This Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande flew to Kiev to promote a new peace plan for Ukraine. As I write, the details of the plan are not known, but it is believed that if enacted it would freeze the conflict along the current front lines. All parties would recognize the rebel-controlled areas as being part of Ukraine, but in practice they would retain their independent existence. This is the so-called ‘Transdnestr solution’.
Those calling for Western states to arm Ukraine have based their appeals on the theory that Russia is the primary obstacle to peace. The conflict will only end, they claim, when sufficient pressure is put on Russia to make it force the rebels to settle. I notice, though, that there have been two major peace initiatives in Ukraine. The first was in September last year, and came after the Ukrainian Army suffered a terrible defeat at Ilovaisk in August. The second is the one now being put forward by Merkel and Hollande, which comes as the Ukrainian Army struggles to avoid an even more catastrophic setback in the ‘Debaltsevo pocket’, where several thousand of its troops are at risk of encirclement.
In short, peace seems to come closer not when the pressure on the rebels increases, but when the Ukrainian government suffers reverses. The ramifications of that conclusion for the ‘arm the Ukrainians’ lobby need no elaboration.
UPDATE: I shall be interviewed on CTV at 2.15 ET on Friday (6 February) to talk about all this.
UPDATE2: 2.15 interview is cancelled. There is a possibility of a later time, but it is unconfirmed. I will update as appropriate.
UPDATE 3: Interview now rescheduled for 6.10 pm.