By Valentyna Hlushak
August 8th marked the sixth anniversary since the Five-day war between Georgia and Russia. The war did not end with a peace agreement and as a result became another “frozen conflict”. “Frozen conflicts” are those that do not reach peaceful resolutions and can be triggered when an occasion arises. Europe has had a variety of such conflicts: Transdniestria in Moldova, South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia and now Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. Small wars have not been settled through peace deals but by freezing each side positions. The Economist reports that “frozen conflicts” are Europe’s unfinished business. These and other conflicts (e.g. Nagorno-Karabakh, Kosovo) threaten security and stability not only in involved countries but throughout the entire region. Therefore, the current war in Ukraine must not become another “frozen conflict”; Europe must support Ukraine unilaterally in order to defend its founding values and not to repeat the history in Georgia.
Georgia and Ukraine
The six years ago the Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili went to retake the breakaway republic of South Ossetia, within hours the Russian troops poured in launching the Five-day war in Georgia. According to an official EU fact-finding report about the conflict, 170 servicemen, 14 policemen, and 228 civilians from Georgia were killed and 1,747 wounded. Sixty-seven Russian servicemen were killed, and 283 were wounded and 365 South Ossetian servicemen and civilians (combined) were killed. Now Luhansk and Donetsk are playing the role of the Georgian province, South Ossetia. By July 26th 1,129 people had been killed in eastern Ukraine, 799 of them civilians, the UN has reported.
During his most recent visit to Lviv, Ukraine, Mikheil Saakashvili said that he had 36 meetings with Putin. At almost each one Putin repeated that “Ukraine is not a real state, but a territory. He was absolutely convinced that Ukraine has only 5 million people like Georgia. And the rest are simply an artificial organization of people. Ukrainians, to his mind, live in Ivano-Frankivsk, in Lviv, and in Volyn, and that’s it.” He pointed out an interesting moment that with its invasion in 2008 Russia somehow helped the Georgian nation consolidate.
Now we can see similar in Ukraine. The shared pain after losing loved ones in the war and shared hopes to live in free, prosperous and democratic country united the people from Lviv (West) to Luhansk (East) and from the North to the South. The myth about two parts of Ukraine: East and West is vanishing. Not all of them speak Ukrainian language but in Russian they are explaining why Ukraine is not Russia.
At the end of his interview, Mikheil Saakashvili said that Georgia and all of Europe are watching Ukraine, if Ukraine wins, they all will win.
Situation in Ukraine
It is important for the international community to realize that Ukraine cannot follow the example of Moldova or Georgia by splitting into two parts and becoming another unresolved “frozen conflict.” This would have catastrophic consequences not only for Ukraine, it will trigger the old “frozen conflicts” in Moldova, Georgia and Nagorno-Karabakh, a territorial dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia where Armenia has Russian support. However, if Russia decides to recognize two self-proclaimed republics - Donetsk and Luhansk, as they did in Georgia – and officially provides them with financial and military assistance – the situation in Ukraine would become much worse. It would escalate the crisis by increasing the death toll among civilians and government forces and worsening humanitarian situation. As stated by Pavel Felgengauer, defense analyst, and a columnist with Moscow's Novaya Gazeta newspaper, “Russia is pushing for a truce while supplying weapons to the rebels in order to keep the conflict going and therefore retain leverage over Kyiv and prevent the expansion of Western influence”. He argued that it's not an unprecedented strategy. Moscow has used similar tactics in other post-Soviet conflicts in Russia-leaning, breakaway regions of Georgia and Moldova.
Russian arms and troops are already in Ukrainian territory in the face of illegal separatist who kidnap, kill and commit human rights violations on a daily basis. As admitted by Samantha Power at a UN Security Council Meeting on Friday, August 8th: “in recent weeks, Russian cross-border military assistance to illegal separatists has actually increased substantially. Russian tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, multiple rocket launcher systems, and truck-loads of munitions continue to flow to separatists, while new fighters are trained on Russian soil.”
It is critical to resolve the conflict in Ukraine peacefully but there must also be an alternative plan in case diplomacy fails – military assistance for Ukraine. As James Nixey said, Europe failed to recognize that with Russia diplomacy doesn’t always work and all problems cannot be resolved by just talking things through.
Ukraine and NATO
One of the reasons Putin is fighting Ukraine is because that he doesn’t want NATO at its western border. However, Russia has pushed Ukraine into closer cooperation with NATO through aggression, including illegal military intervention in Crimea and support for separatists in Eastern Ukraine. As a result, NATO and Ukraine are intensifying its cooperation. On August 7, 2014, during a visit to Kyiv, Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen confirmed NATO’s commitment to Ukraine and desire to strengthen its partnership with the country. Last month, Director of Military Programmes of the Razumkov Centre Mykola Sungurovskyi noted the ideal security assurance for Ukraine is NATO; neutrality will not save it from the aggressive Russia.
What should Ukraine do in this situation?
It is crucial for Kyiv to rid itself of Russian military operatives and start rebuilding damaged regions. Anti-Terrorist Operation forces are able to handle insurgents that are already in Ukrainian territory but it becomes difficult to fight when there is a constant flow of new separatist from Russia, new weapons and rockets attacks.
It is equally important for Kyiv to continue direct negotiations with Moscow. The two countries must reach a peace deal that is agreeable for both sides. However, as stressed president Poroshenko there will not be compromise on Ukraine’s national interests, territorial integrity and sovereignty Ukraine.
Ukraine cannot become another “frozen conflict”. Europe must provide Ukraine with support it needs to fight Russian aggression if it wants to have stability and peace on its continent and prevent future conflicts.