps over the next month to withdraw all banking services for businesses and individuals in the regions.

But “if anyone thought this was an abdication and a letting go of the unruly region,” Jamie Dettmer underlines, “they need to think again”:

In the decree, he asked the country’s new parliament to revoke a law granting self-rule to the Donetsk and Luhansk regions—in effect rescinding September’s “special status” law granted under a ceasefire allowing the two mainly Russian speaking eastern region some autonomy.

The National Security Council recommended Poroshenko revoke the special status law following the November elections in the separatist Luhansk People’s Republic and Donetsk People’s Republic—polls that broke the conditions of the Sept. 5 Minsk ceasefire agreement. That ceasefire allowed for local elections in Donbas in December, but under Ukrainian supervision. The separatist polls amounted to a direct challenge to Kiev’s authority. But the decision now to sever economic ties with the eastern regions was a surprise—and a gamble.

Rebel leaders quickly decried the order as an act of “genocide”.  Poroshenko had already cut off the separatist regions from pensions and other state funds last week. Alexander J. Motyl supports putting economic pressure on the rebels and their backers in Moscow, but he acknowledges that there will be serious consequences:

The [Donbas] enclave is an economic mess, having experienced dramatic drops in GDP and employment and rises in business closures, food shortages, and inflation. And conditions will get much, much worse as subzero winter temperatures envelop the enclave. People will die not only from the fighting, but also from hunger and cold. Even Nikolai Levchenko, the young Regionnaire hotshot from Donetsk who distinguished himself a few years ago by insulting the Ukrainian language, brazenly flaunting his ill-gotten wealth in Jakob Preuss’s documentary film The Other Chelsea, and preposterously claiming to have read Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace seven times, says he’s worried: “More than 3.5 million people who have remained in the zone of direct conflict will suffer from the cold and will be placed on the verge of survival under conditions of a wintry humanitarian collapse.”

This weekend was also an eventful one for Putin, who got such a chilly reception at the G20 summit in Australia that he ducked out early:

Western leaders piled huge pressure on the Russian president at the Group of 20 meeting in Brisbane, with host Tony Abbott calling on Putin to “atone” for the shooting down of Flight MH17 over rebel-held eastern Ukraine and Britain’s David Cameron branding him a “bully”. Analysts said Putin’s apparent anger at his treatment by his fellow leaders could worsen the crisis in Ukraine. “If he is leaving irritated, just wait for the fighting in Ukraine to intensify,” independent analyst Stanislav Belkovsky told AFP. Putin, who prides himself on his stamina, cited the “need to sleep” and a long flight home as his reasons for leaving the summit before the final communique was issued.

Leonid Bershidsky criticizes the G20 leaders who gave Putin the cold shoulder, arguing that such passive-aggressive behavior serves no purpose:

What were the Western leaders trying to achieve? Putin already knows they resent his meddling in Ukraine. Not inviting him at all would have sent a clearer signal that the West is prepared to isolate Russia from international decision-making, as it once did the Soviet Union. That message would have been misleading, however, because, despite Putin’s stubborn and increasingly ridiculous denials that Russia is taking action in Ukraine, the West still wants to talk with him: German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and European Union President Jean-Claude Juncker, not to mention the leaders of BRICS countries, all held meetings with him in Brisbane. Taunts and angry looks only make such conversations more difficult.

But Doug Mataconis wonders whether “Putin showing up at the summit wasn’t some kind of stunt for domestic consumption to begin with”:

With reports of Russian troops and equipment pouring across the border with Ukraine that seem hard to deny, and the whole idea of showing up with a fleet of Russian destroyers in international waters off the Australian coast, much further from Russian waters than the Russian Navy tends to travel these days, certainly seems like more Putin-esque showmanship and provocation. It’s almost as if Putin went to Australia with the specific intention of creating a scene like this for propaganda purposes back home.

The Russian and Ukrainian leaders continued their war of words in interviews published yesterday and today. While both leaders claim to want a peaceful resolution to the conflict, Poroshenko now says Ukraine is “prepared for a scenario of total war” while Putin drops hints that he is fully prepared to continue propping up the rebels:

In response to a question about whether Russia was arming the rebels, as contended by both Kyiv and the West, Putin said merely that “anyone waging a fight that they believe fair will find weapons.” He stressed that without such arms the rebels would be quickly destroyed by the Ukrainian forces – something Russia “does not want, and will not allow.” While Putin stopped short of acknowledging Russia’s material role in the conflict, his comments went further in emphasizing Moscow’s willingness to support the separatists than ever before.

(Photo: People shop at the market in the Eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on November 17, 2014 as artillery fire continues to rock the eastern Ukraine’s pro-Russian rebel bastion. Fresh bloodshed between pro-Kremlin rebels and Kiev’s forces added to the tensions after Russian President Vladimir Putin left a G20 summit in Brisbane early amid criticism from fellow leaders. By Menahem/AFP/Getty Images)