On June 9th, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko held a telephone negotiation during which, according to the Ukrainian administration’s report, the two leaders discussed the issue of Ukrainians imprisoned in Russia. This is the first direct phone conversation between the two leaders in a long time ever since Poroshenko’s provocative, undiplomatic slander of Putin and Russians froze the Normandy format and bilateral negotiations.
Over the past several years, multiple Ukrainian citizens – who have been identified as officers of Ukraine’s military intelligence (GUR) – have been arrested and imprisoned in Russia for plotting terrorist attacks. Although the imprisonment of these Ukrainian terrorists is high on the Ukrainian domestic political agenda, I believe that the real reason behind Poroshenko’s talk with Putin was something else. Poroshenko’s administration, as always, holds back and only orbi et urbi reveals the agendas of such telephone negotiations.
I suggest that the main topic of the talk was the military and political situation in Donbass and the Azov Sea. We can expect in the near future to see a “leak” in Ukrainian media about this, since, after all, the post-coup Kiev regime has proven itself incapable of keeping high state secrets.
The situations in Donbass and the Azov Sea is not merely alarming, it is fraught with war. To recall, since June 1st Ukraine’s navy has blocked the Azov Sea up to Russia’s borders for “artillery firing exercises.” This Ukrainian military blockade of the Azov sea line coast – which is controlled by the Donetsk People’s Republic – can be seen as part of the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ preparation for an offensive on Donbass, the goal of which, of course, is the complete extermination of the unrecognized republics.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainians continue to shell the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, including with guns prohibited by the Minsk Agreements. For example, DPR fighters have reported that 82 and 120 millimeter mortars have been fired regularly (several times daily). The LPR’s People’s Militia has also reported that the Ukrainian military has consistently pulled up military hardware and equipped its positions in the Slavyanoserbsk region for what is likely to be an attempt at breaking through parts of the contact line. According to soldiers in this sector of the frontline, Ukrainian military vehicles (BMPs and BTRs) and heavy artillery have been camouflaged and brought up to the frontline on a daily basis.
In the UAF’s rear, field hospitals have been set up, which is a clear sign of Ukraine preparing for war. Snipers have also been actively deployed, and it is at their hands that most Donbass military casualties happen. The DPR and LPR militaries have drawn attention to the high professionalism of the enemy snipers as evidence that they are Poles, Americans, and Canadians, not Ukrainians (whose snipers are much less skilled).
In response to ceaseless Ukrainian bombardments, the Donbass republics have declared that they are ready to pull up their own artillery and armored vehicles to the front line. This was stated by the leader of the DPR, Alexander Zakharchenko, himself. However, this has evidently not been followed through with yet.
As for the political “icing on the cake” of a possible Donbass offensive, two of the Ukrainian state’s leaders, President Poroshenko and Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, have claimed that the Minsk Agreements are dead. On June 8th, Poroshenko himself said: “There is no such thing as a Minsk format for negotiations. [Ex-Ukrainian President] Kuchma does not take part in Minsk negotiations. There is only one format: the Normandy one.” It is difficult to interpret these words as meaning other than that Ukraine is officially refusing to adhere to the Minsk Agreements (not a single point of which has Kiev fulfilled).
Avakov’s June 7th statement was even more clear: “The Minsk process had a role to play, but now it is dead.” Avakov has since added that Donbass might be “liberated” over the course of a “police operation” involving 2,000 police forces. Of course, why this has not happened over the past four years of war in Donbass, which has involved all coercive ministries and agencies, was not explained.
I perceive such statements as being mainly for domestic consumption in the run up to the Ukrainian presidential elections. But it cannot be ruled out that Avakov is trying to earn the sympathy of the Americans by playing the role of the cowboy in the saloon. These infinitely unrealistic, but harsh statements of Avakov’s might be forging a reputation for him in the eyes of American hawks.
No less important news has come out of Russia. On June 5-8, Russia’s Southern Military District held war games which were a frank warning to Kiev that any attack on the Donbass republics is inadmissible. On June 7th, during his hotline with Russian citizens, Putin did something hitherto unheard of: the Russian President, who is famous for his caution, unequivocally warned Poroshenko that any attack on the Donbass republics during the World Cup would have “serious consequences for Ukrainian statehood.”
I believe that these words of Putin’s were what forced Poroshenko to initiate telephone communication and try to halt the rushing locomotive of Ukrainian militarism. Knowing Poroshenko’s style and motivation, and being conscious of the vassal relations between Ukraine and the US, I am sure that the Ukrainian pseudo-president does not want war. But he is literally being pushed towards it by much more radical forces and foreign geopolitics.
Amidst all these high stakes, the chances that even relative peace will be preserved are altogether slim.
Translated by Jafe Arnold