Another bloodless coup in Ukraine is underway. This time, it’s in the Donetsk region.

Should it come to that ending, it would be the third Ukrainian coup in a matter of months (counting the ouster of former president Viktor Yanukovych followed by the coup in Crimea).

Talk of Bloodless, Passive Coup in Donetsk

Please consider Kiev’s Weak Grip on East Falters.

Moscow is only an hour ahead of Donetsk but the inflammatory descriptions emanating from Russia over events in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday were much further distanced from reality.

As President Vladimir Putin was talking of his neighbouring country as being “on the brink of a civil war”, in Slavyansk the conflict was far more psychological than physical. Apart from the occasional fly-past by a single fighter jet and two helicopters, Kiev’s forces kept a low profile throughout the day in the area northeast of Donetsk, where militias and locals have seized or set up vigils at government buildings in several towns and cities.

Rather than civil war, the scene resembled a sort of bloodless, passive coup. “I am a citizen of the Soviet Union,” said one of the mysterious and heavily armed “green men” wearing military camouflage without insignia.

The man refused to give his name but admitted that, like others around him, he had travelled up from Semfiropol in Crimea – the autonomous republic annexed by Russia in March and now already switched to Moscow’s time zone. Many of his comrades sported the black and orange striped ribbon adopted by pro-Russian forces.

All along the main route from Donetsk, and in several adjacent town centres, local people have created and manned an increasing number of makeshift barricades of tyres, often topped by the flags of Russia and the “Donetsk Republic”.

But despite the government’s angry denunciations of the seizures of police offices, administrative buildings and other property, there have been few attempts by local authorities to prevent them and Kiev’s hold on the east appears to be weaker than ever. Despite orders several weeks ago to stop broadcasting Russian television, local people said the channels had been back on air in the Donetsk region since earlier this week.

Easterners who reject calls for a referendum on creating an autonomous republic in Donetsk, a federation or union with Russia – views which opinion polls until recently suggested remained in the a minority – are for the time being keeping their heads down.

Polls Show Majority in Donetsk Prefer Alliance with Russia

In spite of all the talk, the government in Kiev seems unable or unwilling to take Donetsk by force. Why should it?

Polls suggest a majority in Donetsk would vote for a federation or union with Russia. You cannot win over hearts and minds with force.

European Countries Resent US Hectoring Tone

The Financial Times reports EU Sanctions Push on Russia Falters Amid Big Business Lobbying.

Europe’s resolve to impose tough sanctions on Moscow is cracking under corporate lobbying, as companies warn governments that any retaliation from the Kremlin could cost them dearly.

Diplomats fear that talks in Geneva on Thursday between the US, Russia, Ukraine and the EU will prove fruitless in tackling the crisis over the occupation of local government buildings in eastern Ukraine by pro-Russian militants. If the talks fail, EU leaders are expected to meet next week to discuss broad economic sanctions against Moscow.

But even before such a meeting, the fissures between countries are evident. “Are the member states united on this? No. Are they willing to die for Ukraine? I don’t think so,” a senior European official said, noting that sanctions would demand a consensus from the 28-member bloc.  

European countries have resented the US’s hectoring tone on the need for sterner measures against Russia, when the EU’s trade relationship is almost a dozen times bigger than America’s.

On one side of the European debate, the Baltic nations and Poland favour strong action against Moscow, while accepting that Russian retaliation could be painful. On the other, Italy and Germany are more reticent about sanctions, partly because of lobbying from their leading companies.

Sanction Scorecard

  • Germany: BASF lobbying against sanctions
  • Italy: Energy company Eni lobbying against sanctions
  • UK: BP lobbying against sanctions. BP has a 20 per cent stake in Rosneft, the state-controlled oil company.
  • Cyprus and UK: Both concerned abut financial sector risks
  • US Business Groups: lobbying against sanctions
  • Obama: Wants sterner sanctions
  • Poland, Baltic Nations: Want sterner sanctions

Low Hopes for Peace Talks

Given the reaction from Ukraine and the huge disunity regarding sanctions, it should not be any surprise that Expectations Low as Ministers Hold Ukraine Peace Talks.

As the tense stand-off in eastern Ukraine continues, the main protagonists will meet on Thursday to try to find a diplomatic solution.

Despite fears the new round of unrest might scupper the quest, the foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine will hold their long-awaited encounter in Geneva, along with their US and EU counterparts.

Expectations for the meeting remain low, given the different agendas of the two sides, with the US seeing a chance to boost the legitimacy of the government in Kiev, while Russia is calling for radical constitutional reform in Ukraine.

Russia is sticking to its demands of “federalisation” and military neutrality for Ukraine – first laid out in a proposal a month ago.

The paper demands that Ukraine undergoes a foreign-mediated process of constitutional reform that must happen before the next presidential election. This must result in a federal structure and military neutrality for the country, give Russian the status as second official language and recognise Crimea’s departure from Ukraine.

Best Deal Ukraine Can Get

The best chance for Ukraine to hold on to Donetsk may very well be acceptance of the Russian proposal.

While pondering the above thought, here is a song that expresses my point of view rather well.

War, What Is It Good For?

Absolutely nothing!

This is not our fight, so let’s not make it one.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock