On January 8, Ukrainian Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, met Angela Merkel to discuss the situation in Ukraine. In their joint press conference, Chancellor Merkel praised the austerity-inspired budget the Ukrainian Rada had recently approved, and urged the IMF to unblock the next tranche of financial aid to Kiev. When speaking about the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Merkel insisted that the European Union would only lift sanctions against Russia after all twelve points of the Minsk agreement had been fully implemented.
The main goal of this announcement was to insist on German opposition to lifting any of those sanctions even if there had been enough progress in implementing at least part of the Minsk agreement, as some other EU members may have been willing to do.
The Astana summit—where France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine were to meet under the so-called Normandy Format—was only the first the casualty of Germany’s hardening position. After Astana, meetings of the Trilateral Group and another meeting under the Normandy Format were canceled within days. On January 21, the meeting could not take place as Ukraine failed to send their envoys. “Why should we meet if there are not going to be any positive results?”, Foreign Minister, Pavlo Klimkin, said.
After a four hour long meeting, the representatives of Russia, Ukraine, the People’s Republics and the OSCE failed to produce any results in their meeting on January 31. Pushilin and Deinego, DPR and LPR representatives, argued that Kuchma (neither a civil servant nor an office-bearer) does not represent the Ukrainian government, and therefore Ukraine will not be bound by anything signed by the former President. Kiev argues that they will only negotiate with Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky, who signed the Minsk Protocol back in September, even though Kiev has, in the past, been reluctant to accept them as part of the negotiation. As the Militia advances, closing in on the strategic city of Debaltsevo, Ukraine demands a return to the demarcation line signed in September, conveniently forgetting that the Militia had to take by force positions, such as Donetsk Airport, that the Ukrainian Army was supposed to have retreated from.
Everything suggests that Germany gave the go-ahead for a resumption of Kiev’s offensive against the Donbass rebels at this meeting between Merkel and Yatsenyuk in Berlin. On January 18, in an article titled ‘Ukraine launches an offensive against separatists’ strongholds,’ in El País, journalist Pilar Bonet noted:
“Yesterday morning, troops loyal to Kiev launched a major offensive using artillery and missiles that reached Donetsk city centre. As presidential aide and assistant to the Ministry of Defence Yuri Biriukov wrote on his Facebook page, the Ukrainian Army had orders to fire without hesitation against any known positions of the pro-Russian separatists in the area. Spokesmen of Kiev’s antiterrorist operation claimed the separatists had fired on Ukrainian positions twenty-eight times during the night while separatists accused Kiev of violating the ceasefire agreement thirty-two times.”
As the newspaper admits, the situation had been deteriorating over the preceding days. What the Western media fails to mention is that the main goal of Kiev’s offensive that day was to recapture Donetsk Airport before the media would be forced to concede that Ukraine had lost a battle that had been used as a propaganda tool for months. The day long offensive ended in utter failure for everyone bar the Western media, who continued to claim that Ukraine held its positions at the airport for days after they had lost them. Defeating the Ukrainian forces helps the Militia initiate a counter-offensive towards strategic cities like Mariupol or Debaltsevo. The West would soon make it clear that such a move was unacceptable.
Another key element that seems to have come out of the Merkel-Yatsenyuk meeting is the search for a provocation that will ignite Western outrage in order to engender support for the Kiev government and step up the game of sanctions against Russia. The use of the attack on a bus in Volnovakha or the attempt to blame the Donetsk People’s Republic for the attack on a bus in Donetsk that killed at least thirteen people are simply examples of this new propaganda-ridden scenario.
But the, probably premeditated, outrage and the tough political response only kicked in after the Grad attack in the port city of Mariupol, under Ukrainian control since June. Within a few hours, an OSCE press release placed the blame on the Donetsk People’s Republic, indicating two possible shooting locations, both of them in rebel controlled areas around the city. NATO went a step further, blaming Russia in order to highlight the attack as the beginning of a new stage in the conflict.
