I have recently reflected on whether there are lessons from peacebuilding practice and policy that could be usefully applied in countries ostensibly at peace. Those countries facing crises posed by populism could benefit from some of the practices and principles aimed at repairing the social contract and building commitment to the state. Notably, the principles of local ownership and ways in which inclusive and meaningful local ownership is generated could be considered.
The Principle of Local Ownership
In post-conflict environments, the principle of local ownership is considered to be critical to the likelihood of success and the legitimacy of peacebuilding interventions. There is generally broad agreement that local ownership is fundamental if the outcomes are to be locally accepted and responsive to local needs and, thus, sustainable. Taking Security Sector Reform (SSR) as an example, if the locals beyond the elites are not engaged from the outset in SSR programmes, it is unlikely that the reformed or reconstructed security and justice sector institutions and policies will be responsive to their needs or enjoy broad-based public confidence and trust. The institutions and policies will thus likely fail and, in so doing, compromise broader peacebuilding efforts.
There is, however, often a gap between policy and practice, and the concept of local ownership often narrowly interpreted in terms of who owns what or ignored entirely. Moreover, the focus of SSR often continues to be on building state institutions, rather than building the relationship between people and the state, which further limits the extent to which people, particularly at the community level, are engaged in SSR processes.
There are ways, however, in which to promote engagement and thereby build the requisite public confidence and trust in state security and justice sector institutions, and ultimately, the state itself. One way is to incorporate community security structures into SSR programs. Community security structures can include community safety or security groups which involve representatives of the community, security agencies, political administration and other stakeholders coming together to identify and address security concerns in the locality. Ideally, these concerns and ways in which they could be addressed would feed into state-level efforts to reform the security sector based upon agreed priorities and needs. This could be considered to be a hybrid approach to SSR, incorporating top-down and bottom-up approaches to building security and justice after conflict. It would enable voices beyond elite and dominant groups to inform SSR programs and, thus, subsequent structures, policies and processes. Peace dividends, particularly post-conflict justice and security would, thus, be enjoyed beyond privileged and elite groups.
Of course, engaging people at the community level in such processes can be costly, time consuming, and carry risks. SSR and wider peacebuilding processes should be seen, however, as complex and long-term processes – ones that are instrumental to SSR outcomes – foreshortening processes, bypassing risks by limiting engagement does not build state resilience or sustainable peace. Rather, state resilience, effective state security and justice sectors institutions, and long-term, meaningful peace are all, in large part, built upon the extent to which people can influence decisions that will shape their security and their futures.
The Crisis of Populism
The principle of local ownership, and ways in which it can be realised, could be equally applied at home – in those countries ostensibly at peace and which engage in peacebuilding practices elsewhere, many of which currently face crises associated with populism. Where confidence in the democratic process has declined and populist leaders take advantage of disaffection and disquiet, creating opportunities for meaningful engagement in the decisions which affect people’s lives can help repair the social contract and confidence in state institutions. Opportunities could include establishing community security groups as a forum through which security concerns are raised, grievances aired, information shared, awareness raised, and social capital increased (the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, which enable that society to function effectively). Such initiatives could help counter rising mistrust and hatred between groups by creating a forum in which groups come together and concerns are raised, as well as build knowledge of and investment in democratic processes. Populism breeds violence and increases division, which efforts to promote better dialogue between groups and with representatives of the state could help address. Indeed, bottom-up and hybrid approaches to governance in those very countries which advocate for such an approach in countries emerging from conflict, could help address the current crisis of political authority and legitimacy.
Moreover, such an approach to addressing crises of confidence in democratic systems could help navigate future crises in peacebuilding, where the credibility of external actors engaged in peacebuilding and building democratic systems elsewhere may otherwise be compromised. More broadly and more bluntly, it could help counter the hypocrisy of principles applied abroad but not at home. Indeed, unless efforts to repair the social contract at home are made, peacebuilding efforts elsewhere may become ineffective – how crises at home are navigated will impact the extent to which stakeholders in crisis-affected countries elsewhere will accept advice or engagement, particularly when it comes to imparting wisdom about democratic traditions.
