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You're reading: Paul Niland: Has Ukraine outplayed Russia?

Russia’s further movement out of the areas currently occupied is not only hampered by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Special Monitoring Mission, whose report about the events leading up to the Mariinka assault pulled no punches, but it is in fact also now hampered by what has become a quite professional and capable Ukrainian army.

Theirs is a fighting capacity that is based on anabsolute determination from Ukraine’s service personnel to remove foreign invaders from their land. They are true Ukrainian patriots and they formidably stand in the way of Russian President Vladimir Putin grabbing any more of their country or subjugating anymore of their country folk.

The back story

When Russian attempts to conquer Ukrainian territory started in the days following the flight from office and the country of former President Viktor Yanukovych the fact is that Ukraine was not ready to fight. In the capital people were exhausted from three months of battle against one of the most corrupt rulers in history and the city, eerily devoid of any police presence, was also in mourning as piles of flowers grew commemorating the dead on Maidan. In political circles enough collective will was found to appoint an acting president, and then interim Cabinet of Ministers, importantly these appointments were made with large majorities from MPs elected from across the whole country, including the now free from coercion former “supporters” of Yanukovych.

The problem was that the country was essentially bankrupt.

The corrupt Yanukovych regime stole anything they could get their hands on, dismantling state institutions as they plundered their budgets and sent the money to their offshore havens. The health care system is an example of a state body struggling to cope on meager budgets while billions were embezzled, but much more strategically, and quite deliberately, the army was in disarray.

Just 18 months ago the Ukrainian army was lacking equipment and demoralized, suffering from a combination of disinterested conscripts and the deliberate internal destruction brought about by traitorous officers who had long since sold out to Russia. So Putin didn’t just opportunely capitalize on a weakness with his Crimean and then eastern Ukrainian adventures, it was a weakness that Russia was instrumental in creating, if you can see Russia’s hand guiding Yanukovych’s in any way.

Trying to understand the motivations for Putin’s actions is not too hard.

He took Crimea because he could not envisage any other way in which he would be sure that he would keep the Sevastopol naval base for Russia. It really was that simple. Sorry Crimeans if you think he did it for your wishes or to protect you against invading Nazis but firstly he couldn’t care less about your wishes and secondly there never were any Nazis either.

He attempted to take eastern Ukraine because of a long held and deep seated belief that Ukraine is not a proper state, andan arrogance that lead him to think that as people in eastern Ukrainepredominantly speak Russia and have close ties with Russia of course they wouldwant to be part of Russia.

Problem was, they didn’t.

In the areas where the initial military interventions was most overt, like the seizures of police and administration buildings in Slovyansk and Kramatorsk, a foothold was created which lingers, festering, to this day.

In the areas of Ukraine where trouble was instigated on weekends by tourists bussed in from across the border they idea of not being part of Ukraine simply never caught on, because it was not something that any number of people had any desire for.

Even so, after three weeks of imported weekend trouble in Kharkiv, 48 people then died in Odessa in Russia’s next roll of the dice.

If the Russian authorities had taken the time to study polling in south and east Ukraine they’d have known that there was never even a significant minority who would go along with their plans, this, by the way, is equally true of both the cities and oblasts of Luhansk and Donetsk too. But then, it is very easy to understand why the Russian authorities don’t trust opinion polls when you think about it.

So, has Ukraine outplayed Russia?

No is probably the best answer here. Nor has the West outplayed Russia.

Certainly the US hasn’t outplayed Russia because the US has hardly been in the game, despite authorization from both the House and the Senate, U.S. President Barack Obama has stubbornly refused to provide Ukraine with weapons. If this is some great geopolitical showdown, the Americans sure have a funny way of fighting their side of the conflict.

The truth is, to use a now very apt footballing analogy, Russia has simply scored too many own goals.

Ukraine deserves a lot of credit, in particular for maturely not allowing itself to be goaded into a full-scale war by Putin. But Ukraine has at the same time not taken the chance to reform as fast as it should have - that would really have been a winning stroke.

There is reform, but it has not been fast enough, we still have seen no bandits of the Viktor Yanukovych regime put on trial and some of the rotten and corrupt holdovers from his Party of Regions still sit in Parliament even.

Lustration should be extended to include any person who voted for the Jan. 16, 2014 “dictatorship laws” immediately and the seats vacated by that move should be refilled by by-elections.

There is also essential judicial reform needed, starting with the dismissal of the vast majority of the judiciary, if Ukraine is going to truly demonstrate to outside investors that it is doing all it can to provide a clean and level business environment.

Another good demonstration of this would be reversing the dreadful and legally sanctioned theft of the Swissport entity in the twilight of the Yanukovych period. Ukraine can do more, and needs to do more. It has done well, but not outplayed Russia.

It is Russia though who have simply lost this conflict.

Russia thought they could manufacture a war to destabliise their neighbor and divert everyone’s attention from the fact that Ukrainians simply stood up and demanded a fairer system and an end to corruption.

They did this by staffing the entire early “rebellion” with Russian people. That was never going to work out, it was a dumb move. Russia has insisted that Ukraine is a hotbed of anti-Semitism, and then the chief rabbis declared that it is not.

Lacking any coherency, Russia has claimed that Ukraine is akin to a fascist or Nazi state, we are grateful to people like former Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper for coming to Kyiv and allowing that argument to be easily dismissed with a photograph.

Russia has tried to create a narrative of Ukraine being a failed state, the country is grateful for the skill of Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko for her work in stabilizing the country’s finances and we applaud whoever had the wise foresight to offer her that position.

Russia has scored own goal after own goal, all of their own arrogant creation.

The multiple lies that followed the tragic shooting down of Malaysian Airlines MH17 are another example of why Russia has simply demonstrated to the world that they cannot be believed and why Russia – rightly – is being ostracized by the international community.

When Russia ceases from meddling in the internal affairs of Ukraine then there will be peace, and a process of building trust will start.

Russia is fond of propagating an opinion that the people of east Ukraine can never live with the rest of Ukraine again, this is another myth and petulant attempt to create a reality they would like to see.

The best demonstration of this is Slovyansk.

The town chosen to be the centre point of what Russia hopedwould be a “counter-revolution” but never was.

Who remembers the fake news about white phosphorous being used on the civilians of Slovyansk?

Who remembers the early stories of the Ukrainian army randomly and indiscriminately shelling everything killing children?

The story of “child killers” was tested there and it is still in wide use around eastern Ukraine and in Russia and when in actual fact Igor Strelkov fled Slovyansk for Donetsk what happened?

Russian TV news even invented a story about a child being crucified in the centre of the city, yet another disgraceful lie, and yet there is Slovyansk, part of Ukraine, being rebuilt by the people of Ukraine after war was brought to them against their wishes.

And Slovyansk will stand as an example for the rest of Ukraine as it is rebuilt following Russia’s manufactured war.

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