The Widdershins

Archive for April 24th, 2014

Good Thursday, Widdershins.  Things are happening in the Ukraine at a rapid pace.  I freely confess that, despite being a child of the Cold War, I do not have enough regional knowledge or savvy to walk us through any discussion.  Therefore, we have asked our DYB to update us on this geopolitical nightmare, and he has graciously agreed to do so.   ChatbluPutin Bully

It has now been one month since Crimea declared its independence from Ukraine and ran into Russia’s welcoming arms.  After a hastily arranged vote, overseen by armed men without any country’s insignia (at the time Putin declared the armed men were not Russian.  After all, he smirked, you can buy a soldier’s uniform in any costume shop), the public voted overwhelmingly to secede.  The Crimean government claimed that turnout was over 95% and that of those 83% voted to join Russia.  This is a little odd considering Ukrainians make up about 25% of the Crimean population and Tatars – very much not friends of the Russians – 12%.  I always thought Russians had superior math skills and perhaps this proves everyone else has been doing it wrong this whole time.  Still, Putin eagerly declared the election legitimate and quickly accepted Crimea back into the Russian fold.  The UN decried the vote as a sham.  And new report by the UN found “killings, torture and arbitrary arrests in the buildup to the March referendum that led to its annexation by Russia.”

They said they heard numerous reports of vote rigging in the March 16 referendum, when residents of Crimea voted overwhelmingly to unite with Russia, and expressed concerns about the conditions under which the vote took place, citing harassment and abductions of journalists and activists who were opposed to it, as well as the presence of armed militias.

Some of the journalists and activists who disappeared have since been released, but had been tortured, the report said.”

And Putin also finally admitted in his annual marathon Q&A on Russian television that the uniformed soldiers were Russian after allSo what?  You want to make a federal case out of that?  How else can you ensure a fair and balanced vote if not by presence of your own armed militia?

With Crimea essentially gone the situation in the Ukraine is not improving.  Putin is a master destabilizer.  His forces (he says they’re not his, but see what he said about the soldiers in Crimea wearing costumes, not Russian uniforms) have declared their independence from Ukraine in at least 10 towns in Eastern Ukraine.  Putin expressed his shock at the whole thing, claiming Ukraine is on the brink of a civil war.  One can only recall the immortal moment in “Casablanca” when Claude Rains can’t believe there is gambling going on in Rick’s back room.

“Ukraine is on the brink of civil war. It is scary. And I hope that everyone who is responsible for making decisions at the moment — I mean both, the current Ukrainian authorities, who we can’t consider legitimate, but these are the authorities who came to power as result of a coup — has brains to avoid driving the country to such shocks,” he said at a news conference Tuesday in Moscow.

It is really astonishing to hear Putin talk about it as if he has played no role in the fiasco.  He is pretending to remain outside of it all.  Who?  Me?  What did I do?  He is not delusional. He’s simply playing his part in destabilizing Ukraine, so he can then walk in and say his presence is essential to keep the country from tearing itself apart.  And, naturally, to protect the ethnic Russians.  The same ethnic Russians who handed out flyers to people leaving a synagogue in Donetsk – one of the towns that has declared its independence from Ukraine – ordering all Jews older than 16 years of age to register with the authorities or have their possessions confiscated.  (And for all this trouble they must pay a fee of 50 US dollars.)

 

 

So far the Ukrainian authorities have not done much to stop the pro-Russian militias from occupying public buildings and declaring their independence.  The authorities are asking them nicely and are having exactly the results you’d expect.  Of course going after them with force will leave Ukraine with the prospect of having Putin declare that ethnic Russians are being abused and require Russian military to protect them.  It’s hard to win here.  But it’s also hard to see what Putin thinks he’s going to achieve.  Yes, the Soviets have always thought of Ukraine as an extension of Russia itself.  (Putin has already started calling the Eastern part of Ukraine “New Russia.”)  And he certainly would love nothing more than to have Ukraine in its own sphere, instead of European, which is where much of Ukraine would prefer to be.  If nothing else, it would be a nice middle finger to Europe and the US, which have long tried to bring Ukraine into their fold.  (But not into NATO; contrary to what Putin keeps saying, there were no plans for Ukraine to join NATO.  Not from NATO’s side, not from Ukraine’s.)  But occupying Ukraine with Russian military would work out about as well as US’s occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.  That would truly unleash chaos.  It would cost Russia not just blood, but also a colossal amount of money.  It is money it doesn’t actually have. Its economy, which exists only because of its reserve of natural gas, shrank enormously even before the Ukrainian fiasco and the (fairly weak) sanctions Europe and US have imposed.  Putin might be the biggest rock star of Russia today.  But when the economy shrinks to levels not seen since Yeltsin’s catastrophic rule (which the public probably remembers well), Putin’s popularity will sink along with the mood of his people.  And no amount of his media’s anti-Western/anti-gay/anti-Ukrainian propaganda will help with a cold and starving populace.  And Putin, if there is an ounce of brain matter left in his head, knows it.

Meanwhile in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, authorities are gearing up for new elections on May 25th.  So far the leading candidate for Presidency appears to be the billionaire Petro Poroshenko, the Chocolate King owner of a massively successful confectionary manufacturing group.  Poroshenko largely subsidized the Maidan protestors with supplies, which has already led to pro-Russian forces to accuse him of staging the entire coup so he can be President.  This is when they are not blaming the US of staging the coup, when they are not blaming Europe of staging the coup, when they are not blaming neo-Nazis of staging the coup.  My mother said on Russian television they were speculating that the US intended for the coup to take place in 2015, but somehow the plan got away from them.  Don’t ask because I can’t explain what that means either.  The boxer Vitali Klitschko, who initially intended to run for office himself, has since declared that he will support Poroshenko instead.  Yulia Timoshenko, former darling of the Orange Revolution and President who spent years in prison on legitimate charges but politically motivated prosecution for corruption, is running too. (The man who put her there was Victor Yanukovich – who fled Ukraine but insists from his safe house in Russia that he is still the legitimate leader of Ukraine – was found to have a personal palace with his own private zoo, lake, large collection of expensive cars and a golden toilet.  But these are just details.)

And in a meeting in Geneva (in the same hotel where in 2009 then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton once gave her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov the infamous “Reset” button) Ukraine, Russia, Europe and the US came together to try to stabilize the situation and were wildly successful at being laughably pointless.  Although I suppose we can at least be grateful that they didn’t throw shoes at one another.  After the meeting Russia has continued to provoke, Ukraine continues to be helpless, Europe continues to worry how it all affects their demand for Russian gas, and the US is worried about how best to stay out of the whole thing.  One thing we know for sure: Ukraine is mighty sorry they gave up their nuclear weapons in 1994.  After the collapse of the USSR, Ukraine ended up with a stockpile of more nukes than the UK, France and China combined.  But they agreed to give up the nukes and shipped them back to Russia.  Russia, the US and the UK then signed the Budapest Memorandum of Security Assurances promising that all countries would respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity.  It would appear that that Memorandum might need a new reset.

This is an open thread.

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