Lessons regarding risks and limitations of, for example, drawing from community security structures to inform SSR, can help inform ways in which to build confidence and engagement in the democratic process and its institutions. Risks include that grievances aired may create conflict as well as potential consensus or resolution, that structures aimed at broadening engagement and inclusion can be co-opted and used simply to legitimise ‘business as usual’ – exclusive processes benefitting elite agendas. Limitations include that community level structures often replicate power relations at the state level, and marginalised groups may be equally marginalised in community level structures. Lessons can also be drawn from the example of integrating community security structures into SSR programmes to address ways in which existing community initiatives at home can inform policy, engage different groups at the community level, and help share knowledge and build trust between representatives of the state and the people they serve. This could help generate the type of influence over politics, policy and institutions that would remove the attraction of protest votes, such as those that contributed to Brexit and the election of Trump.
There are, of course, differences between conflict-affected environments and those ostensibly at peace – including opportunities for engagement in politics in peaceful societies that may not exist in conflicted places. Nonetheless, the social contract is evidently damaged in many countries facing crises associated with populism, with increased levels of hate crimes, violence and vitriol. Drawing lessons from peacebuilding policy (and to a lesser extent, practice) could help forestall growing mistrust between groups, address democratic deficits, and rebuild public confidence and trust in the state and its institutions.
An article I wrote last year on the false positives scandal in Colombia and the implications for peacebuilding has just been published in the State Crime Journal – http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.13169/statecrime.6.1.0132
The false positives scandal concerned the arbitrary execution of, principally, poor, marginalised male civilians by the military, sometimes in collaboration with illegal armed groups, who were then presented as guerrilla fighters having been lawfully killed in combat. These crimes were primarily committed between 2002 and 2008 and involved the execution of over 3,000 civilians. The scandal constitutes one of the most shocking global examples in recent years of crimes of the powerful: crimes committed by state actors against the most dispossessed and marginalized members of society.
The article examines factors which led to the scandal in order to analyse the extent to which socio-economic inequalities and the persecution of the poor impact conflict dynamics and prospects for sustainable peace. My argument is that while criminal accountability for those responsible for these crimes is important, it is not sufficient. More broadly, the focus on securing justice after conflict as a means of addressing grievances and laying the groundwork for reconciliation and sustainable peacebuilding is of vital importance. However, unless those structural factors which enabled such crimes to occur are addressed, the search for justice will be futile.
There is a need to address extreme socio-economic inequalities that prevail in Colombia and socio-cultural attitudes towards the poor which dehumanize and, thereby, deny or justify crimes and other harms against them. Otherwise the poor will remain vulnerable to further victimization and peacebuilding will not be successful or meaningful to those beyond privileged and elite groups.
It has since struck me that the marginalisation and criminalisation of the poor adversely impacts prospects for peace in many conflict-affected environments. With all the talk of inclusive, bottom-up or hybrid peacebuilding, even where the rhetoric is reflected to some extent in reality – it often, of course, is a mere rhetorical device used to claim legitimacy, where local ownership and engagement in peace building practices tends to only extend to elites or tokenistic gestures – those who are socio-economically marginalised, poor people, continue to be overlooked, sidelined and silenced. There might be some effort, at least superficially, to promote inclusion of more women or ethnic minorities or rural residents in peacebuilding processes. There is, however, little effort to promote engagement of a demographic more representative of the community in terms of income and opportunity beyond immutable differences. However, we know how significantly poverty impacts and is impacted by security; socio-economic inequalities can fuel conflict, and those who are poor are more likely to be exposed to security threats. It should follow that there should be particular effort to engage in pecebuilding those who are socio-economically marginalised, not least in order that their security and justice needs are attended to, and to address disaffection and grievance that can sometimes manifest itself in threats to security and stability. We also know that poverty is often the greatest barrier to political participation and the greatest indicator of marginalisation, particularly where the poor are also women, children, ethnic or religious minorities, disabled, displaced or stateless.
