“We find that the Romans owed the conquest of the world to no other cause than continual military training, exact observance of discipline in their camps, and unwearied cultivation of the other arts of war.” So wrote Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus, he who enunciated the idea that if you want peace prepare for war. Ukraine has not, so far, sought the conquest of the world but would certainly like to put a stop to the conflict in the east and regain its territory, including Crimea. And while folk seem to agree that war is not the answer here, extra military training is always useful.
Thus, the UK’s decision to send military personnel to Ukraine to train local soldiers in reconnaissance, logistics, medicine and armed combat has been welcomed by Poland’s president Komorowski as being in tune with Polish strategy, Poland having taken an early lead in the crisis (which didn’t suit Russia, so Mutti is now making all the running). Indeed, shortly after Komorowski’s remarks, it was announced that Poland will also be sending military instructors to Ukraine to train Ukrainian instructors.
On the ground the ceasefire appears to be more or less holding and heavy weapons are being withdrawn. There is still concern about what will happens should a move be made towards Mariupol. The Ukrainian view appears to be that a faced with such a threat, Ukraine would have three options: to fight, to seek the involvement of UN peacekeepers, and be supplied with heavy weaponry from the West.
One effect of the protests following Yanukovych’s decision not to sign the agreement with the EU, which sparked off the crisis, is to have created a new sense of Ukrainian nationalism and determination to fight, despite the fatigue and economic strain resulting from the year-long crisis. Ukraine does need financial assistance to be able to do anything which is why the government is determined to press ahead with the reforms necessary for the IMF support Ukraine seeks. There is a long way to go but efforts, fur example, to stamp out corruption have begun and ministers from other countries with the necessary reformist experience have been brought into the government. Folk were disappointed after the Orange Revolution but it does appear that there is a greater determination to tackle the corruption this time, with even the deputy defence minister ending up in prison.
The involvement of a UN peacekeeping force seems less likely, not least because Russia could, and most probably would, veto such a move at the UN Security Council. Which leaves the heavy weaponry, of which willingness on the part of the West to supply, there is as yet no sign. However, from the Ukrainian point of view, the important point is not to have to fight for Mariupol, but for the EU to have ready much tougher sanctions against Russia which could be imposed at the first sign of any further advance towards the city. These sanctions should be focussed on energy and banking and would require a united EU approach to have maximum effect. Russia could turn off the gas but no gas means no money, and a united EU dictating what it will pay for that gas is a strong weapon.
Be that as it may, and looking ahead, Ukraine also needs to have a clear perspective for eventual EU membership. It is recognised that this will take time, but the government has to be able to hold out the prospect of light at the end of the tunnel, however long that tunnel. Ukraine, as Poland before it, needs to feel the security of being part of a larger union. Otherwise, those who are opposed to Ukraine’s being closely linked with the West will be able to say to the people that the West encouraged the overthrow of an elected president, created hostile relations with Russia leading to war and economic hardship, and all for nothing.
The tide does appear to be turning and, Russian propaganda and western journalistic credulity notwithstanding, brother Putin’s actions are being seen for what they are. For him the stakes are becoming higher. Either he wins, and obtains effective control over Ukraine and its future direction, or he loses and faces the consequences at home in Russia which will be an immediate loss of popularity and a threat to his own position.
The EU must, nonetheless, remain united. With offers of financial assistance to Greece’s new government as it grapples with EU, and a new agreement allowing Russian naval vessels to use ports in Cyprus, to name but two, Putin has also looked to Rome for inspiration as he seeks to apply Caesar’s divide ut regnes.