U.S.-Russia Diplomatic Properties Standoff:
Moscow Threatening the Reciprocal Closing of the U.S. Embassy Dacha
The demarches from Moscow and Beijing, in the form of tougher positioning against Washington's antics, are increasingly obvious this week. First, the Russian Foreign Ministry is warning the U.S. State Department that time is running out to return to Moscow the use of two diplomatic compounds, one in the Maryland suburbs of Washington D.C. and the other on Long Island's Gold Coast outside the New York metropolis. If the Americans fail to restore to the Russians use of these decades old facilities shuttered late last year by the lame duck Obama Administration in retaliation for alleged Russian election meddling, Moscow warns it could close the U.S. Embassy dacha (but not the American school for diplomats children). The State Department's use of a second dacha that the Americans planned to set up for their consulate in St. Petersburg is already blocked due to the standoff.
The second unmistakable signal of Moscow's displeasure with Washington's eastward push of NATO troops to Russia's borders comes in the form of a joint Russo-Chinese exercise in the Baltic Sea, dubbed 'Joint Sea'. According to Germany's state-funded DeutscheWelle network, the Chinese flotilla visiting the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad (surrounded by the NATO member Baltic states) consists of the modern destroyer Changsha, a frigate and supply vessel:
Last month, China's state-owned Xinhua news agency said that this year's exercises aim "to consolidate and advance the Sino-Russian comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination, and deepen friendly and practical cooperation between the two militaries."
The setting is particularly contentious. The Baltic States - Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia - have repeatedly warned against Russia's territorial ambitions, while Moscow's expansion into Ukraine has prompted NATO to bolster its presence and conduct its own exercises on the Baltic border with Russia.
Russia and China have taken turns hosting the exercises since 2012, sometimes in politically sensitive waters. Last year's drill took place in the contested South China Sea, where Beijing is constructing artificial islands in waters claimed by its regional rivals, Japan and Korea.
This isn't the first time that the two countries have held the joint naval exercise in European waters. In 2015 the two countries held naval drills in the Mediterranean.
According to reports in Russia, future exercises are scheduled to take place in the Barents Sea between Russia and Norway, in the Arctic Ocean, and in the Sea of Okhotsk in the Western Pacific Ocean.
Pro-Russian Donetsk Breakaway Republic Leader Calls Ukraine a Failed State, Urges Oblasts to Secede from Kiev and Join a New Malorissyan Federation that Would Be Allied with Russia and Belarus
The third and perhaps most important signal to Washington from Moscow this week came from the pro-Russian breakaway Donetsk Republic in the former eastern Ukraine. On Tuesday, July 18 the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR or DNR in Russian) President Alexander Zakharchenko announced that all 24 oblasts of Ukraine wishing to leave a failing state were now eligible to join a new political entity, called by the turn of the 20th century name for then Russian Empire governed Ukraine, Malorossiya. The declaration, which has likely been in the works since Zakharchenko's cryptic comments about Ukraine coming to an end a few months ago, comes days after the Trump Administration appointed the executive director of the Arizona State University-based McCain Institute for International Leadership (and of course, a Sen. McCain crony), Kurt Volker, to the Ukraine envoy position. Mr. Volker is also a former CIA agent and U.S. Ambassador to NATO known for his hard line on Russia.
Reading between the lines and into Zakharchenko's (if not his patron Putin's) psychology, an interesting fact about this Malorossiya declaration defying Kiev and Washington is that it comes one day after the third anniversary of the MH17 shoot down over Donbass. It also occurs on the 99th anniversary of the Tsar Nicholas II and his family's martyrdom at the hands of Western-backed Bolsheviks, for which the Royal Martyrs were canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad and later the Moscow Patriarchate:
DONETSK (Sputnik) — Self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) Leader Alexander Zakharchenko proposed on Tuesday a three-year transition period toward a new state called Malorossiya ("Little Russia") as a way to settle the three-year conflict.
"We propose to establish the state of Malorossiya. Malorossiya is an independent young state. A transition period of up to 3 years," Zakharchenko told reporters.
Noting that discussions within the DPR had "come to the conclusion that Ukraine has shown itself as a failed state," he called on the international community to support his proposal.
"We should be supported by the residents of the regions. This solution is possible provided that the international community supports the idea," Zakharchenko said.
Malorossiya has been declared as a sovereign federation of states with wide-ranging autonomy, with the capital of Donetsk and successor state to Ukraine. The new state's constitution will be approved after a referendum and broad discussion. The country's central authorities will be in charge of the federal budget, army and security services, according to DPR Income and Charges Minister Alexander Timofeev.
