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Why Geneva Deal On Ukraine Smells Like Munich 1938

Did you notice that the Geneva deal on Ukraine made no mention of Crimea? Actually it may have been an unspoken license for Russia to continue to pursue control of the rest of the country.

In Sloviansk, Ukraine, where three supporters of the Donetsk people's republic were shot dead on Sunday
In Sloviansk, Ukraine, where three supporters of the Donetsk people's republic were shot dead on Sunday
Waclaw Radziwinowicz

WARSAW — The conditional tense does not describe well the state of affairs — it is already quite obvious that Russia is baldly ignoring what it signed last week in Geneva.

Listening to the state-owned TV channel, Rossija, is enough to realize that. Russian media broadcasts are meant to scare the ethnic Russian separatists from Sloviansk, with reports that Kiev “is sending” a brigade of the Ukrainian National Guard, recruited among Nazis, Fascists and Banderites — followers of the controversial wartime nationalist, Stephan Bandera. They all are said to have bombs and plan terrorist attempts against the separatists.

Thus Moscow, despite having committed itself to disband all illegal armed groups across Ukraine, sends quite the opposite signals to the pro-Russian separatist. It says: “Do not give up, maintain your positions, the bloodthirsty Banderites are coming. There will be a slaughter.”

Obviously, Russian media points at “the junta from Kiev” as the party breaking the deal by not withdrawing its army from the Donetsk region and not liberating the public administration buildings.

In other words, Moscow calls an army of a sovereign country an illegal armed group, and questions the legitimacy of the Ukrainian state itself, thereby adding fuel to the fire.

Regarding Geneva, Russians do not feel bound to anything, because they have already achieved what they wanted most. Kiev's negotiators did not use the summit to claim Crimea back for Ukraine — at least not officially. Choosing silence, they have accepted the annexation of the peninsula in the hope of protecting eastern Ukraine. The spirit of the Munich Agreement, which untied Hitler’s hands, is clearly in the air.

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The signing of the Munich Agreement on Sept. 29, 1938 — Source: German Federal Archives

If only John Kerry and Catherine Ashton had put more pressure on Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and made him accept May 25 as the date of presidential elections in Ukraine ... But it was simply not discussed. The voting will then take place in the autumn, at the the earliest. As a consequence, Moscow will have plenty of time to hammer into the pro-Russian separatists' heads that the government from Kiev is an illegal junta, and the only legitimate Ukrainian president is Viktor Yanukovych.

Time is on Moscow's side

All that despite the fact that the latter, hidden in a shelter near the city of Rostov-on-Don, in southern Russia, has already turned himself from a tragic character into a clown; even Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev refers to him as "the rag."

Kerry and Ashton listened so attentively to what Lavrov had to tell them in Geneva that they apparently did not hear what Putin said about eastern and southern Ukraine during his annual call-in TV show last Thursday. He reminded viewers that Russia had a “historical right” to those regions, because during the “times of Czars,” they had been called “Little Russia” and had belonged to the crown. Moreover, the population is indeed still half Russian.

Does it mean that he plans on sending in his army at any moment? Probably not. There is no need, and no rush.

The government in Kiev, on the other hand, should do exactly that. It has to manage separatists from the east and persuade the protesters from Maidan to leave public buildings in the capital. Regardless of the ubiquitous chaos, presidential and parliamentary elections have to be called as soon as possible, and the country must be saved from bankruptcy.

Moscow will be happy to wait. It has all the instruments necessary to subvert its neighbor from the inside: media which embitter a part of the Ukrainian population against Kiev, and separatists with no plans to lay down their arms. Russia can also close its borders to Ukrainian products, paralyzing its neighbor’s industry. Furthermore, it can expel Ukrainian guest workers, and millions of Ukrainian families will subsequently plunge into poverty. Finally, it holds the gas tap.

Putin will not back down on Ukraine. The whole country — not only Crimea and "Little Russia" — is for him and his countrymen an important part of the historic Rus Empire. If swallowing Ukraine in one piece is not possible, Russia will dismember its neighbor and take what it can.

Putin has both the time and the political, military and economic instruments to reach his goals. He even has the tractability of others, called ironically in Moscow “our Western partners.”

In Geneva, Russia not only got license on Crimea, but maybe also on Donetsk, Kharkiv, Odessa and, finally, Transnistria. This autonomous region of the Republic of Moldavia asked to be integrated into the Russian Federation on the eve of the conference. Now we are beginning to see what Geneva has wrought.

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