Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Posted: 04/11/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0
On one hand, eastern Ukraine appears to be slipping out of the government's control, as pro-Russian groups seize control of official buildings in big eastern cities such as Donetsk and Luhansk and demand referendums on union with Russia.
They almost certainly do not represent majority opinion in those cities, but the police stand aside and people who support Ukrainian unity are nervous about expressing their opinions in public.
On the other hand, the European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, has just announced the EU, the United States, Ukraine and Russia will all meet somewhere in Europe next week to discuss ways of "de-escalating the situation in Ukraine." That will be the first time Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has agreed to meet with a representative of the Ukrainian government.
So is this crisis heading for a resolution or an explosion? It still depends on whether Russian President Vladimir Putin thinks the annexation of Crimea is enough compensation for the humiliation he suffered when his ally in Kyiv, former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, was overthrown by a popular revolution. And clearly Putin hasn't yet decided that himself.
Rationality says take your winnings to the bank and quit the game while you're ahead. Putin's action has guaranteed that almost any imaginable Ukrainian government will be hostile for the foreseeable future, but the NATO countries will be willing to forget about Crimea after a while if he goes no further. Does he really want the United States, Germany, France and Britain as his enemies, too?
Yet the temptation is there. Putin's agents are everywhere in eastern Ukraine, he has 40,000 troops ready to go at a moment's notice just across the frontier, and all the Russian navy's amphibious assault ships are now in the Black Sea -- he could grab the Ukrainian coast all the way west to Odessa at the same time. The Ukrainian army would fight, but could not hold out for more than a day or two, and NATO would not send troops. Why not do it?
There are lots of good reasons not to. Putin would face a protracted guerilla war in Ukraine (he would call it "terrorism," of course). He would find himself in a new Cold War Russia would lose much faster than it lost the last one: It has only half the population of the old Soviet Union and now depends heavily on Western markets for its modest prosperity.
He would find new NATO military bases opening up in various countries on Russia's borders that joined the alliance for safety's sake, but have so far not allowed foreign (i.e. American or German) troops to be based permanently on their soil out of consideration for Russian anxieties. He really shouldn't even consider grabbing Ukraine, but he is a man with a very big chip on his shoulder.
So what sort of line should the Europeans, the Americans and the Ukrainians be taking with Russia next week? This is about hard power, so appeals to sweet reason are pointless.
"Sanctions" are also irrelevant: This has now gone considerably beyond the point where gesture politics has any role to play.
The economic and strategic prices Russia would pay need to be big and they need to be stated clearly.
But at the same time, Russia's own legitimate concerns have to be addressed, and the main one is its fear Ukraine might some day join NATO. That requires a firm commitment hat Ukraine will be strictly neutral, under international guarantee.
Russia will also try to get a promise that Ukraine will be "federalized," but that is none of its business and should be rejected.
Ukraine needs lots of money, in a hurry, to stay solvent while it holds an election on May 25 and sorts itself out politically.
And if all that is done, then maybe Putin will settle for Crimea and put up with the prospect of having to live next door to a neutral but democratic Ukraine.
Otherwise, it's going to get quite ugly.
Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist published in 45 countries.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 11, 2014 A9
Having problems with the form?Contact Us Directly
A time to reflect on all our blessings
NDP in tough spot for 2015 election
Ensure emotions can handle play date
Two stand out against all other candidates
A doggone happy reunification
Exit a body blow for Selinger
Talkin' 'bout a revolutionary
Earl Grey squares
#Decolonize2014: Boundary-defying exhibitions by indigenous artists help define art in Winnipeg this year
A mommy not required to stick up for husband
Persian, Somali food in short supply in Winnipeg, so this duo is a great discovery
City, Shindico still at odds over expropriation
Time to deal yourself in, Chevy
Return to Dog River so much fun you could spit
Generosity doesn't solve poverty
Hush-hush bar fight leads to fidelity concerns
A pooch's present
Time to deal yourself in, Chevy
Daughter makes her mom proud
Dad feeling dumb after being caught smoking pot
Tolkiening it to the next level
Brace for return of Bellefeuille, Etcheverry
Scandinavian-style spa steaming up Fort Garry
Eggnog Sandwich Cookies
The buddy system can be complicated thing
First fashion boutique on Waterfront
Chronic condition and obesity inspire local woman to join reality show about bodybuilders
Marry who you want, don't invite co-workers
Hutchinson deserves more
Whatever happened to Joe Kapone?
Did he die in vain?
Many queries, few answers in police-HQ probe
Your weekend weather
Watch out for overheated canola, farmers warned
Politicians shouldn't finance reporters
It's all about helping good people