Exclusion of the poor isn’t contained only within conflict-affected environments, of course. Nor do the impacts on security and governance as a result of the exclusion of the poor contain themselves to such environments. The marginalisation of the poor manifests itself in social harms so perniciously and so comprehensively that they are rarely regarded as harms; violation of the rights of the poor are considered part of the natural order and where they are not the poor are often to blame. The poor are invariably undeserving; capitalist logic blames the weakness of those who are poor for their poverty, absolving others from the responsibility for these inequalities and exposing he poor to further victimisation and insecurity.
There are occasions where this illusion is exposed for what it is – an effective means of justifying inequality and punishing those who suffer – when the harms against the poor are so shockingly evident, as was the case recently with the Grenfell Tower fire. Often, when these crimes happen, the machinations of the establishment finds a scapegoat after significant and extensive pressure (so extensive that often the many years that have elapsed compromise any semblance of justice). When these crimes happen abroad, we might more quickly blame a society that allows such crimes to occur. At home, we’re more inclined to look for scapegoats or bad apples rather than the enabling structural and institutional factors. We need to comprehensively address the factors which result in those who have less money being more likely to suffer ill health, be the victim of crime, be exposed to harm at home and at work, be marginalised from political processes – and be less likely to access security and justice, and have less education and employment prospects. That is if we want things to change.
Conferences and statements vs. harsh reality
This week, we witnessed two subsequent (and potentially very important) events pertaining to the grim humanitarian situation and the stabilization efforts in Somalia. First, on Monday 8 May, Somalia’s National Security Council endorsed a political agreement on National Security Architecture reached between the Federal Government (FGS) and Federal Member States (FMSs) the last month. A couple of days later, on Thursday 11 May a high-profile conference on Somalia was held in London, with participation of the representatives of the United Nations, African Union, European Union, the League of Arab States and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, among the others, and all in all more than forty nations.
The London conference participants adopted a New Partnership for Somalia that “sets out how Somalia and the international community will work together to meet Somalia’s most pressing political, security and economic needs and aspirations, as set out in the National Development Plan.” In turn, a seventeen-page Security Pact outlined the mechanisms in support of the Somalia’s national security architecture and security sector reforms.
That is all fine. Documents are well written—structured, logical, with deadlines, roles and responsibilities, and so forth being all in place. Statements are appealing and impressive. Arguments sound convincing. And still there is a feeling that we have seen it all before and it is not as easy and simple as presented therein… give us a bit more money, a bit more troops and modern weaponry, a bit of this and that… and we will do marvels.
First of all, it is not merely “a bit”—the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for an additional $900 million to allow aid agencies to tackle the severe drought facing the country, thus taking his total appeal to $1.5 billion. Do you hear me? One. And half. Billion. US dollars. And it is only humanitarian part of the story. One can only guess how much the military part will cost (to the taxpayers across the globe, including those in Somalia—given there are left any).
And also, I do appreciate the encouragement given to those in distress, but when the document starts with the phrase “After decades of civil war and state collapse, Somalia is making rapid progress towards peace, stability and prosperity” I become alerted. What are you talking about? Is it the same Somalia we mean here? At the same very conference, where the UN has pointed that six million Somalis (more than half the country’s population) were in acute need of assistance, with as many as 275 thousand malnourished children being at risk of starvation? And militants controlling vast territories of the country? “Rapid progress”… Really?
Window of Opportunity
And still, the recent developments in and around Somalia (including the events of this week) may signal of a window of opportunity. Tiny one, but it is real. Can the Somalis and their international backers use this chance?
Thousands of decisions big and small related to particular set of issues are taken every minute across the globe. Mostly they are driven by individual and group considerations of institutional actors and may or may not match. However there are moments in time, which we call junctures when certain decisions coincide by sheer luck (for good or bad) to create synergic effects, those which go much beyond the cumulative outcome, may last longer, and moreover, have a potential to turn the course of developments irreversibly. It seems that such a moment has matured in respect to stabilization in Somalia.
