Patrick Armstrong is a former political counselor at Canadian Embassy in Moscow
What set me thinking was the Guardian piece on the suffering of the people in Slavyansk and the flat out statement that the town was being routinely shelled by the Kiev forces. We all got excited about the Daily Mail piece comparing the destruction in eastern Ukraine to WW2, but it very carefully avoided naming whose fingers were on the triggers. I find it rather significant that the Guardian, the house organ of UK Russia haters, published a piece naming Kiev as the killer. It would be more its style to have another piece about how evil Putin is. But it did it. And that, to me, marks a development.
So, what is Putin trying to do in Ukraine? Well, read what he says, is my standard advice. Putin says what he means and means what he says. He does not say everything that he's thinking, but what he says, you can take to the bank. So what is he saying about Ukraine? Diplomacy, stop the shooting, everybody should talk, come to mutual agreement; but, at the same time, Crimea is a done deal. What I understand from this is that Putin's preferred outcome is a Ukraine (minus Crimea – done deal) that is not a problem for Moscow (which it has been for 20 years). Putin dreams of a Ukraine that pays its gas bills, a Ukraine that doesn't have a political crisis every five or six years, a Ukraine that isn't a NATO launch pad. Translated into English, this means that what Putin really hopes for is a Ukraine that is prosperous, happy and independent. And united (minus Crimea – done deal). He has no desire to take it over, re-build the empire or any other Brzezinski fantasy; Putin just wants a future where he doesn't have to listen to "the latest Ukraine crisis” briefing every day. That's it, simple, easy-peasy; read what he says; think about it. It's not all that complicated when you think about Putin's average day: no Ukraine crisis and only the other problems of Russia is an average day; Ukraine crisis as well as all the other problems is a terrible day.
And, truth to tell, it's probably what most Ukrainians want too. Just a quiet life.
Many people think that Putin/Moscow should have done something earlier. The human suffering in east Ukraine is building. You Tube is full of films of dismembered bodies, burning buildings, refugees and other suffering in east Ukraine and of the atrocity in Odessa. Russians see this and demand succour; Putin has promised to protect people, nothing happens. Russian border posts are "accidentally” fired on routinely; no response.
A lot of people think Putin should have invaded or done something earlier but I believe that he has been patiently building a case in which Russia will (I think he hopes that it won't have to but he prepares for the worst) justifiably intervene with many Europeans supporting him. The piece in the Guardian is a step in that direction as was the failed Berlin agreement. A couple of days ago France and Germany put their skin into the game and they now find that Poroshenko either has contemned them or that he is impotent to deliver what he has promised: clearly there has been no "ceasefire” at all. And that has to reflect on France and Germany whose representatives were all photographed.
So, where are we? At this moment, 2100 GMT on 5 July 2014. We see that Moscow has many times made its statements and that the Berlin agreement is in tatters; as a bonus, even the most slavish organs in the West are beginning to notice that all is Not As It Should Be.
Perhaps it is time for Moscow to intervene in order to preserve/save the Berlin agreement. To enforce the ceasefire (that Kiev agreed to but is unable to enforce. To help Kiev realise its better self. As it were. So to speak.)
How would Moscow intervene? Amateurs would say: tanks, invasion”, "boots on the ground” and similar amateur-night blather. But what is the essence of the military problem? And how best and most economically to counter it?
The reality on the ground is that the the Kiev forces are unwilling to meet the Donbass defenders face to face. Consequently, their preferred modus operandi is to fire at long range: artillery and air strikes.
Thus I would expect (and recommend, not that the Russian MoD listens to me) that Moscow should propose a "no artillery fire into towns zone". Any Kiev battery that fires on a town will be obliterated by MLRS, air or Iskander as appropriate. This policy should be loudly announced in advance with full reference to the ceasefire that all sides agreed to in Berlin. In other words, Moscow will enforce the Berlin agreement and assist (so to speak) Kiev in making its decision effective.
Likewise, no more "accidental" firing at Russian border posts will be allowed. Under the same penalties.
Announce once, next time action.
All this is do-able. It would be really desirable if a French or German official could be standing there when the announcement is made, but I think we are now at the point where Moscow could do this and have a certain significant percentage of Europeans supporting it.