"We, the representatives of former Ukraine, declare the establishment of a new state, Malorossiya, which is a successor state to Ukraine. We agree that the new state's name will be Malorossiya because the very name of Ukraine has discredited itself. The city of Donetsk becomes Malorossiya's capital," Timofeev said while reading a constitution act on the formation of the new country.
Roughly translated as 'Little' or 'Minor' (in contrast to Belarus 'White' and Russia's 'Great') Russia, the term dates back to a Galician ruler in the year 1335. Contrary to Ukrainian historians claims, it was not invented by Muscovy to denigrate any separate Ukrainian identity. The proof for this is that modern Ukrainian historians themselves cite the Tsarist era census term Malorossiyan for household language spoken as synonymous with modern day Ukrainian, despite the anachronistic nature of such claims (this would be akin to identifying 18th or 19th century Lombards or Prussians with modern day Germans and Italians, despite the weakness of national consciousness prior to the unification of these co-ethnic states).
It's also not clear how many descendants of those identified as Malorossiyan in the Tsarist census of 1900, which included many self-identifiers with that label in the Kuban Cossack marches in what is now the Southern Federal District of the Russian Federation, have subsequently 'Russified' or 'Ukrainized'., depending on where their descendants ended up in the Soviet Union and the former Soviet states. As Colonel Yury Mamchur a commander of Ukrainian forces who became a hero in Kiev for holding out on the Crimean peninsula days after Russian forces surrounded his base said, his wife is Russian, and he isn't even sure himself whether he is ethnically Russian or Ukrainian. The primary language of Kiev and Ukraine east of the Dnieper river is of course, Russian, though Ukrainian has gained in regular as well as academic use since Ukraine's independence in 1991.
At any rate the issue in Ukraine has never been language -- despite the post-Maidan regime's first act being a rescinded but stupid attempt to ban Russian from Ukrainian courts -- but identity. Millions of Ukrainians blend Ukrainian and Russian in their daily speech via the dialect spoken across northern Ukraine known as Serzyhk. On the battlefield, the Azov Battalion, one of the most notorious and overtly Nazi in its symbolism volunteer battalions now nominally subject to Kiev's Interior Ministry, speaks the Russian language, while upholding a viciously Russophobic worldview.
Many defenders of Donetsk, on the other side of the fighting line, speak some Ukrainian and have done so for the cameras to emphasize their fight is with the Kiev government and not with Ukrainians as a people or culture. Recovering the bodies of fallen Ukrainian soldiers, giving them Orthodox Christian burials and returning their remains to the Kiev side of the line through negotiators is another point Zakharchenko has made in his time as the supreme commander in Donetsk -- though the LDNR forces, fully aware of where their ammunition and modest salaries come from, openly speak of Vladimir Putin their true commander in chief. Others make no secret of being contract soldiers for the DNR -- who came from Russia and previously served in the Russian armed forces.
A Military and Ideological Stalemate and the Search for a Political/Economic Solution
The Maidan has entrenched a fiercely anti-Russian mentality across much of the country, magnified by the humiliation of losing Crimea to Russia and the thirst for revenge after a grossly understated tally of blue and gold flag draped 'Cargo 200s' have been shipped west from the Donbass to government held Ukraine. On the other side of the coin, anger at Kiev's failing economic policies and broken promises to fight corruption as President Petro Poroshenko and his cronies enriched themselves at other oligarchs and the Ukrainian people's expense is growing -- despite a U.S./EU aided propaganda campaign claiming the corruption is being reduced, while blaming Ukraine's problems on 'Russian aggression'. In the Donbass, a large share of the population that Kiev's forces 'liberated' from April 2014 to August 2014's humiliating defeats at the hands of Russian-backed locals with a debated level of direct cross-border fire support is indifferent so long as the war gets stopped, or is anti-Kiev (to the extent that dissent is possible without being arrested for 'separatism' by the Security Service of Ukraine -- the SBU).
In the strongholds of pro-Russian resistance Donetsk and Lugansk, there is little evidence the city statelets will ever reintegrate into a Kiev-ruled Ukraine in accord with the 2015 signed Minsk 2 accords. Like the pro-Russian enclave of Transnistria nominally attached to Moldova but de facto independent of Chisinau, the republics appear headed for a quasi-permanent, unrecognized status due to a frozen conflict. Unlike the Transnistria conflict which Moscow was able to end by deploying peacekeepers in 1992, there is little evidence the Donbass fighting will stop any time soon, or that Russia is planning to send its army to stop Kiev's shelling, incurring the cost in fresh sanctions and undeniable Russian Army casualties to do so.
