Russia’s three-year military aggression against Ukraine has been camouflaged by co-conspirators President Petro Poroshenko, Russian President Vladimir Putin and the West who have continued to define it as an “ATO” — an anti-terrorist operation — and not what it really is: a war.

Terrorism kills far fewer people than the war in the Donbas.

Over three decades in Northern Ireland, only 3, 000 soldiers, police, terrorists and civilians died.

In Ukraine, in only three years the United Nations has calculated that 10,000 civilians have been killed (which I believe is an underestimate) and at least 10,000-15, 000 Ukrainian soldiers and volunteers, Russian soldiers and nationalists and local separatists.

With a combined military and civilian casualty rate of close to 30,000 (German intelligence calculates a higher figure of 50, 000) it is immoral to describe the war as an “ATO.”

Poroshenko has three reasons for continuing to pretend the war is an “ATO.”

The first is because it allows him and his oligarchic allies to continue to make profits from the corrupt trade with the separatist-held areas and Crimea.

Describing the war as an “ATO” allows Poroshenko and Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroysman to give excuses for not doing reforms while at the same time enabling them to continue corrupt practices. Vox Ukraine reported last month that not a single reform had been carried out while Transparency International’s newly published Corruption Perception Index showed that Ukraine is fifth from the bottom of the 15 former Soviet republics. How absurd it is it that all five members of the Eurasian Economic Union have lower rates of corruption than European Union Associate Agreement member Ukraine.

How absurd it is it that all five members of the Eurasian Economic Union have lower rates of corruption than European Union Associate Agreement member Ukraine.

The second is that an “ATO” prevents the need to draw up strategies to deal with a real war situation and plans for returning Ukrainian sovereignty over the Crimea and Russian-controlled territories of the Donbas.

The third is to ensure control of Ukraine’s war remains in the hands of the Security Service of Ukraine, or SBU, an institution which was infiltrated by Russian intelligence, is overmanned and corrupt. Importantly, Poroshenko controls the SBU. Britain, with twenty million more people than Ukraine, has 6, 000 intelligence officers compared to Ukraine’s 34, 000.

Britain, with 20 million more people than Ukraine, has 6,000 intelligence officers compared to Ukraine’s 34,000.

The West prefers to continue to publicly use the pretense of an “ATO” rather than a war because it then does not have to do anything and can forget about it. The West’s official position is that the West cannot send Ukraine defensive military equipment while they are waiting for the Minsk agreement to be implemented. This stance leads to the West ignoring its moral responsibilities under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum and 1997 NATO Charter on a Distinctive Partnership with Ukraine, two documents which enshrined support for Ukraine’s security and territorial integrity.

The failure of the US and Britain to provide security assurances under the Budapest Memorandum gives Ukraine the moral right to seek an alternative avenue for security through NATO membership. Poroshenko had every opportunity to hold a referendum on NATO membership at any time in the last three years.

In Putin’s case he can have his cake and at the same time eat it by being both the aggressor and the peacemaker. The Minsk Accords and designation of the war as an “ATO” ignores Russia’s occupation of the Crimea while not legally challenging Putin over Russia’s occupation of the separatist areas.

Following the Minsk-1 Accords, Putin established Russia’s complete dominance over the economic, financial and security aspects of the separatist in blatant violation of what he had signed. He transformed the areas into pseudo-states dependent upon Russia for 70-90 percent of their financing, creating a Russian shadow government only four months after the September 2014 Minsk-1 Accords. Two months after the signing of the Minsk-2 Accords, Russia introduced

Two months after the signing of the Minsk-2 Accords, Russia introduced rubles as the main currency in its part of the Donbas. Between Minsk 1 and Minsk 2, Putin also built a 40,000-member separatist army commanded by senior Russian officers. It’s bigger than half of the armies of NATO’s 28 members.

Poroshenko’s continued unwillingness to describe what is taking place in the Donbas as a Russian-Ukrainian war and not wishing to define the Donbas separatist territories as occupied by Russia has two negative consequences.

The first is that it again shows that politicians are not being truthful to their citizens and therefore are not treating them with respect. Opinion polls show that an overwhelming majority of Ukrainians (80 percent) believe their country is at war with Russia and a majority believe there are Russian occupation troops in Ukraine. Three-quarters of Ukrainians have negative views of Putin, the State Duma and Russian government and they describe Russia as the “aggressor state.”
A second negative outcome is that the phony definition of the war as an “ATO” leads to a false sense of detachment of Ukrainians from the terrible conflict that is taking place in Avdiyivka and elsewhere on the Donbas front line. Walking around Kyiv, one does not get a sense of a country at war.

Continuing to describe the war as an “ATO” also makes Ukrainian leaders look weak and deceitful in the eyes of international organizations.

Both the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the International Criminal Court have described what is taking place in the Donbas as a war. The ICC ruling in November reported that “the situation in the Crimea and Sevastopol is equivalent to the international armed conflict between Ukraine and the Russian Federation.” The ICC described the situation in Crimea as an occupation by Russian forces and concluded that Ukraine’s detention of Russian military personnel “points to direct military engagement between Russian armed forces and Ukrainian government forces that would suggest the existence of an international armed conflict.”

In Washington D.C., similar questions were raised by members of Congress to ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko during her recent visit.

There are five steps that need to be taken.
Firstly, Poroshenko should have the courage to describe the separatist territories in the same way as PACE did last year — as a “hybrid annexation” which together with the illegal annexation of Crimea “is unacceptable from the standpoint of international law.”

After three years of Russian aggression, it is time for Ukraine’s president to declare that the separatist areas of Donbas, together with the Crimea, are under “temporary Russian occupation.” By declaring these enclaves to be under Russian occupation, Ukraine sends a clear signal to the outside world that Putin is a liar when he says this is a “civil war” and that there are no Russian troops on Ukrainian soil.

Secondly, to redefine the conflict as a war rather than an “ATO” and following this through by declaring martial law in the combat zone. This would take running the war out of the hands of the SBU.

Thirdly, declare that in the light of the evidence presented above, Poroshenko has no confidence that the Russian president will be ever interested in fulfilling the Minsk accords. Western experts such as former U.S. State Department official David Kramer have long argued that the Minsk accords should be recognized as a failure.

This view is also argued by parliamentary deputies such as Heorhiy Nemyrya.

Finally, it is time to take the moral ground and end all Ukrainian trade with the Crimea and Russian-occupied Donbas because we should not trade with the occupiers of Ukrainian lands.

The president of Ukraine has two choices.

The first is to find the courage to tell the truth about the Russian-Ukrainian war and adopt the above four steps.

Alternatively, he can call pre-term elections to allow another leader to show the same level of courage as soldiers and volunteers on the front line.

It is time to publicly admit inside Ukraine and abroad that Russia is at war with Ukraine.

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