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OSCE Roadmap points the way to Ukraine resolution: Part Two

OSCE Roadmap points the way to Ukraine resolution, Part Two Anthony Harrington

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In Part One, I looked at the origins of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), its early role in building "détente" between East and West, and its proposed Roadmap for resolving the crisis in Ukraine. Part Two looks at the downside risks and attempts to form a view of the OSCE's chances of brokering and encouraging a favorable resolution of what is, at bottom, a highly dangerous situation.

Just how dangerous things are can be seen from the mounting death toll in Ukraine. Armed clashes between the Ukrainian army and separatist militias are now commonplace. Separatists in Donetsk, who had warned after the referendum that all Ukrainian troops should leave the region or they would be treated as an occupying force, are training up their own militias and staging attacks.

The potential for Ukraine to spiral into a full-blown civil war - with "unionists" being supported with arms and advice by Europe and the US, while Russia supports rebel separatists - is very real and, worryingly, a low key civil war is already in motion. However, the OSCE is embarking on a major initiative to carry out a series of "round table" discussions on the future of Ukraine, throughout the region, always assuming its monitors can get a hearing in the separatist heart-lands.

The idea, as set out in the Roadmap, is to get a national dialogue going, with the hope being that some accommodation short of an outright dismemberment of the country can be reached.

Putin is clearly the key to separatists rowing back from their present belligerent stance towards the government in Kiev, which the separatists, prior to the Ukrainian elections of Sunday 25 May, repeatedly called a bunch of “Nazis”. However, the world will have to wait to see how Putin responds to the new and obviously legitimate government in Kiev.

The mood music, at the time of going to press, was not encouraging. Adrian Basora, a former US Ambassador to what used to be Czechoslovakia and then to the Czech Republic, in an article for the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI), points out that in Putin's marathon four hour Q&A with Russian TV on 17th April, he deliberately referred to "Novorossiya", when speaking of the eastern and southern predominantly Russian speaking parts of Ukraine. Novorossiya, historically, refers to a swathe of territory carved out by the armies of Catherine the Great, from the Ottoman Empire. The territory covered about a third of what is now Ukraine.

In Basora's view, Russia's goal is to see at least a nominally independent Federation of Novorossiya, which includes both Doetsk and Luhansk, and several other southern and eastern Ukrainian provinces. He issues a "stark warning:

"Unless the U.S. and its European allies take far more decisive countermeasures than they have to date, Putin’s plan will continue to unfold slowly but steadily and, within a matter of months, Ukraine will either be dismembered or brought back into the Russian sphere of influence."

The provinces of Kharkiv, Dnepropetrovsk, Zaporizhia, Kherson, Mikolaiv and Odessa are all included in the Novorossiya rhetoric. Of course, for many in these eastern and southern provinces, being brought back into the Russian sphere of influence would be a welcome outcome. However, for the Ukrainian government, it would be disastrous. The collection of provinces caught up in the "Novorossiya" rhetoric contain around 45% of the Ukraine's population and contribute roughly two thirds of the country's GDP. Ouch.

This is one obvious reason why Kiev seems to be gradually winding up its military to deal with "terrorist separatists", while simultaneously giving the nod to the OSCE to press on with its national dialogue. It seems likely that one of Putin's first moves will be to insist on the suspension of all military activities by the Ukrainian government against separatist enclaves.

It is unclear whether or not the Ukrainian government would comply with such a request. At present it seems to be moving in the direction of more forceful confrontation rather than dialogue. How far Moscow is prepared to let that go without unleashing its own troops, "to protect Russian citizens" remains to be seen.

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Further reading on Russia and Ukraine:

Tags: civil war , Kiev , OSCE , Russia , Ukraine , Vladimir Putin
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