Currently there are three political domains, closely related, which determine the present state and the future of Somali and the Somalis. They dominate any discourse about this trouble country, and it seems that the solutions to them have to be correlated too. One of them is famine (yes-yes, do not be fooled—it is not a malnutrition or environmental issue but inherently political problem) which has taken a scale of humanitarian disaster and demands immediate and well orchestrated action. Another is security related, and concerns primarily the fight against militant Islamists, notably al-Shabaab (and al-Qaeda, by extension) and infighting between various political opponents in their contestation of power. And the last but by no means the least is the quality of governance, its ability to perform key functions assigned to any state in serving its citizens.
Diverse factors driving the decision making of multiple local, regional and international actors involved directly or indirectly in each and all three domains in Somalia have driven us to a white wall with very simple and straightforward message on it: “Somali Ownership Needed.”
What does it mean? Humanitarian crisis (famine and cholera in first hand) demand an urgent and concerted effort. The fight against Islamist Militants needs a long-lasting solution beyond AMISOM. These two cry out loud for domestic ownership—without it nothing sustainable is going to happen, ever. And seems that with new President Mohamed Abdullahi “Farmajo” Mohamed taking office in February domestic political dialogue has taken a new, promising turn (which actually resulted in the security sector related political agreements, with significant element of the distribution of command and control over the army and police—thus power—between the FGS and FMSs).
To me, this is the moment. Not frequently developments in various parts of a complex system, and decisions made in each of them, connect in such a complementary manner. Whether this opportunity will translate into “right kind of” action and bring about change—remains to be seen. There are questions. Many questions, understandably enough.
Take one of them. Military component of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) comprises a contingent of regular troops from Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya deployed in six sectors covering south and central Somalia. They maintain the deployment of about 22,000 troops; add to them the Somali National Army of approx. 20,000 military personnel and you get more than forty-thousand-strong trained military force. To compare, al-Shabaab has an estimated 7,000-9,000 fighters. On the top of it, the allied forces are better equipped (although Somali President, in his bid to lift the arms embargo, complains that his army has the same weaponry as militants) and supposedly has a better access to intelligence and knowledge of modern warfare. So the question begs here: How it comes that the allied forces cannot defeat a group that is inferior to them by any measure of military capacity?
One answer is that the war against militant Islamists (and this has proven true with regards to many guerrilla groups and insurgents over decades, from Latin America to East and Central Asia) is political and ideological and as such it cannot be won by military means alone. There have been numerous Somali state failures over time, from inability to protect to inefficient and unequal delivery of basic services to citizens. This, firstly, created a fertile ground for militant groups to emerge, and secondly, allows them to flourish as they take advantage of the government weaknesses and hold control over vast territories (which effectively means that they “protect” and deliver services) and generate support (or at the very least earn the loyalty of local people) and are seen as legitimate representatives of the State.
To win hearts and minds of Somalis, and thus their allegiance to the legitimate state, the government has to demonstrate that it is ready, able, and willing (in the wording of full corporate offer) to perform its role effectively and efficiently. Can it?
Let’s have a quick test. If there are two domains that would serve as indicator these are provision of public security and delivery of public services. These are fundamental functions of any state, be it sultanistic regime or liberal democracy.
When it comes to public security, there are two sides of the coin: one is the law and order across the land (outcome); while the other is how it is maintained (process). They are equally important. I would even say that how is more important for society in terms of citizens’ trust, credibility of government and political processes, and sustainability of direct results than what. Dictators are much more effective in establishing order than democracies. We do not accept that. The way the societal problems (even organised crime) are handled matters to us. Rings the bell? Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte of the Philippines (as the freshest name on this otherwise long list)?
And in Somalia we have problems in both what and how of security, public order and law enforcement. Results do not need further elaboration—it suffices to see how al-Shabaab has been evolving while the government descending to the level of para-military forces, to comprehend the direction of the entire Somali affair.
