The Merkel-Hollande Peace Plan

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.


12 thoughts on “The Merkel-Hollande Peace Plan”

  1. What little transpired about the Merkel-Hollande “peace” plan doesn’t make me very hopeful. The chances that it might be accepted as the basis for a successfull negotiation appears to be slim.

    It seems a little too late to offer a solution grounded in the federalization of Ukraine. Why should the rebels accept to discuss a settlement that sounds very similar to what Russia was suggesting in the Spring of 2014 at a time when little blood had been spilled with respect to the thousands of dead, wounded and displaced that both sides suffered in the last 10 months? Maybe only if the Kremlin were to impose it on them (once again).

    But even if something like that were to be actually achieved, in the end this whole mess makes me shake my head in sadness: so much pain in order to go back to an agreement that was up for discussion almost a year ago.
    We Europeans definitely need leaders who are less assertive and less self-confident but a lot more pragmatic and willing to listen to the other side’s concerns as well as our own.


      1. Does it not seem that the “wild card” here is the US, however? They seem set to spoil any possible deal based on federalization … Biden has criticized Merkel; McCain is going ballistic (as usual); serious consideration is being given to explicitly arming Kiev; etc. All of this, from what I can tell (e.g., in the Brookings report), is premised on the idea that Russia cannot be allowed to “dismember” its neighbours; in other words, it appears the Americans are, to the extent they think or mention it at all, casting the idea of federalization or de-centralization as some kind of illegitimate “dismemberment”. This of course is bizarre, since the Europeans do not seem to have strong objections in principle, and it is clearly (an integral part of) what Russia has proposed … and while anything short of secession may now have become unacceptable to many in the Donbass, some form of decentralization is probably, still, not impossible given Russian support/pressure.

        So the question is: why is the US doing this? What on Earth is at stake for them? Why would they, from the beginning, oppose a seemingly reasonable option?


  2. A question I want to ask in general is:

    -From what I get, Russia has kept Ukraine on economic life support to the tune of 5-10 billion Euros per year since the 2000s.
    -To this, one would probably have to add investment in Ukraine done by mid level Russian Oligarchs. For a mid level Russian Oligarch, especially South Eastern Ukraine is attractive because of:
    1: Low wages
    2: Equivalent labor pool to Russia
    3: The, from a mid level Oligarch pov, very scary Russian high state (which can basically seize anything it wants, but can only do so for a “reason”. Nevertheless, Putin throws an Oligarch at the wall every 3 years to show he means business, and all Oligarchs have enough on their rap sheet to meet the wall should a “state of law” suddenly happen in Russia) would become an asset, as pretty few actors in Ukraine were willing to directly raid Russian firms that could claim Russian authority protection (pretty much only Kolomoisky and the Yanukovich “family”).

    If one looks at this crisis like at a poker game, Russia is already committed because its investment, probably worth considerably more then 100 billion is at risk. Should the west achieve victory, it would mean that Russia in unable to protect even legitimate investments abroad. This would crush any Russian economic based influence in other countries, and compel the Oligarchiate to search for a better protector of their interests.
    It may also lead to a more nationalist and actually aggressive Russian administration taking power.

    The US threat of adding 3 billions in terms of weapons just seems to be completely moronic. You do not bluff Putin out of a multi 100 billion pot by adding 3 billion more, especially if Putin holds pretty good cards and knows your pretty bad cards.

    What are your thoughts on the size of the Russian investment, or rather “How much money and power did Russia already invested in Ukraine, pre Maidan”?


      1. There were also pieces/conferences by Anatol Lieven and by the brookings institute that insinuated very very signficant investment, so that is quite the open question.
        The brookings part is here:

        It also says a lot about Russias very real weaknesses in the soft power department that all the political influence this got them was led by Yanukovich of all people.
        Russia epically failed in cultivating the intelligentsia, mid level business people etc. to their cause. They had some inroad with the Ukrainian Oligarchs, but those proved incredible fickle.

        Their interestingly enough serious support from blue collar people in Donbass is more and “anything but Kyiv” then a “for Russia” thing, and it is chiefly because of unforced western errors (offering Ukraine an association deal a non puppet regime could take would be far far cheaper than keeping a puppet regime in power, especially with Russia waging a proxy war against it), not because of Russian “influence” gaining skills.


      2. On a more general note, something that could induce Russia to become more cooperative is to play the “Do you want that Ukraine becomes Pakistan 2.0?” card.
        Russia does not want that the Nationalist Freikorps run the place instead of the Oligarchs, but getting the Russians to cooperate would require some credible way of dealing with the Freikorps by the west. Both the police and the armed forces now have numerous Freikorps people in key positions, and if enough of them unite for a coup I would bet on them winning.
        This could perhaps be done by military training Poroshenko loyalists in Nato countries, but it is a long shot with a long time span.


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