The Widdershins

Posts Tagged ‘Ukraine

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.

Good morning all. The bronchitis that felled me last Monday has subsided into an occasional snurfle, and I feel ready to tackle the complexities of the Russian/Ukraine situation. (Well, I’ll do my best anyway….no pics or videos today, I’m posting from the plane!)

So as you’re all most likely aware, the scope of the sanctions against Russia is still being decided. As expected, these economic efforts have not been effective so far, but should the banking and/or petrochemical industries be included, they may grow some teeth. While the spinal infusion of Western nations remains in doubt, however, Pooty-Poot has been conducting a not-so-secret takeover of Eastern Ukraine by Russian military forces for the past two weeks. Despite the inevitable and somewhat contradictory denials of the Kremlin, it seems clear that Russia is behind the wave of well-coordinated, highly-skilled attacks.

“It’s hard to fathom that groups of armed men in masks suddenly sprang forward from the population in eastern Ukraine and systematically began to occupy government facilities,” Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, NATO’s top military commander, wrote in a blog post on the alliance’s website.“It’s hard to fathom because it’s simply not true. What is happening in eastern Ukraine is a military operation that is well planned and organized, and we assess that it is being carried out at the direction of Russia.”


More direct evidence of a Russian hand in eastern Ukraine is contained in a dossier of photographs provided by Ukraine to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a Vienna-based organization now monitoring the situation in Donetsk and other parts of the country. It features pictures taken in eastern Ukraine of unidentified gunmen and an earlier photograph of what looks like the same men appearing in a group shot of a Russian military unit in Russia.

Lest any of us remain skeptical about Putin’s eventual goals in the region, the Russian leader has been throwing around an old, new term lately: “New Russia.”

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, appearing cool and confident on national television during a four-hour question-and-answer show on Thursday, referred repeatedly to southeastern Ukraine as “New Russia,” a historical term for the area north of the Black Sea that the Russian empire conquered in the 1700s. “God knows” why the region became part of Ukraine in the 1920s, he said in response to a questioner, a strong signal that he would gladly correct that error.

Mr. Putin’s use of the term “Novorossiya,” which he had not emphasized previously, suggested that he was replicating, with regard to eastern Ukraine, Russia’s assertions of historical ties to Crimea before it occupied and annexed the peninsula.

There are echo’s of Orwell’s 1984 in the way Putin is trying to claim “we have always been in control of West Asia.”  And just as in 1984, whether anyone buys the propaganda he is catapulting, is not really the point. The point is, he is signaling his plan to take over Ukraine. (Not just Eastern Ukraine – that is only the first step. Western Ukraine will not be able to stand up to Russia once the East is subsumed.) And after Ukraine, what next? More of what was happening in the 1700s? Let’s see: tsars becoming emperors, continual wars to conquer more and more territory, the supremacy of the Russian Orthodox Church…doesn’t sound so hot to me.

I have to say that once again, I feel that President Treebeard is too slow and too indecisive to make the hard decisions that would have to be made to take Putin out of the picture, and that red phone has been ringing unanswered for far too long. Put some bite into those sanctions, d*mmit – I know Europe will suffer, but won’t they suffer more if Putin becomes the next Emperor?

Sadly, what is Obama doing right now? He’s running away to Asia, where China may be considering an aggressive land grab as well. I’m sure the citizens of Japan and South Korea are very comforted by his declaration of “increased focus” in the region.

Widdershins, we live in interesting times. Let’s hope the leaders of the free world can stop Putin before his greed and ambition force us into World War III.

This is an open thread.


Putin feels untouchable

I don’t know if you all remember Hillary’s suggestion for containing terrorism and protecting Israel in 2008, but she said she thought a “nuclear umbrella” might do the trick. As SOS, she also suggested we could take this tack against Iran in 2009.

Speaking  during a televised town hall meeting in Bangkok, Mrs. Clinton said, “We want Iran to calculate what I think is a fair assessment, that if the U.S. extends a defense umbrella over the region, if we do even more to support the military capacity of those in the gulf, it’s unlikely that Iran will be any stronger or safer, because they won’t be able to intimidate and dominate, as they apparently believe they can, once they have a nuclear weapon.”

