Article by: Vitaly Portnikov
The Kremlin “peacemaker”
During a recent meeting with editors from Russian mass media, Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed relations with Ukraine in peace-loving terms. He declared that relations with Kyiv must be improved — something that would surely happen after the Donbas situation is resolved. At the same time, Putin emphasized that Russia is interested only in a complete political resolution and would not be satisfied with a “frozen conflict.” Putin made an even more sensational declaration regarding Ukraine’s military equipment, which was stolen by the invaders during the annexation of Crimea. Putin is ready to return this equipment to Ukrainians and to find a use for the remaining ammunition together with Ukrainian specialists.
Putin’s rhetoric differs considerably, even in its tone, from the one expressed during his recent “major” press conference in the Kremlin. It is noteworthy that the Russian president no longer speaks of a “coup” but rather about normalizing relations. And this is true despite the fact that, at first glance, nothing has changed in the Ukrainian situation.
However, Putin himself has changed — first of all in terms of rhetoric. We already had occasion to write that Putin’s pre-election campaign and his actions after his re-election as head of state would be conducted under the “peacekeeping” banner. But, naturally, Putin is not interested in any peace with Ukraine. The hybrid war that Putin has been waging against Ukraine for more than three years will now change into a “hybrid peace.” And a “hybrid peace” is much more dangerous than a hybrid war. Yes, the “hybrid peace” would mean the preservation of the lives of all these hundreds and perhaps thousands of people who would surely perish if a hybrid war continued. But the goal of the “hybrid peace” would be to bring about the death of the Ukrainian state itself.
The “hybrid peace” program
The program of the “hybrid peace” could be stated right now. It is the readiness to end military activities in the Donbas and even to withdraw Russian and mercenary troops. However, they will be replaced by peacekeepers, including from countries that sympathize with Russia. Ukrainian control of the territory would be restored only after Ukraine implements the Minsk agreements — that is, after it grants autonomy to part of the Donbas. In short, not in the next few years. At the same time, there will be pressure on Kyiv from Moscow, from Berlin, and from Paris. And possibly even from Washington. Donbas will change from being a problem of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict into being a major headache for Ukraine itself. Meanwhile, the territory formally will be considered Ukrainian, but Russian TV channels will continue to be broadcast, Russian products will be sold, “Russian world” concepts will be taught, smuggling will flourish — perhaps even with the participation of the peacekeepers themselves, as has already happened many times in the world.
Ukraine’s enemies want to preserve Donbas as an open wound. That approach is much easier. At the same time, pressure from that segment of the Western political elite advocating for the lifting of sanctions against Russia will intensify with the claim that there is no more war but Ukraine is not willing to compromise. In fact, the pressure is already increasing. The latest statements by the foreign ministers of Germany and Austria are perfect proof.
In Ukraine itself, the voices of those demanding an agreement with Russia and readiness to “listen to” the Donbas will become louder, declaring that there is no war, only the “inefficient and corrupt Ukrainian government using the conflict with Russia to hide its reluctance to conduct reforms.” Russia will spend enormous sums on Ukrainian politicians and the imitation “civil society” — often with the help of its Western friends who are supported by the same Russian funds, so that everything appears very attractive from outside. And already after the next parliamentary elections, a strange political bloc may appear consisting of open collaborators and pseudo “patriots” who will be for reconciliation with Moscow and for Ukraine’s search for its place in the world somewhere between Russia and the West. Then the Minsk agreements will finally be implemented, the Donbas will become a country within a country, and Crimea will disappear from the Ukrainian agenda. And the new president of Ukraine will travel to Moscow to sell Ukrainian sovereignty at a profit. His delegation will even include veterans of the hybrid war, who will shake hands with those who fought on the Russian side. We are one people.
Everything is in Ukrainian hands
This is the plan for the “hybrid peace.” It is very important that Ukraine avoids getting caught in this trap. It is very important to understand that peace is no hybrid. Real people die in a hybrid war. And a “hybrid peace” destroys real states. Moscow is not interested in the existence of a independent Ukraine. Even in the West, Ukraine is noticed just as long as it continues fighting. This is why only Ukrainians themselves can protect their state from Putin and from those who are ready to abandon the future of their country in exchange for an imaginary “peace” and illusory economic benefits.