On the other side, Kiev's mostly conscript army has proven too inept and demoralized to storm Donetsk and Lugansk, while the Ukrainians NATO partners are certainly unwilling to have their young men bleed and die to aid a successful Ukrainian offensive. Thus a World War One style trench warfare stalemate prevails with a half dozen dead young men and a similar number of soldiers and civilians wounded by shelling or mortar fire on either side of the line every week.
The nationalist battalions periodically join with the most aggressive (usually western Ukrainian based) army units to attack across the line of contact, sometimes claiming ground in 'creeping offensives' that ends up getting shelled to bits before losses force unacknowledged, tactical retreats. Other methods to tip the military balance (recommended publically in unofficial NATO-linked military publications like The Small Wars Journal), such as assassinating charismatic LDNR commanders like 'Givi' and 'Motorola', have led to the tit for tat killings of SBU commanders in car bomb attacks Kiev blames on the Russian security services.
After the deaths of a Ukrainian general in his Kiev office and car bomb slaying of an SBU commander in Mariupol, it's noticeable that the infiltration by Ukrainian assassins and saboteurs into LDNR territory has become either less frequent or effective. However, there is little sign that the army of what was formerly dubbed 'Novorossiya' (the late 18th century term for southern Ukraine after it had been liberated by Tsarina Catherine's armies from the Turks and their Crimean Khanate allies) the Donetsk and Lugansk republics is preparing a major offensive to push the Ukrainian Army out of the pre-war borders of their respective oblasts -- that is, to retake Slavyansk and kick the Azov Battalion out of Mariupol, a city of half a million which offers Donbass its only sea port.
On the diplomatic front, the Minsk 2 agreement remains deadlocked on multiple points. Kiev refuses to allow for local elections in territory it doesn't control, saying a free and fair vote would be impossible due to the 'Russian occupation and their separatist mercenaries', while Donetsk and Lugansk point to provisions clearly stating Kiev must withdrawal all heavy weaponry and stop shelling before any plebiscites authorized under Ukrainian law could take place. Even the NATO country staffed Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which the Donbass locals bitterly complain is biased towards Kiev, admits that the Ukrainian armed forces routinely violate the truce by using their artillery to shell civilian areas. Kiev is also obligated to grant amnesty to Donbass rebels who cannot be shown to have committed any war crimes, another provision the ultra-nationalists if not hardcore 'Banderite' radicals who accuse Poroshenko of betraying the country in the Verkhovna Rada vow to never accept.
What Will the Malorossiya Declaration Mean for Ukraine?
The political uncertainty and precariousness of Poroshenko's position, with his approval ratings hovering above the single digits, magnifies Ukraine's severe economic problems. The hyrvnia currency has been stabilized only via strict capital controls and thanks to billions in loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Union Kiev can likely never pay back. The de-industrialization of the country as industries linked to Russia since Soviet times like shipbuilding or steelworks collapse due to lack of orders from former Russian partners is accelerating an exodus of Ukrainians to the west, and many to the East as well. The Russian government recently recognized passports and other official documents produced by the Donetsk and Lugansk republics, thus facilitating back and forth trade and education. The post-Maidan results are not encouraging for Kiev's propagandists working to convince Washington and Brussels that with just enough financial support, they can convince their countrymen to loathe Russia and love the West:
According to new Gallup poll, 29 percent of Ukrainians see NATO as "protection", while 35 percent see it as a threat.
Additionally more Ukrainians again see Russia in a positive, rather than negative, light. 37 percent of Ukrainians have a negative view of Russia, but 44 percent have a positive view.
That is even though many people who were polled refused to answer, particularly in the pro-Russian east, indicating they did not feel it safe to do so, and that the actual percentage of people who sees Russia in a positive light is even higher.
Despite Kiev insisting that Russia is at war with Ukraine, it hasn't been able to convince its people that Russia is an enemy....
The same Gallup poll revealed 67 percent of Russians, and 54 percent of Belarusians sees NATO as a threat.
While Kiev attempts to introduce a visa regime that almost certainly would impose hardships on millions of Ukrainians now working if not settling in the Russian Federation, Moscow has also made it easier for Ukrainians from the rest of the former Ukrainian SSR to acquire citizenship in the RF, with the Duma passing a new loyalty oath to obtain a Russian passport this month. In the west, Poland has quietly absorbed over a million new Ukrainian economic migrants since 2014, a point it regularly makes when Brussels and Berlin challenge it over the alleged failure to take in Mideast refugees.
The human waves headed in both directions pose ideological challenges for Kiev. There is considerable cognitive dissonance between the government declaring Russia an enemy state and aggressor, when contrasted with the spectacle of millions from Ukraine voting with their feet to live and work there. Similar problems are created for the smaller, hard line anti-Polish 'Banderites' like Nazi collaborator Roman Shushkeyvich's politician son Yury, who vowed to 'spit in the Poles faces' after the Polish Sjem recognized the genocide of Poles by his father's UPA in WWII era Volyn, when Ukrainians visibly emigrate to Poland.
The Sirius Report's London Paul Says Ukraine Will Eventually Be Partitioned into Successor States -- Malorossiya Declaration is the First Demonstrated Sign the Kremlin Sees the Same Endgame
As we wrote in our article published after President Trump's visit to Warsaw, Poland and very likely other neighboring states like Hungary and Slovakia (as the re-transmitter of Russian gas to Ukraine) must be party to any settlement to the conflict for a lasting solution. This article by Adam Garrie at The Duran recognizes that western Ukraine is likely to fall under the strong influence of Warsaw and Budapest, free to pursue European integration, but on terms very different from what Brussels envisioned after the U.S.-sponsored Maidan coup the EU co-ratified with Washington in early 2014:
The Malorossiya declaration would see most areas which currently comprise Ukraine remain united or in some cases (Donetsk and Lugansk) become re-united into a single indivisible state. All that would change would be the style of government, the constitution and name of the state. It would literally be a successor state with virtually the same borders.
Even the most ardent Russophobes in the EU often hold their collective noses or look the other way when faced with the fact that the current regime in Kiev is one which promulgates fascist ideology, that which is illegal in many EU states. This the current regime is popular in many EU quarters less because of what it stands for than for what it stands against: good relations with Russia. This is a position which was always financially untenable for both Brussels and Kiev and is increasingly becoming a political headache for the EU which now has its own major crisis of integrity, namely, Brexit.
Likewise, countries have the right to change their name both in war time and in peace time. This for example is why the country still commonly referred to as The Czech Republic prefers to be called Czechia. Sticking with Czechia, this is why when Czechoslovakia spit in 1993, it was called a Velvet Divorce, both countries retain an open border, have good relations and are both part of the European Union.
Without advocating for a position of joining Russia, the Malorossiya declaration allows for the current borders of the state now called Ukraine to be essentially preserved while allowing for the possibility of regions, ostensibly those who reject the Russian heritage of the most of Ukraine, to remain as part of a separate sovereign entity.
This would most likely manifest itself with regions formerly belonging to Poland/Austria and Hungary/Czechoslovakia to remain sovereign states who pursue a different geo-political path from Malorossiya.
The emphasis in Zakharchenko's declaration on the newly created successor state to Ukraine known as Malorossiya joining the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) with Russia and Belarus, as a step towards potentially entering the union state of the same two neighbors is telling. For the EEU, the only viable path to forcing the EU to negotiate with it as an equal goes through Beijing, and China's One Belt One Road (OBOR) mega project that excites French and German industrialists alike. China is likely playing a very important role behind the scenes in the emergence of a more Russia-friendly Moldovan government that is also reconciling with NATO/EU member Romania, with both sides desperately needing the investment the New Silk Road can bring to southeastern Europe and the Black Sea region.
According to that logic, there is no solving the Ukraine problem without China, and the Chinese can make deals with Warsaw and Kiev (whoever happens to be in power there) that the Russians simply cannot. Breaking Ukraine into five pieces would, of course, not be ideal from an international legal perspective, but it would also follow the precedent the USA and its NATO allies Great Britain and Germany already set in the former Yugoslavia, since partitioned into Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Montenegro and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The Americans also don't get to carve a Kurdistan out of the Sykes-Picot drawn borders of Iraq and Syria (a move Moscow opposes but not as vigorously as its allies in Damascus and Tehran) while upholding frontiers drawn by Soviet bureaucrats a few years after the Versailles settlement as sacred and inviolate. It should be noted here that the three year time frame Zakharchenko mentioned towards other oblasts in the present Ukraine like Kharkov or Odessa seeking to join Malorossiya, putting a settlement sometime in 2020, seems consistent with the writings of @LadaRay, in her Futurist Trendcast. By 2020 the Nordstream 2 and Turkstream pipelines are also expected to both be fully operational, allowing Russia to completely bypass Ukraine as a gas transit country.
Whether London Paul's prediction that Ukraine will break apart into at least three if not five successor republics affiliated with the West and East remains to be seen. Nonetheless, we found the timing of his forecast prior to the Malorossiya announcement, and other signs the Moscow-Beijing axis is tiring of Washington's empire of chaos and its hypocritical sanctions, most interesting.