I fear that in the light of Putin’s now obvious moves to re-take Ukraine for Russia, we are left with even fewer options to deter naked aggression by nuclear powers, than we ever were.

As Obama and the G7 countries meet to discuss the new massing of Russian troops on Ukraine’s border, the discussion centers around the economic possibilities of containing Pooty-Poot’s imperialistic ambitions.

The setting in The Hague of the improvised Group of 7 session and the nuclear security meeting in itself contrasts with the worldview recently offered by Mr. Putin and his power play in Ukraine. The standoff is also in stark contrast to the more hopeful tone struck by President Bill Clinton in 1997 during a visit to the Netherlands and France to mark progress toward the post-Soviet unification of Europe.

“In the twilight of the 20th century, we look toward a new century with a new Russia and a new NATO, working together in a new Europe of unlimited possibility,” Mr. Clinton said in Paris that year. “The NATO-Russia Founding Act we have just signed joins a great nation and history’s most successful alliance in common cause for a long-sought but never before realized goal — a peaceful, democratic, undivided Europe.”

That vision was a distant memory as President Obama on Monday repeated his intent to keep ratcheting up pressure on Mr. Putin. “We’re united in imposing a cost on Russia for its actions so far,” Mr. Obama said, adding that “the growing sanctions would bring significant consequences to the Russian economy.”

And what has changed between Clinton and Obama? Why does Putin feel so free to invade another country without having been attacked first? And why isn’t he deterred by Japan’s nuclear umbrella?

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Just two buds having a chat

We have a guest post today by DYB on the Russian Ukraine situation

As you may know, DYB and family migrated to the U.S. from Ukraine.  That is where D was born and grew up so obviously he is familiar with the region and a lot of the issues going on there.  I asked him if he would share some thoughts on the situation and the background of the area and he happily obliged.

Things Fall Apart

Russia and Ukraine have a very long history.  In fact, Russia started in Kiev. Kievan Rus’ was established in the 9th century, with the great city of Kiev, located on the mighty Dnieper River, as its capital.  Over the following centuries, with shifting allegiances and Mongolian attacks, and with the increasingly less important Dnieper as a trade route, the federation fell apart.  Out of this (somewhat abridged history) was born the Ukraine, Belorussia and Russia.  Russia, obviously, became the greater superpower, eventually conquering the other two and absorbing them into its sphere. Of all the former Republics that broke away after the fall of communism, the Ukrainian break was the most painful.  Ukraine was the closest to Moscow politically and culturally, and has perhaps the greatest number of Russians living there than in any of the others.  Although the Ukrainian language is closer to Polish than it is to Russian, everybody speaks Russian.  In the smaller towns and in the country Ukrainian language may be more prevalent, but the ties to Russia run deep after centuries of Russian influence.

 After Ukraine’s cessation from Russia its economic and political turmoil – as one would expect – was mighty high.  Viktor Yanukovich’s political rivalry with Viktor Yuschenko reached new heights of dirty politics during the 2004 campaign for Presidency.   During the lengthy campaign, voting and multiple run-offs Yuschenko was poisoned with TCDD, the most powerful contaminant in Agent Orange.  Though he survived the assassination attempt he was physically disfigured.  Yanukovich, of course, has never been convicted of being involved, but…. anybody want a bridge for real cheap?  The dirty campaign set off what became known as the Orange Revolution of 2004/2005, a series of protests against Yanukovich’s “win,” known to have been rigged.  The opposition coalition, which included Yanukovich and Yulia Tymoshenko, was successful in forcing Yanukovich from office.  And it left Putin without an ally in Kiev.

