What does Russia want?

James Meek writes: There is a dangerous false assumption at the heart of the West’s negotiations at, and reporting of, peace talks in Minsk over the fighting in eastern Ukraine. It is that Russia wants to have direct control over a small area of Ukraine – about 3 per cent of the country; the area, slightly smaller than Kuwait, now under separatist rule – and that Ukrainian forces are fighting to win this area back.

You can’t blame Western negotiators or journalists for thinking this is what is going on, because it’s what the Ukrainians are bound to tell them. That doesn’t mean it is the underlying truth. The evidence so far is that what Russia actually wants is indirect influence over the whole of Ukraine, and for the West to pay for it.

President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine cannot admit this publicly; he would find it hard to admit it privately. But Ukraine lost the war to keep the far east of the country last summer, in a little reported series of battles on the frontier. Ukrainian border guards, and troops trying to enforce control of the border, came under massive artillery barrages from the Russian side of the border. They couldn’t fire back into Russian territory without inciting a full-scale Russian military assault. Accordingly they were massacred, or they surrendered, or they ran away.

Ever since, a large section of the border has been under Russian-separatist control. As long as Ukraine can’t lob shells into Russia, and Russia is prepared to lob shells into Ukraine, that is how it will stay. [Continue reading…]

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