It’s all over but the shouting

1.  Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich held his first press conference yesterday since fleeing Kiev in Rostov on Don, in southern Russia not far from the Sea of Azov (and Crimea).  He was not in Moscow and has only talked to Russian President Putin by phone.  Putin has not committed to back Yanukovich’s claim to still being President, or his insistence on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

2.  President Obama went to the briefing room to warn Russia

the United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.

What those costs might be is not clear.  There are rumors of canceling a G-8 meeting, which won’t bring tears to Russian eyes.

3.  The Prime Minister of Crimea has asked Putin for help.  Security contractors who work for the Russian military have taken over Crimea’s airports and pro-Russian paramilitaries have taken over government buildings in the province.  Russian helicopters have flown into Crimea.

4.  The Ukrainian government in Kiev has accused Moscow of

an armed invasion and occupation.

5.  The upper house of the Russian parliament has approved use of Russia’s armed forces on the territory of Ukraine.

6.  Russian President Putin has said nothing.

Bottom line:  It looks as if Russia has already taken a big slice of what it wants–effective control of the main governance and security centers in Crimea.  Similar moves in Russian-speaking portions of Moldova and Georgia have led to “frozen” conflicts in which Moscow occupies portions of those countries, backing up Russian-speaking local governments, despite many international community (not to mention Moldovan and Georgian) protests.

I’ll be happy to be proved wrong, but it is likely Moscow has already succeeded in putting Crimea back within its control, speedily and without firing a shot.  Moscow is showing little interest in the rest of Ukraine, which is an economic and financial mess it will be glad to see picked up by Europe, the US and the International Monetary Fund.  You’ve got to admire the statecraft, even if you object to the outcome.

The downward spiral in US/Russian relations won’t, as some fear, generate a new Cold War, because the ideological clash is not dominant and Russia no longer poses the global threat to America’s interests that the Soviet Union once did.  But we could certainly see some some future tit-for-tat. The Washington Post is calling for heavy diplomatic and economic sanctions.  It is not clear what those might be. Military action against the Russians in Crimea would be foolhardy.

Whatever he does, President Obama has to worry about Russian retaliation.  That could take the form of hindering US withdrawal from Afghanistan through the northern distribution network, which Russia controls, or hampering P5+1 (US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany) coordination of the nuclear talks with Iran.  Moscow wouldn’t mind keeping the US in Afghanistan a while longer, as it fears the consequences of withdrawal.   It is less likely to mess with the nuclear talks, as they are aimed at preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons, which Moscow definitely doesn’t want to see happen.

It’s all over but the shouting, which may go on for a long time.

5 Responses to It’s all over but the shouting

  1. […]  I think Daniel Serwer gets it exactly right […]

    • Daniel Serwer says:

      Amer, who is having trouble posting comments, writes:

      Considering the world’s (i.e., the US’) response to Soviet invasions in Hungary and Czechoslovakia long before Georgia, there’s no reason to expect anything decisive from outside Ukraine.

      This may be why Ukrainian citizens are doing what they can to ward off Russian military action on their own – peacefully. Russian and Russian-speaking Ukrainians have a petition at AVAAZ.org – https://secure.avaaz.org/ru/petition/Uvazhaemyy_Prezident_Rossiyskoy_Federaci
      i_Vladimir_Vladimirovich_Putin_My_etnicheskie_russkie_i_russkoyazychnye_Ukrainy_/?dKpuLgb – calling on Putin to, with all respect, butt out.

      It’s in Russian, but here’s a translation:

      [Signatures at start of translation: 47,349]

      Petition of Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine to President Putin of Russia:

      Dear/Respected President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Vladimirich Putin:

      We – ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking Ukrainians – are not in need of protection of our interests by other states. We thank you for your support, but we wish to inform you that no one has ever harmed us on the territory of Ukraine. We have always lived freely and happily, speaking our own language. In school we also studied the official language of Ukraine and feel comfortable in a Ukrainian-speaking environoment. Therefore, with all due respect for your efforts, we appeal to you not to raise to the national level of the Russian Federation an internal matter of our country, one that to us does not appear to be acute. Much less, [do we ask you] to introduce troops to deal with a conflict that may be visible to you, but is not to us.
      Thank you for your attention.

      RESPECTFULLY,
      RUSSIAN AND RUSSIAN-SPEAKING SPEAKING CITIZENS OF UKRAINIA

      [Signatures at time of sending this: 55,493]

      A message yesterday that did not make it through the WordPress system provided a source on the Ukrainian government’s decision not to go through with changing the status of the Russian language in Ukraine. Now all Putin is left with for an excuse is the “genocide” the Russian-speakers are supposedly enduring.

      The Ukrainians are holding their fire (as Russian tanks are supposedly crossing the national border – my info is from gordonua.com). Putin allowed Medvedev to make the decision on invading Georgia, Russian papers reported at the time, while Putin stayed out of the way at the Summer Olympics – he really weren’t too certain what Nato would do, that time. Even though the Georgian action displayed in just how bad shape the Russian armed forces actually were (it took 5 days, remember, and cost them some expensive planes) it must have reassured them that even an American president who had declared two wars elsewhere wasn’t interested in starting anything with the Russians.

      • Amer says:

        Typo – “they” really weren’t too sure what Nato would do. And they learned: nothing. The last thing you should do is encourage a bully.

        Russia is losing what soft power it used to have in Central Asia – the number of Russian speakers is way down, and Putin isn’t happy. If you have no soft power, the other kind becomes even more attractive.

  2. Al LeBlanc says:

    Generally Agree -Astute Analysis !

  3. Milan Marinkovic says:

    “Moscow is showing little interest in the rest of Ukraine, which is an economic and financial mess it will be glad to see picked up by Europe, the US and the International Monetary Fund”.

    I have to disagree somewhat with this. While I agree that Moscow has little interest in military occupation of the rest of Ukraine (not least because that would be an overly expensive enterprise), it would be wrong to assume that it would be glad to see it “picked up” by anyone, especially a Western power. Ukraine is immensely important to Russia in terms of national security, as Moscow regards the country as a major buffer to its west. The last thing Moscow wants to see is a Ukraine overwhelmed by Western or any other non-Russian influence. What the Russians actually want is to make sure that Ukraine remains in their sphere of influence so that they can permanently retain a considerable degree of control over Kiev’s decision making.

    Potentially more dangerous than a Russian armed invasion is the possibility that tensions between pro- and anti-Russian factions within Ukraine itself escalate into armed conflict. While – as you said – events in Ukraine are unlikely to set the stage for a new cold war in a literal sense, in case of a civil war between Ukrainians, the country could easily become a theater of a Cold war-style proxy battle between Russia and the U.S. Bear also in mind that the personality of Mr. Putin, as a former KGB agent, was being formed during – and hence greatly affected by – the Cold war.

    Finally, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Putin used Kosovo as an “argument” in response to strong criticism from the West. For example, he could say something to this effect: “Well, if you, Americans, together with your NATO allies, bombarded Serbia and deprived it of Kosovo, purportedly to protect local Albanians from alleged war crimes by Milošević, even though they are not your fellow nationals, why then shouldn’t we, Russians, have the right to intervene in a region where our ethnic brethren not only do live but represent a majority?”.

    Of course that Kosovo and Crimea are two very much, if not completely, different stories, but I guess it will hardly prevent Putin from making such kind of comparisons.

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