Under the leadership of Yuschenko and subsequently Tymoshenko, the country drifted West in its politics and allegiances.  A 2009 dispute with Russia over price of gas would lead to prosecution of Tymoshenko for corruption by Yanukovich’s new government – after he returned to power in a legitimate election in 2010.  Everyone widely recognized that her prosecution was politically motivated, but Yanukovich – who himself somehow managed to accumulate a personal fortune of $12,000,000,000 – accused her of corruptions of all kinds.  No doubt Tymoshenko was not a saint.  But the view of Yuschenko’s own house, with its private zoo and fancy cars, suggests a certain lack of honesty as well.  Be that as it may, Tymoshenko was found guilty and sent to prison.  Putin had his old ally back in Kiev and his enemies (like Tymoshenko and Yuschenko) well out of the way.

Fast forward to 2013.  Yanukovich campaigned on a promise to continue forging and strengthening ties with the European Union, political and economic.  Putin, however, a former KGB man, has always believed that the break-up of the old Soviet block was a travesty and particularly wanted to keep Ukraine in his own pocket.  Aside from the large Russian population still living there, there is also the access to the Black Sea in Crimea.  When Yanukovich

"Nice toys Vlad"

“Nice toys Vlad”

very suddenly pivoted on his promises to Europe and made a surprise announcement that he would instead move towards a financial deal with Russia – the beginning of the end arrived.  Massive protests in the capital of Kiev, which lasted well into the freezing winter months, have played out on our own televisions.   Yanukovich is a man so deeply connected to Putin, he made no decisions without Putin’s approval.  Even as the Europeans and the Russians mediated a deal, he ran off to make a phone call to Sochi to ask Putin’s blessing to accept it.  The deal promised early elections, but would keep Yanukovich in office for several more months.  Putin gave his blessing to the deal.  But both Putin and Yanukovich misjudged the mood of the public outside, which at that point has already been attacked by Yanukovich’s special police force, the much despised sadists of the Berkut (Brown Shirts spring to mind), as well shot at by snipers.  Whatever deal Yanukovich thought he was making came several days too late and the following day he was forced to flee Kiev.  The Olympics in Sochi were just wrapping up and if anyone thought Putin’s silence on the matters in Kiev was surprisingly muted, they got a big surprise once the Olympics ended.  Russian military invaded Crimea, pretending to defend the ethnic Russians.  There was nothing to defend them from, of course.  Russians and Ukrainians have lived without issues for decades.  Historically rivalries there didn’t even approach Yankees vs. Red Sox tensions.  The random breakouts of violence since Yanukovich’s flight appear to have been organized by the various political factions, not grassroots uprisings.  One of the big divides really appears to be generational, not cultural.  The older generation, that lived under Soviet rule, seems to have forgotten their lives before.  My own parents, residing comfortably in Brooklyn and who, along with all of their friends, get their news solely from Russian television, believe Putin to be a great man, great leader, and of course Ukraine should be controlled by Russia.  “Why would that be bad?” my mother asked.  I asked her why we left the Ukraine in 1989 if things were not so bad?  There was no answer.  She believes the protests in Kiev were organized by the West and the protestors paid by the West.  The younger generation of Ukraine, however, has no desire to live under a Russian overlord.  They would much rather travel across Europe without passports than to Russia.  The split is not an easy geographical one.  An attempt to split the country would lead to a catastrophic civil war.


His little buddy

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Last week, we asked “WWPD” (What Will Putin Do?) about Ukraine’s Declaration of Independence. This week, we found out. Putin SMASH!

No shots have been fired and no treaties signed but Crimea is now de facto under Russian armed control.

Two large Ukrainian military bases are surrounded, with Russian troops standing alongside local self-defence groups, who demand that the Ukrainian soldiers inside defect from Kiev to Crimea’s new pro-Russia government.

The naval headquarters remains blockaded and key installations like airports are still occupied. Thousands of newly-arrived Russian elite troops far outnumber Ukraine’s military presence here. Crimea has in effect been cut off by roadblocks, where vehicles are being denied access to the peninsula.

