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The Minsk Dead-end for Ukraine's Brest Truce
We all know Fosamax, the prescription medicine invented by Merck & Co. for the treatment or prevention of osteoporosis (thinning of bone) in women after menopause. It reduces the chance of having a hip or spinal fracture. Merck marketed the drug in Russia much differently than in the west, for the reason Vladimir Pastukhov explains below:
Pastukhov, a Kyiv native, is a research fellow at University College London. Echo Moscow publishes his op-eds and has chatted him up about the mess in Russia and Ukraine for the past couple of years. I attach a very rough translation of his latest essay, titled “Cursed ‘momentum’. The Minsk Dead-end for Ukraine’s Brest Truce.” [the stuff within the brackets is my two cents]
As Viktor Shenderovich wrote, “I would very much like to be mistaken, but everything can not be an error.” On the eve of the video-conference call between Putin and Biden, the outcome can be predicted with a fair degree of confidence. Putin will emerge triumphant, it will all end in a war and then - but not immediately - there will be a revolution and a civil war in Russia that gives birth to a new Russian civilization. It would be much better for Putin himself if he lost this round, but it seems that he is practically doomed by circumstances to achieving a fatal victory.
Bad and very bad
In chess, the fork is a tactic that leaves the defending side with only the Stalinist choice - between bad and very bad [passe as an act of total externalization through which Ukraine is asked to irrevocably renounce the ineffable precious kernel that makes it a subject of political activity]. The choice the Kremlin is offering the West today is a choice between military annihilation or capitulation. In response, the West proposes to tickle the Kremlin with sanctions. Moscow is not afraid of tickling, so there are only two practically possible ways for the situation to develop: either Putin does not achieve his goal in direct negotiations with Biden and takes everything he needs by force, or he seeks what he needs, albeit in limited scope, by diplomatic means, and the war is postponed, turning into a long political Mittelspiel.
The problem is that this fork has a double bottom [the end formation in a declining market. It is identical to the double top, except for the inverse relationship in price]. It is political trap for the West and a historical trap for Russia. In the first scenario, Putin solves the Novorossiya problem in one fell swoop (almost in sync with the problem of Belarus), gets a Ukraine that hates him, hanging powerlessly in the hands of the West, and 1,000-kilometer long contact line instead of a border. The sanctions regime imposed on a freezing Europe by the United States reaches the “Iranian standard” in several steps, with Russia rapidly following the path of North Korea, clinging to China as an economic satellite, which only increases economic confusion and vacillation. New adventures leading to new wars in Russia itself will ensue, as well as the desire among neighbors to fight the 21st century’s “sick man of Europe.” Recall Turkey as the “sick man of Europe” in the 19th century. In one of these wars, Russia will suffer another revolutionary heart attack, from which it will not recover.
In the second scenario, Biden accepts the Kremlin's rules of the game and twists the arms of Ukraine, forcing it to comply with the enslaving Minsk Agreements. This means actual and legal recognition of the independence of the Moscow-controlled territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, Ukraine's rejection of the idea of NATO membership in the foreseeable future, agreeing not to deploy foreign military infrastructure (except Russia’s) in Ukraine and establishing a regime in Ukraine more acceptable to Moscow, like the Ivanishvili regime in Georgia, after which economic relations between the countries will slowly begin to normalize. This is not exactly what the theater lobbyists of the Novorossiya project in the Kremlin dream of, but it temporarily deprives Russia of the formal reason and motivation for starting big war with Ukraine “here and now,” turning it into an endurance competition between Russia and the United States (the outcome of which is not obvious only in the Kremlin). The logic of the process at some stage, most likely only after Putin's final departure from politics, will lead to a coup and an attempt to implement a new Perestroika project. It has few chances of success, but still they are not equal to zero.
If not now, then when?
For Putin, war is a collider (accelerator) of revolution. He cannot fail to understand this, because it’s an axiom not only of Russian history, but also world history. So why is he striving so hard for it? The answer is obvious: Because never in recent years has the prospect of a Ukrainian blitzkrieg been so tempting for Putin. The mirage of a swift, deafening, victorious and, more importantly, completely unpunished victory is a debilitating temptation for the Kremlin. The English-language word "momentum" is difficult to translate into Russian. The closest meaning, in my subjective opinion, is "the perfect game of of solitaire," when all the cards allow you to round up the suits in as few moves as possible. There is now such a "momentum of war" for Putin. The question plaguing the Kremlin is: if not now, then when? Indeed, one must either decide to go ahead with or bury the Novorossiya project forever, because the grass will never be greener. Therefore, all thought about long-term risks and strategic consequences crashes on the reefs of momentary tactical benefits and advantages.
