An article in two parts
Part One: The Road To War
For years, from Mali to Afghanistan, I have worked for peace and risked my life for it. It is therefore not a question of justifying war, but of understanding what led us to it. I notice that the “experts” who take turns on television analyze the situation on the basis of dubious information, most often hypotheses erected as facts—and then we no longer manage to understand what is happening. This is how panics are created.
The problem is not so much to know who is right in this conflict, but to question the way our leaders make their decisions.
Let’s try to examine the roots of the conflict. It starts with those who for the last eight years have been talking about “separatists” or “independentists” from Donbass. This is not true. The referendums conducted by the two self-proclaimed Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk in May 2014, were not referendums of “independence” (независимость), as some unscrupulous journalists have claimed, but referendums of “self-determination” or “autonomy” (самостоятельность). The qualifier “pro-Russian” suggests that Russia was a party to the conflict, which was not the case, and the term “Russian speakers” would have been more honest. Moreover, these referendums were conducted against the advice of Vladimir Putin.
In fact, these Republics were not seeking to separate from Ukraine, but to have a status of autonomy, guaranteeing them the use of the Russian language as an official language. For the first legislative act of the new government resulting from the overthrow of President Yanukovych, was the abolition, on February 23, 2014, of the Kivalov-Kolesnichenko law of 2012 that made Russian an official language. A bit like if putschists decided that French and Italian would no longer be official languages in Switzerland.
This decision caused a storm in the Russian-speaking population. The result was a fierce repression against the Russian-speaking regions (Odessa, Dnepropetrovsk, Kharkov, Lugansk and Donetsk) which was carried out beginning in February 2014 and led to a militarization of the situation and some massacres (in Odessa and Marioupol, for the most notable). At the end of summer 2014, only the self-proclaimed Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk remained.
At this stage, too rigid and engrossed in a doctrinaire approach to the art of operations, the Ukrainian general staff subdued the enemy without managing to prevail. The examination of the course of the fighting in 2014-2016 in the Donbass shows that the Ukrainian general staff systematically and mechanically applied the same operative schemes. However, the war waged by the autonomists was very similar to what we observed in the Sahel: highly mobile operations conducted with light means. With a more flexible and less doctrinaire approach, the rebels were able to exploit the inertia of Ukrainian forces to repeatedly “trap” them.
In 2014, when I was at NATO, I was responsible for the fight against the proliferation of small arms, and we were trying to detect Russian arms deliveries to the rebels, to see if Moscow was involved. The information we received then came almost entirely from Polish intelligence services and did not “fit” with the information coming from the OSCE—despite rather crude allegations, there were no deliveries of weapons and military equipment from Russia.
The rebels were armed thanks to the defection of Russian-speaking Ukrainian units that went over to the rebel side. As Ukrainian failures continued, tank, artillery and anti-aircraft battalions swelled the ranks of the autonomists. This is what pushed the Ukrainians to commit to the Minsk Agreements.
But just after signing the Minsk 1 Agreements, the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko launched a massive anti-terrorist operation (ATO/Антитерористична операція) against the Donbass. Bis repetita placent: poorly advised by NATO officers, the Ukrainians suffered a crushing defeat in Debaltsevo, which forced them to engage in the Minsk 2 Agreements.
It is essential to recall here that Minsk 1 (September 2014) and Minsk 2 (February 2015) Agreements did not provide for the separation or independence of the Republics, but their autonomy within the framework of Ukraine. Those who have read the Agreements (there are very, very, very few of those who actually have) will note that it is written in all letters that the status of the Republics was to be negotiated between Kiev and the representatives of the Republics, for an internal solution to the Ukraine.
That is why since 2014, Russia has systematically demanded their implementation while refusing to be a party to the negotiations, because it was an internal matter of the Ukraine. On the other side, the West—led by France—systematically tried to replace the Minsk Agreements with the “Normandy format,” which put Russians and Ukrainians face-to-face. However, let us remember that there were never any Russian troops in the Donbass before 23-24 February 2022. Moreover, OSCE observers have never observed the slightest trace of Russian units operating in the Donbass. For example, the U.S. intelligence map published by the Washington Post on December 3, 2021 does not show Russian troops in the Donbass.
Read the rest (go to the bottom of the page and click ‘Next post’ which will take you to ‘The Military Situation in Ukraine – an Update’.)