Fri Mar 14th, 2014 at 03:03:55 AM EST
The secession referendum in Crimea on the 16th of March, the outcome of which is easy to predict even if vote rigging doesn't happen, will give President Putin yet another pretext to append the peninsula to the map of Russia. For many Russians on both sides of the Kerch Strait, this will correct the mistake initially made by Nikita Khrushchev in 1954, and repeated by Boris Yeltsin 40 years later. Even the Russian intelligentsia seems to largely support Putin on this. The new government in Kiev is going to reject the results of the referendum and accuse Russia of violating international law by using its military might to redraw Europe's borders. The Kremlin insists that these Ukrainian authorities came to power as a result of a coup by pro-Western and anti-Russian extremists, inspired by the US and EU, and that ethnic Russians in Ukraine are now facing discrimination to say the least. NATO will likely to organize military exercises in close proximity to Russia and/or Ukraine, and may even undust the plans to install U.S. missile defense systems in Central Europe, which, by the way, as we were told initially, would protect NATO allies against rogue states like Iran. Then there will be a whole slew of sanctions, including economic, against, and visa restrictions for, Russian officials, which is, perhaps, the most efficient way to get the message through. Russia, of course, threatens to retaliate... Apparently, both sides are currently digging in preparing for return of cold war.
front-paged by afew
Let us try to look at the situation at different angles to see if a compromise is possible. Ukraine is pretty much a failed state, at least, economically. It has been on life support in the form of loans and foreign aid for quite some time. Corruption, cronyism and racket from officials at all levels of government, are rampant, disincentivizing any investments. The administration of the former President Victor Yanikovich was a clear winner in terms of robbing the country, although its predecessors were not too far behind. No wonder that Ukrainians had enough of that. The popular movement that swept away the Yanukovich's government brought together protesters from the entire political spectrum, including the far-right end. An unfortunate side effect was that, in eyes of many Ukrainians, Yanukovich represented the policy of closer ties with Russia, rooted in the East and South of the country. The pendulum swung so far towards the West that even the parliament faction of the Party of Regions, which was the political base of the former authorities, swore allegiance to this mood. The prospect of Ukraine potentially aligning its foreign and military policy with NATO under the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement was that "red line", which triggered heavy-handed Russian reaction. Let's not forget that for Putin and majority ordinary Russians, NATO is still an enemy, and, so far, the alliance has failed to prove otherwise.
I strongly believe that giving Ukraine this either/or choice was a huge blunder by the EU (and the US, for that matter). They simply overplayed their hand. On top of this, implementing the measures to reduce budget deficit, especially, in the light of Russia rising prices of natural gas, would inevitably hit most vulnerable social groups (retired and low-income population), and hardly improve the image of the government among voters. No doubt that it wasn't the only consideration in favor of the Russian option. Transparency and the rule of law weren't high on Yanukovich's list of priorities either.
So here's where we are. If nothing else, Russia will keep Crimea, no matter what the West says and does. In case Ukraine doesn't let it go, the territorial dispute will complicate the country integration with the EU. Strained relationships with Russia will make economic recovery much slower and more painful. The confrontation over Ukraine is also going to hurt Europe and Russia on almost every front.
But it doesn't have to be like this. Does NATO really need Ukraine, unless it wants to move to Russian borders? Is the EU ready to get the country through the period of reforms on its own, or even with the US, if Russia is shut out of this process? This is what has to be clearly understood in Washington, Brussels and Kiev. The stand-your-ground law doesn't work well in this situation.