Even though the press has already convicted the DPR and Russia, it remains to be seen if the Militia is to blame for the attack on Mariupol. But the use of said tragedy exposed, once again, Western hypocrisy. The same diplomats and media who have repeatedly avoided touching upon civilian deaths or the numbers of refugees, and who have for months downplayed the risk of a full-blown humanitarian crisis (obvious to anybody but the West), are now voicing their concern over the well-being of civilians in Mariupol and Debaltsevo.
Another example of the double standards at work came in Donetsk last week. When at least five people were killed as they queued for humanitarian aid, the OSCE merely saw fit to issue a general condemnation of the use of artillery in urban areas, without attempting to place blame on either side.
In the same article from January 18, Pilar Bonet writes:
“According to two residents who spoke to this reporter last night, yesterday, some areas of central Donetsk became the target of military units loyal to Kiev. One of the locals mentioned that windows in the building where they live have been shattered by the impact of a shell in a nearby building. According to both sources, shells had landed close to the Shakhtar stadium. One of the locals, who is involved in the distribution of humanitarian aid, claimed that Kiev’s travel restrictions are obstructing both food and, especially, water supplies.”
Without displaying any outrage over the constant artillery fire on Donetsk, the same newspaper had already reported on shelling in the city that very same week. On January 16, Pilar Bonet reported on civilian deaths (between three and seven). So did the OSCE, who had condemned other incidents besides the one in Mariupol. But, like the Western media, they had demanded an investigation without pointing the finger at the Ukrainian Army, who were most likely to blame. The fact that Mariupol is a Ukraine-controlled city is enough for the OSCE and Western media to conclude that the DPR is to blame for any attack on the city—but the same does not apply to incidents that happen in central Donetsk, such as the attack against a trolleybus or last week’s attack around a humanitarian aid distribution centre.
After the events in Mariupol, Ertuğrul Apakan, head of the OSCE Mission in Ukraine, demanded a full investigation of the events and made the following observations:
“This dangerous situation cannot continue. We need an immediate ceasefire. Ukraine and its people need and deserve peace. The parties must return to the negotiating table without further delay and implement fully the Minsk agreements.”
“Regrettably we have been observing over the past few days an expansion of indiscriminate shelling throughout the regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, including against heavily populated areas such as Donetsk city and Debaltsevo.”
“I urge all sides to immediately undertake robust action to stop the new escalation in fighting and its heavy toll on civilians.”
In spite of having reported other incidents, the analysis of the events after the Mariupol attacks shows the will to use the incident for both political and propaganda purposes in order to further pressure Russia, ultimately blamed for the escalation of the situation, and to push for even tougher economic sanctions.
In the New York Times version of their joint article, ‘Save the New Ukraine,’ George Soros and Bernard-Henri Lévy show no doubt about who is to blame for the crisis, as they accuse Russia of a direct assault on Ukraine. Vladimir Putin is, in their view, determined to destroy the ‘New’ Ukraine: “The Russian president is stepping up the military and financial pressure on Ukraine. Over the weekend, the city of Mariupol came under attack from forces that NATO said were backed by Russian troops, undermining the pretence that the separatists are acting on their own.”
After months of playing down constant artillery fire on Donetsk, and under the pretext of responding to an escalation of the conflict caused by the actions of pro-Russians over the weekend in Mariupol, European Union officials gave the green light to new measures against Russia on January 27. Two days later, Foreign Ministers of the member states met in Brussels to settle on those actions. In spite of some resistance from the new Greek government, who had previously raised concerns about the radical elements of the new Ukrainian government and had criticised sanctions, the EU renewed the current sanctions against Russia for six more months. But the EU tried to go a step further, including more names on the sanctions list and threatening further measures should the situation on the ground continue to escalate or, in other words, should Ukraine lose more ground to the Militia. Greece did, apparently, object to this point.
