What if Petro Poroshenko CAN’T cut a deal with Donbas separatists?

I suppose I’ve been a little hard on Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko around here, and I want to acknowledge that maybe I’m being unfair. I suppose I have a natural disinclination toward ultra-wealthy oligarchs in elective office, but that’s my own bias. Anyway, my view has been that Poroshenko spoiled an opportunity to end the fighting in eastern Ukraine at a time when Kiev was in the stronger position, and that his desire to militarily crush the rebels (no matter how many civilians get killed and displaced in the process) has been partly to blame for what’s been happening there over the past couple of months.

That’s not to let Vladimir Putin off the hook (he no doubt hopes to repeat this scenario in a few years, but with Donbas in place of Abkhazia), but to a certain extent I would argue that Kiev is now reaping what it sowed in failing to reach out to the rebels in August, that its zeal to win the war decisively can be blamed for the fact that, right now, it’s losing it. Kiev has gone from having its armies (and its totally well-meaning and not at all neo-Nazi militias) on the outskirts of Donetsk and Luhansk to a situation where it simply has to cut some kind of power-sharing deal with the rebels, on Russian terms in order to appease Putin, lest it really start to suffer from an extended conflict.

This is where you might say something like “What’s taking Poroshenko so long to do something like this? Why won’t the West lean on him to put an end to the fighting?” But my question is, what if Poroshenko can’t cut a deal, because Kiev’s Western backers won’t let him? Poroshenko has been under some Western pressure of late, specifically pressure to appoint a new government coming out of last month’s parliamentary election. Speculation is that the delay has a lot to do with a dispute between Poroshenko and his Prime Minister, Arseny Yatseniuk, about how to go about handling the Donbas situation:

Poroshenko, elected in May after “Euromaidan” street protests overthrew Moscow-backed Viktor Yanukovich, did not volunteer any explanation for the delay in forming a government which may now emerge early next week.

But commentators say Poroshenko wants his candidate in the sensitive post of interior minister – though filling this post falls within the prerogative of the Prime Minister rather than that of the President.

With the country at war, this would give Poroshenko, rather than Yatseniuk, control over a post which directs the National Guard and volunteer battalions fighting alongside government forces against the separatists.

Yatseniuk, however, is said to be insisting that he keep the right to appoint the post, and keep his man Arsen Avakov in situ.

Yatseniuk has steadily taken on the role of a hawk in Poroshenko’s administration with strongly-worded attacks on Russia and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

This contrasts with the smoother, more pragmatic style of Poroshenko who is insisting that there can be no military solution to the conflict and stresses the validity of the Sept. 5 peace deal even though both sides accuse the other of violating it.

Yatseniuk, affectionately called “Yats” by American diplomats like the neoconservative (or at least neocon-ish) Victoria Nuland (wife of PNAC co-founder Robert Kagan), who for whatever reason has had steady high-level employment in Barack Obama’s State Department since she was appointed its spokesperson in 2011, and has been its Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs since last September. Back when Nuland and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt were holding regular phone calls on how the U.S. could capitalize on the Euromaidan, they made it very clear that “Yats” was to be Our Man in Kiev once the dust had settled. He’s still Our Man in Kiev, presumably far more than Poroshenko. If he’s pushing the hawk line in Kiev then you can be fairly sure that he’s doing it with American (and probably European) support, which means that for Poroshenko to overrule him would risk incurring the wrath of countries he needs if Ukraine, now fully bereft of any Russian support, is going to eventually piece itself back together.

If this is what’s really happening, then shame on the U.S. and E.U. They’d be leveraging Ukraine into a conflict with Russia that Ukraine can’t win and in which the U.S. and E.U. have no intention of really involving themselves to help Kiev out, all presumably to bait Putin into justifying sanctions against Moscow. Meanwhile, you know, lots of people are dying and suffering for nothing.

 

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