There is another specific reason why the issue should be settled now. No matter how ridiculous it may seem, Moscow today seems to be acting "in its own right." Formally, Russia does not need to look for a pretext for war, because it lies on the surface - Kyiv's failure to comply with the Minsk Agreements. The trajectory of Putin's dialogue with Biden is easy to imagine without a highly developed political imagination. For all claims, Putin will sadly and tiredly repeat: "Russia is acting within the framework of the signed agreements, and Ukraine is violating them. Just ask them about it.” And everyone understands this is so, generally speaking. Another thing is that everyone also understands that we are talking about an enslaving deal in its classic Wikipedia definition, a deal agreed to on extremely unfavorable terms that someone was forced to make due to a combination of difficult circumstances, which the other party took advantage of. I have more than once had to write about the difficult choice for Ukraine - between a suicidal war with an enemy whose economic and military power is many times greater than its own capabilities and a humiliating truce, especially during a period of intensive nation-state building. Such as the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk comes to mind. But the main problem is that such an obscene peace treaty with the aggressor is not some hypothetical possibility, but a harsh reality for Ukraine. It has already been signed and is called the Minsk Agreements. The Minsk Agreements were signed at gunpoint after the hardest defeats of the Ukrainian army near Illovaisk and Debaltseve. By their nature, they differ little from the Brest truce signed by Lenin with the Germans, according to which, by the way, the Bolsheviks transferred to Germany most of Ukraine. Like the Bolshevik government (and any other government in such conditions), Ukraine, signing the agreements, hoped that they would not have to be fulfilled. But Lenin was more fortunate than Poroshenko and Zelensky: the revolution then occurred in Germany, but not in Russia. One way or another, Russia will not voluntarily abandon the Qabalistic path of the Minsk agreements, considering them as its legitimate war trophy. Since the Minsk format was formally recognized and legitimized by the West, it turns into a diplomatic impasse that prevents any compromise resolution of the Ukraine-Russia conflict, leaving only the two options outlined above: military annihilation or capitulation
Pacta sunt servanda
Is there a way out? It's easy to give outside advice and write recommendations for someone else. In this sense, any passage on what it would be better for the Ukrainians to do if you do not live in Ukraine is initially flawed. Realizing all this, I would nevertheless venture to suggest that an attempt to implement the Minsk agreements in one format or another (of course, we are talking about the status of the occupied territories, elections and changes in the Constitution - the most painful part of the enslaving agreements) could be a more productive policy than an attempt to sabotage them at any cost, including the cost of a new war. I repeat, perhaps this is a deeply erroneous opinion, but, nevertheless, it has a right to exist. It's hard for me to say whether Poroshenko had an alternative and whether he could have refused to sign an agreement so unacceptable for Ukraine. I'm afraid this was not really possible. The threat of occupation not of part of the two regions, but of the whole of eastern Ukraine was at the time absolutely real and the Minsk agreements then made it possible to block this threat. As it turns out - only for a while. Since the days of ancient Rome, the basic principle of international law has been pacta sunt servanda (treaties must be enforced). All the same, there is one significant difference between Lenin and Zelensky in relation to the Brest truce - the Bolsheviks first lived up to their obligations under the treaty before tearing it up, waiting for the revolution in Germany and the collapse of the German army, not vice versa.
At least some of the problems would be behind us today and Ukraine, having temporarily normalized relations with the aggressor, could focus on the main thing - economic reforms and the creation of a nation state in its remaining territory. It is practically impossible to do this in conditions of a virtually unceasing war. Moreover, it would be much more difficult for Russia to further invade Ukraine. So, despite six years of victims laid on the altar of regaining control over lost territories, Ukraine found itself at exactly the same point as on the eve of the signing of the second Minsk Protocol - facing the threat of Russia occupying a third of its territory. Unfortunately, I am afraid that neither Zelensky nor Biden has any other way to prevent Russian aggression, but to start moving towards implementing the Minsk Protocol. Such is "cursed momentum."