But wait! This is not an act of aggression. Heavens, no. It’s self-defense! Those pro-Russian Easterners need to make sure those nasty nationalists don’t hurt them. Putin is just protecting his people, or so says Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Mr Lavrov said in Geneva on Monday that Russian troops were needed in Ukraine “until the normalisation of the political situation”.

Mr Lavrov said: “The victors intend to make use of the fruits of their victory to attack human rights and fundamental freedoms of minorities.”

He said the “violence of ultra-nationalists threatens the lives and the regional interests of Russians and the Russian speaking population”.

Is anyone buying this? Putin, the defender of human rights? Of course not. It’s Putin’s way of keeping control over a resource-rich region that is divided in its loyalties. Europe or Russia – who will get that natural gas?

Russia is Europe’s biggest gas supplier, providing around a quarter of continental demand, which at current daily flows of 270 million cubic metres (mcm) is worth almost $100 million a day. Around a third of Russia’s gas is exported through Ukraine.

Fears for the stability of supply to Europe increased over the weekend when Russian forces took control of Ukraine’s Crimea region and President Vladimir Putin said he had the right to invade his neighbour to protect Russians there after the overthrow of ally Viktor Yanukovich.

Moscow has in the past cut supplies to Ukraine when negotiating prices with Kiev, causing shortages especially in central Europe, which gets most of its supplies from Russia.

Russia’s Gazprom said on Monday that gas transit to Europe via Ukraine was normal, but it warned that it might increase prices for Kiev after the first quarter, raising concerns that gas could be used for political leverage in the crisis.

Russia may indeed need to increase prices, as the invasion of Crimea has not been good for the economy there. Putin’s decision has caused a selling frenzy.

“Now that (Russia and Ukraine) are actually on the verge of a military confrontation investors will start selling Russian stocks with special fervour,” analysts at Rossiysky Capital said in a note for investors.

Artem Argetkin, trader at BCS in Moscow, said brokers were trying to close their positions at any price.

“There’s a sell-off of everything right now,” he added.

James Hughes, chief market analyst at Alpari UK, warned the sell-off would get worse.

“We can expect some very sharp moves in the ensuing couple of days as markets and world leaders look to establish just how much of a threat there is not only to stability in the area but stability across Europe.”

Heaven forbid the mighty engine of capitalism, once so reviled in Russia, should throw a rod and overheat! Unfortunately, any sign of stabilization, whether it be a complete military coup by Putin or the regaining of sovereignty by the new Ukrainian government, would help the engine run smoothly again. So, we can’t count on the market helping out the pro-Europe faction for very long. As we asked last week…WWOD?

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Morning, Widdershins! MadamaB here. Due to my renewed and extensive travel schedule in a location where my Internet access can be as dodgy as Prolix’s, I am now switching to Mondays.

As you may have read, Chatblu wrote yesterday about the amazing, televised Ukrainian revolution. Except for the riot police who used live ammunition on protesters (a mere bagatelle!), leading to over 100 deaths, the whole thing was fairly peaceful, especially for a group of people who are pitting themselves against Pooty-Poot.

What happens next for the Ukraine? One of the first things the new government did was free one of the leaders of the Orange Revolution, Yulia Tymoshenko, from prison. The pro-Russian government had put her in jail in 2011, claiming that she abused her office as Prime Minister. These charges were disputed by her supporters and many Western nations.

Tymoshenko, suffering from a back injury, was rolled onstage in a pink wheelchair. She gave an emotional, forceful speech, honoring the 82 Ukrainians killed in street fighting and by riot police since Tuesday.

The opposition leader, who still has her trademark blond braid, said that Ukraine would not be truly free until “everyone bears a responsibility for what they have done,” a clear reference to the president and his ousted interior minister, who controlled the riot police forces that used live ammunition against protesters. “If we don’t prosecute, we should be ashamed.”

She told the crowd, “You changed everything — not the politicians, not the diplomats, you changed the world,” and called the ousted government “a cancer.”

At the moment, a new set of elections is being planned for May 25th, 2014, and Tymoshenko is expected to run for President.

So far so good. But what will Putin do?

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