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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russia Promises to Intervene to Prevent Civil War
6 years
SBU ID's Russian Lieutenant Colonel as GRU

After the first day of last week's Geneva Conference, naive media reports trumpeted a "diplomatic breakthrough," as US Secretary of State John Kerry announced that a plan had been agreed upon with Russia to end the crisis. One of the key points of the deal was that armed groups would voluntarily disarm and leave buildings, streets, and squares that they were occupying.

The problem of course was that Russia was using different definitions from the rest of the world. According to Russia, pro-Russian separatists and gunmen were the rightful owners of the buildings and squares they were defending with tires, barbed wire, semi-automatic weapons and RPGs. The interim government in Kiev, on the other hand, was illegally occupying buildings in the capital, and they were governed by extremists. Russia and the West didn't agree on anything. 

There points were hammered home after the Easter truce was shattered by gunfire yesterday morning. Reuters reports:

Separatist militiamen near the eastern Ukrainian city of Slaviansk told Reuters four vehicles had approached their checkpoint at around 2:00 a.m. and opened fire.
"We had three dead, four wounded," one of the separatist fighters, called Vladimir, told Reuters at the checkpoint, where there were two burned-out jeeps.
He said the separatists returned fire and killed two of the attackers, who he said were members of the nationalist movement which has its power base in the Ukrainian-speaking west of the country and is reviled by many in the Russian-speaking east.
Police in Kiev said three men among the separatists were killed and three wounded.
A Reuters cameraman at the scene said he saw the bodies of two people, one with what appeared to be gunshot wounds to the head and face, lying in the back of a truck.
One of the dead was dressed in camouflage fatigues, the other, identified by several bystanders as a local man, was in civilian clothes.

None of the details are agreed upon. But despite the confusion, Moscow says it knows exactly what happened -- Kiev has broken the Geneva agreement. Let's take a look, line by line, at statements by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, published today in ITAR-TASS:

"Geneva agreements on Ukraine specify no [time frame], but measures should be taken urgently", Lavrov stressed. The agreement is not fulfilled, first of all, by those who have seized power in Kiev, the foreign minister added.  

In other words, Russia is ready to spring into action, but "those who have seized power in Kiev," what most of the rest of the world calls Ukraine's interim government, is not showing any signs of cooperation.

"Everything points to the fact that the Kiev authorities are not able to control extremists, or do not want to control them," the foreign minister said. The main thing now is to prevent any kind of violence in Ukraine, Lavrov added. “It is the first clause of the Geneva agreements, the first requirement,” the minister stressed. “This part of the Geneva agreement is not fulfilled, but on the contrary, steps are taken by those who seized power (in Kiev) in violation of the Geneva agreements,” Lavrov said. 

The Russian government blames the Easter gunfire on Right Sector. Moscow believes that the leaders in Kiev are either in control of Right Sector (or perhaps the other way around) and have either ordered the violence or have failed to control radicals who oppose Russia. Russia believes that this violence and chaos is part of Kiev's plan.

“We are concerned that instead of confirming the responsibility for the situation, Kiev and the West-European countries are trying to make Russia responsible,” he said. “There main proof is the Russian weapons in the conflict zones. It is ridiculous - no other weapons have ever been there,” Lavrov added.

Russia is the constructive partner in this scenario, and note how Kiev and "West-European countries" are linked. Russia could use this line of thinking to militarily and unilaterally intervene in eastern Ukraine, just like they did in Crimea.

“The buildings in Kiev, which have been seized by force in the beginning of the events in Ukraine, are not freed now, the streets remain blocked, the ‘Maidan’ continues to boom,” the foreign minister said. “The leadership appointed by the Verkhovna Rada, say openly the Geneva decisions are not valid for ‘Maidan’, because, as they say, Kiev’s municipal administration had decided ‘Maidan’ may remain and it is legitimate. This is absolutely unacceptable," Lavrov stressed. 

In Russia's worldview, "Maidan" is synonymous with "radical," and the government in Kiev has no right to be there, and thus they, not Russia, are the hypocrites.

“Those who intentionally aim at instigating a civil war obviously hope to spark off an enormous, serious and bloody conflict, are conducting a criminal policy,” Lavrov said. “We (Russia) will not be only condemning this policy, but thwarting any manifestations of such policy as well," the diplomat said, adding that "shooting at unarmed people on the Easter night is beyond any reason."

"Instead of giving ultimatums and threatening us with sanctions, Washington should realize in full measure its responsibility for those people they brought to power in Kiev," Lavrov noted. "Attempts to isolate Russia are absolutely prospectless, as it is impossible," the minister emphasized.

The key quote -- Russia will be "thwarting any manifestations" of an policies that they see as instigating civil war. What does that mean? Russia will be actively operating inside Ukraine in order to prevent, in their view, any escalation of this crisis.

The meaning of Moscow's statements should be obvious. Moscow's intentions are now being openly and vocally broadcast to the world through every level of Russia's government and through Russia's state media. Last week the international community thought that they could negotiate with Russia to find a way out of this crisis. Will the international community change course this week?