Saturday, May 26, 2007

Burnt Sienna

The situation in the Ukraine and Russia's involvement there had better be a high priority with our State Department. Instead of futile talks with Iranians and Syrians, we need to keep from losing a friend and potential ally. Let's reassure and help the Ukrainians and do our best to dissuade the Russians from getting all expansionist.

When countries start worrying about the loyalties of various portions of the security forces, it does not bode well for settling differences peacefully:

Ukraine's president said he took command of 32,000 Interior Ministry troops on Friday, and a ministry official rejected the order — deepening the country's political crisis as police guarded the office of the fired prosecutor general.

The former Soviet republic edged closer toward potential violence as lawmakers and officials allied with Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych called President Viktor Yushchenko's order a "putsch," and hundreds of supporters of each of the rival politicians staged competing rallies in Kiev.

Yanukovych and Yushchenko, along with other top political leaders, met late Friday for the first time since the president fired the prosecutor general a day earlier.

Tensions between the pair have been building for weeks, and the president's move to take control over the troops, reflecting doubt on the loyalty of servicemen under the ministry's command, suggested rising concern over possible clashes.

Yushchenko wants to move Ukraine toward the West and eventual NATO membership. But tensions between ethnic Russians and Ukrainians could hamper that goal. I'm sure that Moscow is well aware of this rift and eager to absorb Ukraine into Russia. And our government has been warned as well.

The Orange Revolution is in danger of getting a bit burned.

UPDATE: This doesn't sound good:

Elite units from all over Ukraine, estimated by the interior ministry to total 3,600 men, drove in convoys of buses toward Kiev with the aim of guarding state buildings and "protecting public order," the president's office said.

But the special forces, carrying riot gear, were stopped by police at checkpoints around the country under orders from the interior ministry banning troop movements.

"The interior minister has given an order forbidding the movement of internal troops towards Kiev so that they do not upset public order," Kostyantin Stogny, a ministry spokesman, told AFP.

Security forces from rival politicians are confronting each other. This is not good. But so far nobody has shot at each other. So this is good.

We need to be on the phone with President Yushchenko so he knows of our support and on the phone with Prime Minister Yanukovych to make sure he doesn't plunge Ukraine into civil war.

Oh, and we should stand firm with Estonia in the current cyber-war so that Moscow doesn't get the wrong idea about Western resolve. This isn't about Estonia and it isn't about Ukraine. It is about a Russia that is pining for its glory days and we don't know what they are willing to do to regain the old Soviet borders.

UPDATE: The crisis appears over. Yushchenko has backed off on his demands for fast elections:

Ukraine's feuding president and prime minister agreed early Sunday to hold an early parliamentary election on Sept. 30, defusing a crisis that threatened to escalate into violence when the president sent troops streaming toward the capital.

I don't know if delaying elections until the fall is a problem, but at least there was no shooting.