But none of this is enough for Soros and Bernard-Henri Lévy. The European Union has to be fully involved in the financing of the Poroshenko, Turchinov and Yatsenyuk regime. On top of the already scheduled IMF aid, the European Union has to step up its commitment to Kiev in order to guarantee the survival of the New Ukraine, even if this means granting the financial aid usually limited to member states.
This EU dynamic threatens to create a growing division among the member states. “How many people must be killed before we start saying #JeSuisUkrainian?”, asked Lithuanian Foreign Minister, Linas Linkevicius. Perhaps a part of the European population will begin to voice concern over the use of violence and extremism by the Kiev government which some countries in the north-eastern part of the EU seem so comfortable with. It would certainly be easier if Europeans had access to less biased information in the mainstream media, mostly used by their governments for propaganda purposes. But some, particularly in the southern parts of the European Union, are already tired of the russophobic nationalism emanating from Poland, the Baltics and even Germany and the UK, their disregard for the well-being of oppressed (even shelled in the case of Ukraine) minorities in Eastern Europe and their aggressive pro-war politics. The war in the Donbass has to be stopped in order to end the growing number of civilian casualties and the devastation of the region; but it will be impossible until Kiev—which launched the conflict because of their unwillingness to compromise and negotiate back in the spring of 2014—can find a way to embrace this.
Meanwhile, it is now more important than ever to report everything that happens in the Donbass, even those events that may trouble the growing Western Party of War. In the former Yugoslavia, the likes of George Soros or Bernard-Henri Lévy, and journalists like Hermann Tertsch in Spain, and so many others in the rest of Europe, managed to create a narrative that went unchallenged.
It is important that we do not allow that to happen again when it comes to the war between Ukraine and the Donbass Militia. Because strange events that need to be explained beyond the official narrative, which blames the Militia when they are the main suspect and demands an investigation that never takes place when Ukraine is likely to be responsible, will continue to take place. Just as MH17 became the pretext for the first tough sanctions against Russia, and Mariupol the pretext for their extension, it is likely that similar events will be used in order to escalate the situation both militarily and politically.
Where is Sergei Dolgov?
The French version of the joint Soros-Lévy op-ed, published by Libération, had some nuances, likely due to the Frenchman’s obsessions, that were lost in translation in other versions of the article. One of them talks about the will of the New Ukraine to break with, among other evils of the past, “post-Soviet culture.”
Journalist Sergei Dolgov was one of those voices who represented that culture in Mariupol. Dolgov disappeared in June 2014, after Ukrainian forces recaptured the city. On December 8, Communist Party of Greece MEP, Konstantinos Papadakis, requested the European Commission to answer the following question:
“Subject: Abduction of Sergei Dolgov in Mariupol
In June 2014, the journalist Sergei Dolgov was abducted by unknown assailants in Mariupol, from the offices of the newspaper which he edited, “Хочу в СССР”(‘I want to be in the USSR’). Despite the efforts of his wife, Olga, and international organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the fate of the missing editor is still unknown.
His wife has complained that Dolgov was kidnapped in a ‘mopping-up operation’, carried out in the city of Mariupol by nationalist and fascist forces associated with the Kiev authorities.
Mariupol is located in south-eastern Ukraine and is governed by Kiev. However, the current authorities in Kiev, who are responsible for the disappearance of the journalist Sergei Dolgov, are refusing to comment.
The EU’s support for nationalist and fascist forces in Ukraine in return for promoting its interests is an affront to the memory of the millions of Europeans who died in the fight against fascism.
In view of the above, will the Commission say:
―How does it view disappearances of people in which the current authorities in Kiev are reportedly involved?
―How can EU declarations that ‘democracy is being promoted’ in Ukraine be squared with the disappearance of journalists and the conducting of ‘mopping-up operations’?
―Will it take measures to help find the missing journalist Sergei Dolgov?”
Responding to this question would be the right thing for the European Commission to do, but so far it does not appear that they have done so. And the same goes for Mariupol.