— According to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies most recent update, al-Shabaab has now surpassed Boko Haram as Africa’s most deadly militant Islamist group. Fatalities inflicted by them have increasing by a third in the course of one year—from 3,046 in 2015 to 4,281 in 2016.
— Large areas of Somalia are still in the hands of al-Shabaab. The group continues perpetrating terrorist attacks in Mogadishu. Among most notable were two attacks in June and one in December 2016, and two explosions in January this year. Each of those attacks left dozens killed and many more wounded, but as ever with terrorist attacks—created mayhem and sent a chilling message.
— Morale is low. There are defections on both sides. Some al-Shabaab leaders have surrendered in line with the government’s amnesty provisions; at the same time the Somali National Army soldiers keep defecting to the militants’ camp (it is said that the reason being non-payment or delay with paying wages).
According to Human Rights Watch report covering the events of 2016, the violence and maltreatment of civilians is rampant and it is not only al-Shabaab but all the sides, including the government forces, are complicit in abuses and crimes:
— Abuses by Government include mass security sweeps by national intelligence agency with no legal mandate to arrest or detain; arbitrary detention and recruitment of children by security forces; military court in Mogadishu trying cases that are not legally within its jurisdiction and in proceedings falling short of international fair trial standards;
— There is inter-clan and inter-regional fighting ongoing, primarily linked to tensions around the creation of new federal states. It has resulted in civilians’ deaths and injury and the destruction of property;
— Al-Shabaab kept committing targeted killings, beheadings, and executions, particularly of those accused of spying and collaborating with the government. The armed group continues to administer arbitrary justice, forcibly recruits children, and severely restricts basic rights in areas under its control;
— Reports persist of indiscriminate killings of civilians by AMISOM and other foreign forces, including during operations against al-Shabaab and airstrikes.
There are two facts that hardly would surprise anyone. Not because they are insignificant; to the contrary, both are appalling. It is because both problems are well known for quite a long period of time, and thus far they have either been ignored or not addressed properly.
One is about Somali’s poor human development record. According to UNDP survey data, 8.3 percent of Somalis lived in near poverty and another 63.6 percent – in severe poverty already in 2006. And we can go much deeper in time–it has been unfolding in front of our eyes for decades. Only “correct” statements and short-lived aid in response. The country was not even ranked in the last Human Development Report 2016.
Another fact about Somalia that does not surprise anymore—it is consistently ranked as the most corrupt country in the world. In the Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index it scored no higher than 8-10 points (out of 100) for many years, and appears at the very bottom of the global ranking. As the global watchdog notes, “public sector corruption is so much more than missing money; it is about people’s lives.” It has direct bearing on the situation with delivery of public goods, distribution and redistribution of assistance, and in particular the international aid, in Somalia. The recent report by the TI’s Humanitarian Aid Integrity Programme points to the following:
— Corruption practices are perceived to be routinized in their application towards humanitarian aid across Somalia, primarily through well-established patronage networks which involve a redistribution of resources;
— Legislative and policy vacuum has allowed the government and local authority representatives create ad hoc rules and regulations to manipulate resources for their own gain. All forms of aid are affected by this environment;
— The extent of perceived corruption is reflected in the findings of 2015 study, where 87 percent of respondents viewed corruption as the single biggest impediment to receiving assistance, above insecurity and violence.
With such a record the Somali political system hardly can pass the test. It is obvious that, in order to accomplish a quite ambitious task outlined in the documents produced and signed in Mogadishu and London in the last couple of months the country and its regional and international supporters have to consider addressing the root causes of present, long- and deep-seated problems. Otherwise, I am afraid even this tiny chance will be missed.
