Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Calm Before the Storm

So who is in charge of what in Ukraine? And what will the Russian do?

The president is no longer the president, the former president is freed, and the parliament is asserting power:

The whereabouts and legitimacy of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych were unclear on Sunday, after he left the capital and his archfoe Yulia Tymoshenko was freed from prison and returned to Kiev to address a massive, adoring crowd.

Ukraine's newly emboldened legislature voted Sunday to hand the president's powers to the parliament speaker, a Tymoshenko ally. But Yanukovych has said that parliament decisions in recent days are illegal.

Yanukovich is in the east. Ethnic Russians and Russian speakers dominate there. Yanukovich was reported in Kharkov initially and now in Donetsk. These are the two biggest cities near Russia. Is he rallying support in those cities? Will pro-Yanukovich militias be formed?

But I haven't read that the ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine pine for reunion with Russia. So the majority shouldn't assume that the 1/6 of the population that is Russian wants secession. Don't treat them like the enemy.

Of course, Putin could simply claim he is defending them if he sends in the tanks.

The Russians aren't on board with events:

Russia came out Saturday firmly against the peace deal, saying the opposition isn't holding up its end of the agreement, which calls for protesters to surrender arms and abandon their tent camps. Tymoshenko's entreaty is likely to make the latter condition slow to be fulfilled.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Saturday called his German, French and Polish counterparts and urged them to use their influence with the Ukrainian opposition to stop what he described as rampages by its supporters. European officials urged calm.

What a shock. No call to the United States.

So Russia is not on board. And Yanukovich claims he is facing a coup:

Mr. Yanukovych appeared on television Saturday afternoon, saying that he had been forced to leave the capital because of a “coup,” and that he had not resigned, and did not plan to. He said he understood that people had suffered in recent days. “I feel pain for my country,” he said. “I feel responsibility. I will keep you informed of what we will do further, every day.”

He also said that he was traveling to the southeastern part of the country to talk to his supporters — a move that carried potentially ominous overtones, in that the southeast is the location, among other things, of the Crimea, the historically Russian section of the country where a Russian naval base is located.

His essentially lawless government makes claims of a popular revolt being described as a coup laughable.

But it could be used as a pretext for Russian intervention.

Ukrainians can be relieved that so many Russian security personnel are focused on Olympics security for the moment.

Going to southern Ukraine apparently meant Donetsk. Given the Russian military presence in Crimea and the fact that ethnic Russians are actually a majority there, all Yanukovich would have to do to check on the status of that region is to call Moscow.

So what happens? (tip to Instapundit)

Does Ukraine win? If so, does a united Ukraine move West or to Russia? Does Russia make the mistake of trying to invade and conquer all of Ukraine? Does Russia recognize and rescue a Yanukovich-led eastern Ukraine while Russia reclaims the Crimean peninsula as part of Russia? Should Ukrainians vote on whether to stay or leave Ukraine?

In any case, what is happening in Ukraine touches the vital interests of many members of the NATO alliance. What Washington does in the next few days could have serious consequences for the future viability of the world’s oldest and most successful alliance system.

Events are moving quickly in Ukraine, and in revolutionary situations like this, it can be very difficult to predict how the process will unfold. But Ukraine matters much more in Moscow than it does in either Brussels or Washington (though not in Warsaw, Bucharest and Vilnius); President Putin seems to believe that his geopolitical position requires him to take risks and move fast.

Yes, Russia wants their border pushed as far west as possible on that flat terrain. But just because Russia has rational reasons for wanting to push their borders as far from Moscow as possible doesn't mean we have to go along. Russians can cite Napoleon and the Germans twice (and the Poles and Swedes, for that matter) as reason for their worry.

I can cite the European Union's military capacity as reason for dismissing Russia's worries or pretense of worries.

I disagree with the idea that we have no interest and should push for the partition of Ukraine.

Pushing Russia away from the Black Sea--should Russia lose their bases in Crimea if Ukraine doesn't want them there any more--in the long run makes Russian operations in the Mediterranean much more difficult. That would make their help for Syria a bit more difficult and deprive Russia of some leverage in Egypt.

And even if I can accept Ukraine in the European Union but outside of NATO, I don't want the Russians closer to NATO's borders with a creeping anschluss with Ukraine the way Belarus is slowly falling under direct Russian control.

Nor do I like the idea of setting the Brezhnev doctrine in motion a little as the Georgia War of 2008 did, taking some of the old USSR back. What would be next? Estonia?

We may not want to go to war over Kharkov. But we shouldn't bless Russia's conquest, either.

Luckily, China is a potential ally if the Chinese see splitting Ukraine apart as interfering with their claims for Taiwan. The Chinese tend not to like secessionist movements. If Peking sees eastern Ukraine as Ukraine's Taiwan, Peking would oppose splitting Ukraine up.

When the Olympics are over, Putin will have a lot of paramilitary police forces freed up that could be used to control the eastern cities of Ukraine in support of Yanukovich.