12 Points to Consider on the Ukraine Crisis

Ukrainian Navy servicemen onboard the ship "Slavutych" (from ITAR-TASS).

Ukrainian Navy servicemen onboard the ship “Slavutych” (from ITAR-TASS).

1. Contrary to widespread Western media reports, Russia has not actually invaded Ukraine. The use of the term “invasion” evokes images of the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. This is not the case. Rather, the ethnic Russians in Crimea have revolted against the interim government in Kiev due to very real concerns (such as the abolition of the regional language law) and Moscow is supporting them politically and militarily. Moscow is likewise interested in protecting its Black Sea Fleet as well as access to the port. Several contingents of the Ukrainian Army and Navy have also defected to the side of the Crimean rebels. The head of Ukraine’s Navy was among those who defected. Given this, the “Russian invasion” narrative, while dramatic and eye-catching, is misleading. The actual situation is much more complex and not as black-and-white as the Cold War-style “invasion” narrative sounds.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (ITAR-TASS)

Russian President Vladimir Putin (ITAR-TASS)

2. Putin dislikes ex-President Yanukovych, primarily for the poor, indecisive, and incompetent leadership he has exhibited and because he played the geopolitical contest between Russia and the West to the brink. If the current government in Kiev falls, Putin will likely back somebody entirely new to take its helm, but not Yanukovych.

3. Putin is not just interested in Crimea or in Southeastern Ukraine. He also has no ambition to annex Ukraine. Rather, he would ideally like to see Ukraine as a whole join as an equal partner in the Moscow-backed economic Customs Union.

Yulia Tymoshenko

Yulia Tymoshenko

4. Yulia Tymoshenko is not the savior of Ukraine and neither are much of the rest of Ukraine’s oligarchs and political elite who have plundered the country and its people since independence.

5. If not close to bankruptcy, the Ukrainian economy is totally bankrupt. It presently needs around $50 billion. They will have difficulty even paying their civil servants in the next few weeks.

6. If Ukraine goes bankrupt, it will adversely affect the availability of food. The interim government in Kiev will lose its credibility if the people of Ukraine have no bread.

7. The EU has still not recovered from the Eurozone crisis. It can barely bail out Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Italy. Meanwhile, unemployment is rising in France where President Hollande’s popularity is at an all-time low. Given all this, the EU will be unable to provide the funds that Ukraine needs to avoid default.

8. The US economy is also in very bad condition and will probably get worse. It too cannot afford to bail out Ukraine.

9. The IMF can give limited financial support to Ukraine, but this requires adhering to IMF regulations and austerity that would put the situation in a tailspin. People in Central Ukraine who are mixed Russian-Ukrainian speakers and whose support for the protest has been mixed (in contrast to the West which was pro-Maidan and the East and South which were anti-Maidan) would turn decisively against their government.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel

German Chancellor Angela Merkel

10. The West has limited options for retaliating against Russia over Ukraine. Sanctions are impossible. The US still needs Russia on important issues like Iran and Syria and the EU, and especially Germany, cannot afford to severe its ties with a major trade and energy partner. The best that the West can do, if they can obtain agreement among themselves, is to expel Russia from the G8, which would not phase Moscow. Putin is far more interested in Ukraine than in the G8 which has become increasingly irrelevant in recent years.  To note, Germany has voiced its opposition to expel Russia from the G8.

11. By encouraging and supporting the anti-government movement in Ukraine, the West has made democratic development in the former Soviet space more difficult. Authorities in Russia and other ex-Soviet states will begin to associate genuinely peaceful protests and free expression with the violent unrest and extremism of the Maidan. Jack Matlock, the former US ambassador to the USSR in 1987-91, echoed this sentiment on a recent blog post, quoting an American friend who is a resident of Moscow:

People won’t demonstrate, and not just because of fear of the police. It will simply seem unpatriotic and remind everyone of violence in Kiev, which no one wants. Even people who dislike Yanukovich do not like how he was kicked out of office. I think it’s a fair question to ask why elections couldn’t take place as agreed, and why he had to be forced out of office immediately.

Svoboda Party leader Oleh Tyahnybok

Svoboda Party leader Oleh Tyahnybok

12. The interim government in Kiev, whether one likes Yanukovych or not, came to power through illegal means and is an uneasy marriage of pro-EU liberals and far-right fascists. The far-right groups include Svoboda, Right Sector, Patriot of Ukraine, and the Ultras, all of whom make no secret of their antisemitism, Russophobia, and love of Ukrainian collaborators from World War II. This has been an anathema for most of the South, the East, and much of Central Ukraine who lost many family members in the Great Patriotic War. Overall, all of these issues – the inclusion of fascists in the government, the potential challenge for the availability of food, the impending economic collapse, the implementation of IMF-style austerity, and the inability to solve the Crimean situation – will seriously undermine the credibility of the Kiev government very quickly unless it gets massive financial support and backing from the EU and the US, which is unlikely. The loss of the present government’s credibility may, ironically, serve to also bring the country together.

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One thought on “12 Points to Consider on the Ukraine Crisis

  1. Pingback: RUSSIA & UKRAINE: Johnson’s Russia List contents with links :: 2014-#46 :: Tuesday, 3 March 2014 | Johnson's Russia List

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