One thing should drive our analysis and planning: when it comes to humanitarian crisis in Somalia it is less a result of the drought and more a result of the country’s weakened resilient capabilities. In the environment of continuing infighting, lawlessness and lack of legitimate power, systemic corruption and poor public services (healthcare and education in first hand), high unemployment (especially among the youth), and human rights abuses at the hands of all the warring parties—Somali’s ability to respond and creatively adapt to the challenges posed by the rapidly changing environment has significantly decreased. It is pretty much compatible to the condition of a person with weak immune system. That is why famine, cholera, violence have taken over the land. In contrast, the adversary (as any terrorist group in fact) is highly mobile and adaptive. According to reports, the AMISOM Force Chief of Plans Salifu Yakubu has recently noted that al-Shabaab has been weakened but still has the capacity to attack, because it “remains resilient” and has resorted to asymmetric warfare. Exactly.
More weapons, more food and medicine are needed to address the most urgent manifestations of the problem; while to resolve the problem itself there must be a locally-owned long-term programme aimed at institutional (political, social, economic) root causes of it. Without restoring its resilience, the Somali state would not be able to cope with daunting problems and will further disintegrate and fall even deeper into chaos and suffering. No money in the world can buy the nation’s resilience. It must be built, from within. And this is where the international assistance must be directed.
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This piece was originally posted on PolicyLabs
On a political cartoon site, one otherwise liberal cartoonist made the mistake of expressing doubt about the Russian connection to Donald Trump, to which a poster (handle “Radish”) provided the following response:
‘I don’t know – it’s hard for me to see any U.S. ties to Russia…
except for the Flynn thing…
and the Manafort thing…
and the Tillerson thing
and the Sessions thing
and the Kushner thing
and the Carter Page thing
and the Roger Stone thing
and the Felix Sater thing
and the Boris Ephsteyn thing
and the Rosneft thing
and the Gazprom thing
and the Sergey Gorkov banker thing
and the Azerbajain thing
and the “I love Putin” thing
and the Donald Trump, Jr. thing
and the Sergey Kislyak thing
and the Russian Affiliated Interests thing
and the Russian Business Interests thing
and the Emoluments Clause thing
and the Alex Schnaider thing
and the hack of the DNC thing
and the Guccifer 2.0 thing
and the Mike Pence “I don’t know anything” thing
and the Russians mysteriously dying thing
and Trump’s public request to Russia to hack Hillary’s email thing
and the Trump house sale for $100 million at the bottom of the housing bust to the Russian fertilizer king thing
and the Russian fertilizer king’s plane showing up in Concord, NC during Trump rally campaign thing
and the Nunes sudden flight to the White House in the night thing
and the Nunes personal investments in the Russian winery thing
and the Cyprus bank thing
and Trump not releasing his tax returns thing
and the Republican Party’s rejection of an amendment to require Trump to show his taxes thing
and the election hacking thing
and the GOP platform change to the Ukraine thing
and the Steele Dossier thing
and the Leninist Bannon thing
and the Sally Yates can’t testify thing
and the intelligence community’s investigative reports thing
and Trump’s reassurance that the Russian connection is all “fake news” thing
and Spicer’s Russian Dressing “nothing’s wrong” thing
so there’s probably nothing there
since the swamp has been drained, these people would never lie
probably why Nunes cancels the investigation meetings
all of this must be normal
just a bunch of separate dots with no connection.
Political skills are frequently compared to chess-playing. However, it is the game of Go that comes closest to the art and craft of geopolitics. Go is a territorial game, where objective is to control more territory than the opponent. And the playground is big enough to allow performing poorly (or failing) in some areas but still winning the game by doing better on the board as a whole. Ukraine is the case in point.
Three years ago, on 18 March 2014, the self-proclaimed independent Republic of Crimea signed an accession agreement with Russia that resulted in forming new constituent entities within the Russian Federation. The agreement was signed two days after the citizens of Ukraine’s then Autonomous Republic of Crimea and city of Sevastopol voted to join the Russian Federation at the independence referendum (which was not recognized by the Ukrainian authorities). The move was (and still is) regarded in Russia as an historic act of “reunification”, while it was met with an outcry on the West and in the neighbouring countries, and was largely branded as the final act in “Russian annexation” of the Crimean peninsula (further to military occupation in February that created the conditions for the referendum).
For those observers who are familiar with historic background of the Russo-Ukrainian relations and their geopolitical context, it did not come as surprise though: the issue of Crimea (and especially the port of Sevastopol) and subsequent eastern Ukraine separatism are just another milestones on a long route of settling the relations between Russia and Ukraine in contemporary, post Soviet, history. Which itself is just a small section of a millennium long common history, with its numerous zigzags, highs and lows, infightings, controversies and moments of common pride (it is enough to remind that the Russian and Ukrainian statehood has started from Kievan Rus’ of 9-13th centuries; while Crimea becoming firmly part of the Russian Empire after the 1783 annexation and then changing hands in the course of the 20th century).
Sevastopol and national security
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia and Ukraine were negotiating the division of fleet and military and naval bases inherited by the newly independent states. From 1997 Russia was leasing the military bases of Sevastopol port from Ukraine, as per Partition Treaty. For quite some time, the sides were using their bargaining chips (gas supply and transit from Russia vs. Sevastopol bases of Ukraine) within tolerable margins.
Things became complicated once the United States and the European Union backed pro-democracy opposition groups started challenging the established status quo. Even worse for Russia, once coming to power after the so-called “orange revolution” of 2004-05, they began openly threatening to discontinue the leasing (which was due to expire in 2017). The situation temporarily normalized when the pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych was installed in Kiev. The agreement was immediately renewed and extended for another twenty-five-year period until 2042 (known as the Kharkiv Accords).
However, the Euromaidan protests of the opposition forces in 2014 saw Yanukovych ousted, and that was a signal for the Russian military that the time has come for action. Russia simply could not allow this happening. Honestly speaking, no one (at least among actual or those aspiring to be great powers) would.
Crimea: a done deal
So where is Crimea now? The answer is simple and clear: Crimea is gone; forget it. It has quickly passed a grey zone (limbo, if you wish) of “no return—no further transformation” and has comfortably integrated into the Russian state. And it seems that, over time, everyone has accepted this stand of affairs.
No return means that there is no chance Crimea will be part of Ukraine ever again, given its strategic, even existential, importance to Russia: Crimean peninsula is the only place that hosts its Black Sea Fleet—one of very few outposts from where Russia can defend its southern borders and geopolitical interests in the region, as well as project its strategic offensive capabilities globally. Moreover, since the annexation Russia has deployed additional forces to strengthen its surface and sub-surface combatants and amphibious primary based in Sevastopol, Karantinnaya and Streletskaya Bays, as well as naval aviation and air defence located in nearby bases along with naval infantry.
On the other hand, there was a smallish chance that Crimea would be formally recognized as an independent state by other states and the UN any time soon. That meant no transformation into a fully fledged sovereign state; and declaring independence while being de jure part of Ukraine and de facto Russia’s satellite did not seem a feasible option, either. The only transformation from the grey zone practically justifiable (and the one that Russia did not hesitate undertaking) was integration—that is, Crimea becoming formally the part of Russian Federation. Therefore, for Russia (and by extension for all others) Crimea can be considered (at the very least, for the visible future) as fait accompli.
Eastern Ukraine: a prize no one dares to win
Eastern Ukraine, particularly people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk of the Donbass region (acronym for Donetsk [Coal] Basin), is following suit. The circumstances of Donbass are different from those of Crimea, but the destination is the same—into the grey zone where it becomes a low intensity irritant and a bargaining chip. The principal difference being that the Donbass entities are going to stay there at least in the immediate to medium term, if not indefinitely. There are reasons for that.
First comes the superiority of objectives. For Russia, the Donbass uprising has served as a supplement, to distract attention from Crimea and allow settling the primary issue (i.e., everyone to accept Crimea’s secession and integration, or annexation, even though without overwhelming formal recognition internationally) while creating a buffer zone and a constant irritant in Ukraine that will make the neighbor’s government vulnerable and more dependent on Kremlin, to extent necessary for keeping it on a safe distance from the meaningful, full-blown Euro-Atlantic integration.
