UKRAINE, THE DONBASS AND THE GRAY ZONE - WHO IS TO BLAME FOR THE MASSIVE TRAGEDY WE SEE UNFOLDING?
It ought to be said that the suffering has been immense on all sides in the current war still raging in eastern Ukraine and the territory of the now sovereign Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk.
The immensity of the tragedy involved is quite beyond the descriptive powers of those reporting from thousands of miles away, no matter how many videos are watched or reports and articles read.
The dead and injured are numbered in many thousands. Even before the present violence an estimated 14,000 had died in the eight years beginning in 2014 when Ukrainian forces first arrived in great numbers to subdue the insurrection there (largely non-violent unlike the insurrection it was in response to in Kiev months before).
Each side cleaves to its own take on what has occurred. Little connects them in any form. Those Russian-speakers who are in the majority in what was eastern Ukraine and who suffered through eight years of shelling by Ukrainian forces will tell you how grateful they will be when Russia takes full control of their region of Donbass. Further civilian populations beyond where the Ukrainian shelling took place for those years will relate how in their own towns the Ukrainian troops treated them with disdain, insulting them and destroying their homes and municipal buildings.
On the other side, the Ukrainian-speaking minority within the Donbass and further west toward western Ukraine will without doubt blame the Russian for everything, talk of atrocities and of how all Ukrainian territory will be taken back in due course by their army that has been made so much stronger over the eight years since 2014.
But whatever is said one undeniable fact remains no matter who was ultimately responsible for it and that is the amount of suffering and destruction that this tragic episode in Slavic history has caused.
The level of fear, trauma, loss, disfigurement, death and destruction is incalculable as is the amount of mistrust, lies, hatred and potential for further violence, chaos leading to a perpetual spiral into endless conflict.
None of this should have happened. Some form of agreement and pathway to the resolution of differences ought to have been found. Indeed it was thought that such a pathway was found. It occurred in 2015 at Minsk after the Kiev authorities realised that its military was incapable of doing the job it was sent to perform in the Donbass, to remove the leaders of the insurrection there who were demanding autonomy for the Russian-speaking majority there in the face of a complete collapsing of their democratic rights on Kiev’s Maidan.
The very under-prepared, poorly trained and armed troops of the Ukrainian army of that time were no match for the men and women of the Donbass who had formed themselves into militias guided by Russian volunteers. Subsequently the Kiev authorities agreed that the Russian-speaking people of the Donbass would get the autonomy they wanted. This promise was never fulfilled however and the Kiev authorities of that time and their successors instead built up their military forces with massive help from the West.
Who is responsible for the carnage and destruction now is a complex matter to resolve. Certain things are known which can assist anyone wishing to attempt to come to some solution.
1. The Maidan saw violence from one side and the other at different levels at different times.
2. The political parties and U.S. elites who encouraged the violence of the Maidan demonstrators formed the new power in Ukraine after 2014.
3. The rise of Russian-speaking Ukrainians in very great numbers in response to the Maidan event was not characterised by violence. Civic buildings were largely peacefully taken over and their officials replaced.
4. Some weeks after the largely peaceful takeover Ukrainian troops arrived with military vehicles including tanks and the violence began.
5. Who began the violence is disputed as is the responsibility for all that followed.
6. What did follow was a siege by Ukrainian forces of the regions of Donetsk and Lugansk/Luhansk.
7. Following the siege of these regions, from the Spring of 2014 through 2015 the homes, hospitals, schools and town centres received random mortar shelling.
8. Militias were formed in both regions to counter the actions of Ukrainian forces.
9. 2014 and 2015 were the years when the majority of the 14,000 died spoken of above.
10. A proportion of those who died were combatants, however that a great many civilians died is undeniable and likely accounts for the vast majority of the total dead.
11. The militias of the two republics, the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic roundly defeated the Ukrainian forces by mid-2015.
12. The Minsk Agreements/Minsk Accords were agreed by Russia and Ukraine and ratified at the United Nations.
13. After 2015 a stalemate situation existed with only sporadic deaths among the civilian population and troops on both sides.
14. From 2015, at least from the Russian side constant attempts were made to take the Minsk pathway to the federalisation of the Donbass and its unique culture which is so very different from that of western Ukraine.
15. By late 2021 it was clear that the Kiev authorities were no longer interested in the Minsk Agreements and considered them invalid, relating to conditions that no longer prevailed. (2014-15 when its forces were too weak to fight on.)
16. As spoken of before, from 2014 to the present day Ukraine, with massive assistance from the West strengthened its forces out of all comparison from those that had existed previously.
17. In late 2021 Kiev communicated that it would no longer seek to implement the Minsk steps to reconciliation and peace as they were no longer valid.
18. In recent years the Ukrainian army has trained with NATO troops, has been massively re-armed and has built its forces equally massively around the two republics.
19. In February of this year the western-based OSCE organization, sent to monitor attacks in the region listed a massively growing number of attacks, mostly from the Ukrainian side.
20. Russian intelligence apparently became aware of a planned military assault on the two republics by Ukraine, a ‘final solution’ and inevitable consequence of abandoning the Minsk pathway to peace.
21. Russia acknowledged formally that the two republics of Donetsk and Lugansk/Luhansk were sovereign entities.
22. The authorities of the republics formally requested protection from the Russian Federation.
23. On February 24th as we all now know, Russia moved across the border into the areas of the republics and began its military campaign which continues to this day.
The debate over the rights and wrongs will rage beyond the present day and will likely never be fully and clearly resolved with the widening geopolitical gap between east and west establishing fixed positions of absolute guilt making this totally impossible in fact.
Meanwhile the absolute horror of violent conflict with its attendant miseries, destruction, chaos, loss, death and collapse of many institutional bonds on myriad levels in a heavily fractured and tortured land will continue far into the future.