The recent (April 17) meeting in Geneva on Ukraine was a game-changing event. Yet this significant aspect of it has not been explicitly recognized in any analysis or commentary on the situation; at least none that I've come across. It seems that the prior chest-thumping by Western politicians and their lackeys, and the drumbeat of propaganda in the media has so overawed the commentariat that they are afraid to adopt such a different view. A few have tiptoed around the issue, hinting obliquely at the real outcome, but shied away from anything definitive.
If no one else seems willing to do it, then I am going to stick my neck out and say what others hesitate to articulate: at Geneva the United States folded!
Compare the rhetoric in the period before the meeting to the actual terms of the agreement, not only what it contains but, even more importantly, what it doesn't. There is no mention of Crimea. It says nothing about the Russian troops "massed along the Ukraine border". It equates the armed men in the East with those in the West, requiring both to disarm and withdraw from the locations they have occupied. It commits the Ukraine government to a constitutional process involving negotiations with all "regions and political constituencies" (designed to achieve decentralisation and regional autonomy). It gives Russia a role in Ukraine both through the OSCE and in possible upcoming consultations on economic and financial support.
Compare the rhetoric in the West before the Geneva meeting to that afterwards − or rather its absence. There is now almost a deathly hush among politicians and the media (apart from some half-hearted efforts to spin the terms of the agreement). Where are the daily thunderings of the Kerry's, Rasmussen's, Breedlove's?
What caused the US to fold? We can only speculate, but it seems that it realised that its threat of further sanctions was proving an empty one. Most likely, powerful elements of the European industrial and financial sectors told their governments of the damage they were likely to sustain should broader sanctions be applied. It is quite possible that their US equivalents told the US government the same thing. With wider and deeper sanctions likely to inflict as much damage on the West as on Russia, and with the reluctance of European leaders to impose them, there wasn't anything left in the US's arsenal − except for the 'financial neutron bomb'.
A recent article in the London Telegraph described this 'neutron bomb' (referenced by Zanzibar recently in a comment on another thread). If the US were to use this financial weapon (the "scarlet letter") it could probably fry Russia's financial sector and bring its economy to a standstill, even though this would inflict much collateral damage on US allies, especially Germany. Arguably, this weapon is too powerful to risk using it on a peripheral issue such as Ukraine. There is also the likelihood of a riposte.
While Russia does not have anything comparable in the financial and economic sphere, it does have a marked advantage in another equally deadly sphere − cyber war. Former DNI Mike McConnell said in 2010, "If we were in a cyber war today, the US would lose". Leon Panetta talked in 2012 of a cyber-Pearl Harbour. If Putin considered the US use of the financial neutron bomb to be the equivalent of a nuclear first strike, he could well retaliate with an all-out cyber attack. Obviously the US administration was not prepared to risk this.
So, in this changed environment, what is likely to happen in Ukraine now? It appears that the present Ukraine government is too weak and too hard-pressed from the Right to engage in any meaningful mutual de-escalation and negotiations with the Eastern provinces. It is possible that the OSCE (with the backing of the US and Russia) might be able to impose such a process. In that case there may be the possibility of a loosely federal Ukraine emerging from this turmoil. Otherwise, we can anticipate a low-level civil war breaking out in the East, with increasing infiltration of Russian support to the dissidents there. This will mean that ultimately the East will break away and, perhaps after an autonomous phase, join Russia.
The US and the West will make the usual gestures, including some more token sanctions, but will do nothing that has a realistic chance of stopping Russia from achieving its goal of a neutral, decentralised Ukraine or, failing that, the breakaway of the Russian-speaking East.
© FB Ali (April 2014)