So Russia said. She said officially and publicly, that she is “drastically” reducing its military operations near the Ukrainian capital Kyiv and around the besieged northern city of Chernihiv (Chernigov).
The Pentagon is reacting with skepticism, because how could it be otherwise. In mid-February, Russia officially and unequivocally announced that it was withdrawing forces from the vicinity of the Ukrainian border, because the “maneuvers” in which it participated had come to an end. She invaded ten days later.
Russia’s leaders have a complex relationship with the truth. There always have been. And they have deepened and gone in recent weeks. Doubt must therefore accompany any Russian proclamation, which implies de-escalation.
Nevertheless, there were signs that the Russians were indeed lowering their profile in the northwestern corridor of Kyiv, where street battles between the invaders and the defenders had been going on for weeks. In these battles a number of small towns and villages were destroyed, which were before the war pleasant suburbs of the middle class.
The Russians seek to produce “mutual trust”
What it means? The de-escalation in the north is in line with a Russian announcement of an intention to concentrate military effort in Donbas, the industrial region and the rich coal in eastern Ukraine. There the Russians established two “People’s Republics,” and recognized their independence on the eve of the invasion. The defense of the republics became the main excuse for the “special policing operation.” But the declared borders of these republics are much wider than the territories under their control. The Russian army intends to take control of the entire territories they claim, from Mariupol, the besieged and tortured port city in the south, to Kharkiv, the large, constantly bombed volume, in the north.
To take over Donbas, the Russian invading army will have to cut off the supply lines of the Ukrainian army. He will do so, observers say, by advancing up the Dnieper River. This was probably the trend of the Russians’ face in the first place, when they landed on the Ukrainian coast of the Black Sea, conquered the cities of Kherson and Melitopol, and tried to break into Mykolaiv. It was assumed that the southern force would meet with the northern force at the gates of Kyiv, and to seize the two columns would suffocate the capital of Ukraine.
It did not happen. The Russians say they are giving up the break-in to Kyiv and Chernihiv to create “mutual trust” in the peace talks. Their desire to inspire confidence is touching, but it is not necessary to believe in conspiracies to understand that giving up Kyiv and Chernihiv is not voluntary. Is the result of military failure. The truce in the battle for Kyiv will give the Russians a chance to fill the ranks – and fill the warehouses. It’s a matter of respite, whatever the excuse given to them may be.
It is likely that the battle for Kyiv will resume. It is worth recalling that in 1996, after losing the first Chechen war, Russia signed a peace treaty with the Chechen rebels, granting them de facto independence. It resumed the war three and a half years later, destroyed Chechnya and ended its independence. Ukraine is not Chechnya, but Putin is the same Putin (he was prime minister when the Second Chechnya War began).
Pro-Russian fighter in Mariupol in Ukraine / Photo: Reuters, Alexander Ermochenko
Just ask the state of Poland
The sounds of reconciliation and softening emanate not only from the Ministry of Defense in Moscow, but also from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The talks in Ankara this week took on a constructive nature. That is, the Russians not only recited the opening demands of their government, including “de-Nazification,” but actually negotiated. That is in any case what the Ukrainians claim.
A senior adviser to the president’s office, Mihailo Podoliak, unveiled the new magic number, “15.” Ukraine is proposing, and Russia is positively considering, a 15-year ceasefire, during which the two countries will negotiate a permanent settlement in the Ukrainian territories that Russia has annexed, or wants to annex: the Crimea and Donbas, and probably a “territorial corridor” between them. Both countries will pledge, under the proposal, not to use force during these 15 years.
It is difficult to know what to think of this proposal. If I am not mistaken, the only fighting side that has offered something like this in the last 75 years has been Hamas in Gaza. This is the idea of the ‘hudna’ with the grades for 50 years, or ten years. Of course, the ‘hudna’ of Hamas is only meant to be an intermediate stage on the road to the destruction of the Zionist state, in the Ukrainian context, the truce is meant to be an intermediate stage to a peace agreement.
But the very idea of a very long ceasefire agreement smells of European diplomacy between the two world wars. Nazi Germany signed “non-aggression agreements” with Poland in 1934 and with the Soviet Union in 1939. Each of them was signed for ten years. The agreement with Poland lasted a little over five and a half years, and the agreement with the Soviet Union did not reach its second birthday.
Russia has promised to guarantee its safety
In April 1941, nine weeks before the invasion of Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union concluded a “neutrality treaty” with the Japanese Empire for a period of “five years”, with an option for “another five years”, unless one of the parties announced its refusal to renew a year in advance. This wording must be considered absurd to the point of absurdity in the eyes of the modern observer. The Soviet Union casually rescinded the contract four years and four months after it was signed, and invaded Japan.
The only time such an agreement appears to have been signed after World War II was in 1984, between anti-communist South Africa, under white minority rule, and its neighbor Mozambique, under black majority rule, under a Marxist-Leninist regime. When Mozambique president Samura Mashel was asked about his willingness to sign an agreement with the apartheid regime he replied, “There are two things a person cannot choose: his brother and his neighbors.”
A 15-year ceasefire can only be considered serious if it is given contractual military guarantees. An American commitment would have to be ratified by a qualified majority in the U.S. Senate. The chances of such ratification are doubtful, but even if granted it would drain the Russian invasion of its opening logic. Ukraine, and an undertaking that it will not join NATO. A bilateral alliance with the United States, or with other NATO members would be the opposite of “demilitarization.”
On the other hand, how can one conceive of a Ukrainian consent to demilitarization and neutrality without guarantees that will protect it from the whims of a future Russian president. In 1994, when Ukraine relinquished its nuclear power from the Soviet Union, Russia promised to guarantee its safety from future attacks. indeed.
The London Sunday Times reported this week that when oligarch Roman Abramovich carried a note in the handwriting of Ukrainian President Zalansky to Putin in Moscow in early March, the Russian dictator refused to accept, authorizing Abramovich to say to Zalansky, “We will kill you.” The implied willingness not to eliminate must be considered temporary and accidental, and is strong that it is not a date.
Ukrainian envoys to Ankara were instructed by their government to refrain from eating or drinking during their talks. The poison panic plagued the Ukrainians after Abramovich and two others suffered poisoning during a peacekeeping mission in Kiev. American sources assume that this was a result of environmental factors, not of chemical or biological weapons. But the Ukrainians are willing to believe everything about the Russians.
A senior Ukrainian scientist spoke this week in an international forum on a non-political issue. He had to mention his scientific ties with the Russians before the war. “Our former friends,” he said of them, “are now our bitter enemies.”