Moreover, there is a principal difference between Crimea and Donbass in terms of conflict dynamics and political economy. The former was taken in a clinically performed operation and today is firmly controlled by Kremlin and does not seem to create any problems neither within its federal entity borders nor to its neighbours (I even read the reports in Russian media about how much Crimean Tatars, who initially were opposed to secession from Ukraine, come to “appreciate their newly obtained liberty”). For anyone raising their voice of concern (it still occasionally happens nowadays), the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has an immediate response pointing to Kosovo. Legalists may debate the nuances of course, but it hardly would affect the real situation on the ground.
This is not the case with Donbass and its two self-declared entities—Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics. Political economy of the conflict here includes numerous non-state actors, ranging from separatist groups to anti-Russian paramilitary battalions with diverse ideologies and allegiance, and various gangs who proliferate from the chaos and lawlessness and thus are interested in sustaining the present situation rather than ending the war. They have seized control of many industrial sites and are engaged in all sorts of illicit production and smuggling activities as within the region so across the borders.
According to reports, separatists have seized control of steel mills, coal mines and other enterprises, and up until recent were trading with the government controlled territory. In turn, paramilitary battalions (such as Azov, Aidar, Tornado), as revealed in international investigations, ignore the rule of law and “have been involved in widespread abuses, including abductions, unlawful detention, ill-treatment, theft, extortion, and possible executions.” Paradoxically, such groups may be of lesser headache in a low intensity conflict and lack of state control than in post-conflict situations when they play a destabilizing role and undermine the rehabilitation and state-building attempts of central authorities.
Next, Donbass is not of existential importance to Russia. Given the outdated infrastructure, degraded condition of coal mines and steel mills of the region (all demanding quite urgent and considerable investment with doubtful prospects of competitiveness), it does not represent such a great economic value to Ukraine either. The cost of physical rehabilitation is estimated in tens of billions dollars; who is going to pay for that?
To sum up, today neither Russia nor Ukraine has an appetite for fully embracing the Donbass, for it will come at prohibitive economic, social and political cost. The intricacy of Ukraine’s position is well summed in one of recent articles: “The good news is that Ukraine is prepared for all-out war with Russia; it is also prepared for and could cope with aid cutoffs from Washington and the end of sanctions. The bad news is that Kiev is thoroughly unprepared for the one scenario that could destroy Ukraine at little cost to Putin: Russia’s return of the Donbass.”
Power the aim, people not in equation
For the time being the strategic positioning of sides to the conflict over control of territories in Crimea and eastern Ukraine has been temporarily settled. “Temporarily” here may mean without meaningful change for decades to come, however. It appears that such a solution serves the interests of all state and non-state actors involved, directly or indirectly.
This is true for the status of Crimea, but becomes increasingly so with regards to Donbass and the implementation of Minsk II agreement that ought to bring peace to the troubled region. Two years after its signing, some analysts observe that “as the Minsk 2 process is now merely a self-sustaining diplomatic fiction, it has consequently become pointless; but it has also become indispensable. The present status quo and ‘neither war nor peace’ scenario is benefiting everybody, including the international community, as it justifies its lack of deeper involvement.”
“Benefits everybody”… well perhaps it is fair to say that it serves all but the ordinary citizens. And they are those who are paying the ultimate cost of the conflict. According to UN Human Rights Commissioner’s data, about ten thousand people have been killed (including two thousand civilians) and close to twenty-three-and-half thousand injured since the mid-April 2014. And it does not count the displacement, loss of jobs and hard earned property, the minimalist services and quality of life, insecurity of daily life and uncertain future, etc.
But hey… let me put it straight: people (whether human lives or their well-being) are never taken into geopolitical calculus by group actors, independently of what they claim in their public statements. Just look around… Whether we like it or not, the rule established by humankind since the dawn of civilization is that in political game, including the geopolitical game of Go, anything else but power can be sacrificed.
This article was originally posted on PolicyLabs