Staunton, February 21 – Vladimir Putin is being given credit in many quarters for coming up with a new kind of “hybrid war” in Ukraine, but in fact, Vitaly Portnikov says, all the Kremlin leader is doing is “scrupulously" using the same approach that the KGB did in Karabakh, the “first special operation” of the Soviet organs at the time of the collapse of the USSR.
But as usually happens when someone applies an approach taken from one situation to another which is fundamentally different, the result in the case of Ukraine will be different and far less to Moscow’s liking than the outcome of the still-frozen conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Karabakh (grani.ru/opinion/portnikov/m.238211.html).
Portnikov writes that it is not his intention to talk about the deep-seated causes of the conflict over Karabakh, but he was present to see when via the Moscow media, “the Soviet special services did everything possible to ignite a conflict in a situation when they should have been trying to calm it.”
At that time, “Pravda,” the official mouthpiece of the CPSU Central Committee, published an article over the names of but without the participation of its journalists in the Caucasus. Entitled “Emotion and Reason,” it was viewed as Moscow’s position and led to explosions in Karabakh, in Armenia and in Azerbaijan.
The conflict that and other such articles caused, Portnikov continues, “led to innumerable misfortunes in the two countries which, despite their difficult historical past and lack of understanding, could have preserved a cold peace and not fought with one another,” with Armenians living in Baku and Azerbaijanis living even in Yerevan.
“Now all this is impossible to imagine,” the Kyiv commentator says.
And what did the KGB’s efforts produce? In Azerbaijan, the collapse of the government, “the complete marginalization of democratic forces,” and the coming to power of an authoritarian regime. In Armenia, the impoverishment of the population and the dependence of Yerevan on Moscow. And in Karabakh, the creation of “a fortress country and a destabilizer of Armenia and Azerbaijan at one and the same time.
Putin clearly thinks he can “transform the Donbas into a Karbakh,” but there is a compelling reason to conclude that he is wrong, Portnikov says. “Armenians really needed Artsakh” and were prepared to die for it, [and] Azerbaijanis really needed Karabakh” and were prepared to die for it as well.
In sum, Portnikov says, “this was a classic ethnic conflict” over a territory “each of the peoples considered its own and which it did not want to split u with anyone.” But the situation in the Donbas is different. “No one wants to die” for it. Instead, Ukrainian soldiers at the front are “defending Ukraine,” and Russian troops and pro-Russian forces are defending Russia.
Ukrainians in the Donbas identify as Ukrainians not as residents of that region. “Russian soldiers and mercenaries also are not fighting for the Donbas; for them, it is only a place des armes. They are simply fulfilling the plan of their supreme commander to destabilize the situation in Ukraine. And Putin is completely indifferent as to where to destabilize it.”
“The industrial Donbas,” Portnikov continues, “both for Ukraine and for Russia is a real suitcase without a handle,” something that can’t be picked up as such. And consequently, however much territory Putin occupies, “he all the same will not make a Karabakh out of the Donbas” and the frozen conflict he appears to be pursuing now.
“Do you know why?” the commentator asks rhetorically. “Because the Armenian who enrolls the militia of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic loves Artsakh more than life itself” and thus is prepared to die for it. And the Azerbaijani, who is in the forces opposing Karabakh, also loves it and is prepared to tie. “This is a great, inescapable tragedy of two neighboring peoples.”
But the Donbas is nothing like that for its residents or for those fighting there. It is “simply an industrial basin,” a place people go to or leave for economic reasons but do not view as a matter of life and death. Of course, it is a piece of territory, but it is divided by those who live there: Generally, “where Ukrainian villages begin, Russian forces stop.”
Consequently, Putin “cannot provoke a great Ukrainian destabilization with the help of the Donbas” or indeed of any other region in Ukraine because “Putin’s destabilization contradicts the underlying laws of civilization, and largely thanks to this circumstance, the Russian president is condemned to lose.”