Last week Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, visited Kiev and Moscow to talk to Poroshenko and Putin about a renewed, and this time respected, ceasefire. She gave a speech in Munich stating that the only possible way to solve the conflict in Ukraine is through diplomatic means; visited Obama; held a joint news conference with him; and on Wednesday she participated in the peace summit held in Minsk. There is no doubt that it is down to her superhuman efforts that an agreement has been reached and signed by both Poroshenko and Putin, and also accepted by the separatists.
The first Minsk Protocol, signed on the 5th of September, has been wholeheartedly ignored. None of its points were realised and the fighting went on, in fact escalated over the last month, killing more and more people. Determined to take a decisive step, several US senators have been trying to convince Obama to ‘defensively arm’ Ukraine. Last week was loud with arguments both in favour and against supplying Ukraine with lethal weaponry. Those who supported the idea of taking this risky pro-active step argued that it would raise Russia’s costs, making it reconsider its intentions. (My opinion? Quite unlikely – Russians are rarely ones to give up.) What seemed a more reasonable argument is that if the West does not do anything about Russia’s present aggression and support of the separatists , Putin might take it as a lack of interest in protecting countries in the Eastern part of Europe. It coincides with the fear of the Baltic States, who have nightmares of their demise due to Putin’s megalomania.
On the other hand it is sure that arming Ukraine would only invite Putin to launch a proper, full-on war. It would be impossible to arm Ukraine so much that it could be victorious over Russia, a country that has one of the top militaries in the world.
The Munich Security Conference, held last weekend, mainly concentrated on the Ukrainian crisis. Angela Merkel stressed in her speech several times that the only way to solve this conflict is through diplomatic means. She was also quite frank about the possibility that all the efforts to secure peace in Europe might fall short. She did not add what we all are thinking however – that the most possible reason for failure is Putin’s childish and unpredictable behaviour.
By the time she got to Washington on Monday and gave a joint news conference with Obama, the US attitude had changed a bit. Obama stated that the US will support Merkel’s ambitions to find a peaceful resolution, and that arming Ukraine is just one of many possible actions that can be used against Putin if the peace talks fall short of their aim.
On Thursday morning – after a 17-hour long conference – the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France signed on the new ceasefire in Minsk. The agreement will come into force at midnight on the 15th of February, and includes the removal of heavy weapons of the territory, withdrawal of all foreign militia (hint Russian ‘volunteers’) and by the end of 2015 the rebel states would be granted bigger autonomy. Both Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel have made clear that the work is far from being over and much more to do is needed. This was an important step, but one that would be followed by many more.
Well, we’ll see if this time every side will be able to keep to the agreement. The fights have been going on for far too long in Donbass and the residents who did not have the means to leave have suffered too much. Should the ceasefire be broken again and the promised new sanctions implemented, Europe still has to stick with Ukraine and to a peaceful way of solving the crisis. Arming Ukraine would push Putin’s buttons and encourage him to attack with a much more vehement blow.
Some compare the present situation of preferring peaceful solutions over military intervention to the policy of appeasement towards Hitler. I think this comparison is a wild overstatement and far too ill-omened. Learning from our mistakes does not mean that the right thing to do is the exact opposite. The wise thing is to see what the right solution is, even if that has failed before. Europe is in no need of a war, as well as it is obviously in no need of new borders. What Europe needs is Russia as an ally and not as an enemy.
If it takes more sanctions to change Russia’s mind, then let that be. A week ago I heard that my rent has been raised by 600 roubles (£6). First, I got really angry, storming through the halls and thinking ‘How dare they? Just like that?’, but soon realised, they have to do this because their money has lost its value: the sanctions (and the oil price crash) are working. I realised that I can think of this extra 600 roubles that I have to pay as my part of the burden Europe has to endure. Protecting security in Europe cannot be done without paying its price. Believe me, I would pay way more than £6 a month for that cause.