Ukraine’s defense minister said on Saturday Russia had “recently” brought 6,000 additional personnel into Ukraine and that the Ukrainian military were on high alert in the Crimea region, Reuters reported…
U.S. officials told Fox News they see “evidence of air and maritime movement into and out of Crimea by Russian forces” although the Pentagon declined to officially “characterize” the movement.
Some 60 locals, all apparently ethnic Russians, were gathered in a nearby square waving Russian flags and shouting “Russia, Russia.”
Just a few hours earlier on Saturday, the newly installed, pro-Russia prime minister of Crimea had declared that he was in sole control of the military and the police in the peninsula and he appealed to Mr. Putin for help in safeguarding the region.
The prime minister, Sergei Aksyonov, also said a public referendum on independence would be held on March 30.
On a day of frayed nerves and set-piece political appeals that recalled ethnic conflicts of past decades in the former Soviet bloc — from the Balkans to the Caucasus — pro-Russian forces were said to have taken control of a government building in Kharkiv, and a crowd in the center of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine and pulled down the blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag and raised a Russian one.
Vitaly Klitschko, a senior Ukrainian politician and likely presidential candidate, called on Saturday for a “general mobilization” following Russian parliament’s decision to approve deploying troops in Ukraine’s Crimea region.
“Klitschko calls for a declaration on a general mobilization,” the retired boxing champion’s political party UDAR (Punch) said, making clear he favored a military mobilization.
Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain said on Friday that Russian President Vladimir Putin may have invaded Ukraine because he’s unafraid of a weak White House…
“I really believe that when Vladimir Putin looks around the world — sees what happened in Syria when the red line turned pink and the president didn’t act, our acquiescence to their occupation of Georgia, all of the actions that have to do and indicate a decline of the United States of America — I think he’s emboldened and he’s acting.”
“When Putin sees the President of the United States say, ‘We are going to act if they cross a red line’ and they don’t,” McCain explained, “and when he sees the President of the United States say ,’tell Vladimir that when I’m reelected I’m going to be more flexible,’ when we were pushing the ‘reset button,’ — I think that Vladimir Putin, being the old KGB apparatchik that he is, does not believe that the penalty for this behavior will be very severe.”
The head of Russia’s upper house of Parliament said in televised comments Saturday that she plans to ask Russian President Vladimir Putin to recall the Russian ambassador to the U.S. “After the recent statements by the U.S. President threatening Russia and saying that Russia will face costs for the actions in Crimea, we have to act adequately, so we decided to address the (Russian) President and ask for a recall of the Russian ambassador from the U.S. The decision will be made by the President, but we have the right to express our point of view,” Valentina Matvienko, chairwoman of the Federal Council, said.
There was good reason to think Putin wouldn’t do it. Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov told Secretary of State John Kerry that Russia respected the territorial integrity of the Ukraine. U.S. intelligence assessments concluded that the 150,000-man Russian military exercises announced by Putin on Wednesday were not preparations for an invasion of Ukraine because no medical units accompanied the troops. And Russian and U.S. diplomats were still working on Iran and Syrian diplomacy. All of this followed a successful Winter Olympic games for Putin’s Russia…
One former U.S. intelligence officer told The Daily Beast he expects Russian operatives to begin launching false flag style operations designed to look like terrorist attacks or arms shipments to anti-Russian groups in Crimea and to leak alleged conversations implicating Kiev and the CIA in these drummed up events.
“Putin’s aim is to show that he is in the catbird seat, and there is nothing we can do about it,” this former officer said. “He’s like a kid with a can of gasoline and a book of matches, and he laughs as Obama tries to deliver lectures on how fire is dangerous. Indeed, Putin throws banana peels on the ground, and Obama manages to slip on every one of them. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
I’ll be happy to be proved wrong, but it is likely Moscow has already succeeded in putting Crimea back within its control, 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.
Does Nato have the will to prevent such a development? If not, what are our options? If a partition is coming anyway, might it not be better to take ownership of the process: to see that the border is decided peacefully and by referendum rather than by military occupation? To ensure that the two new entities recognise each other, that free movement of goods and people is guaranteed, that we avoid another frozen conflict in which families are separated and the economy is wrecked. It might be that negotiations would not result in the destruction of the Ukrainian state, but in the development of a loose confederation.
To put it another way, if a cleavage is coming in any event, it is surely better for it to happen through reluctant agreement than through war and ethnic cleansing. I may be wrong about all this. I hope I am. But the prospect of a Korea-style military division, of thousands left stranded on the wrong side, of a bristling Russian armistice line cutting through a European state, of a lasting military confrontation between Moscow and the West, ought to make us cast around for alternatives.
Many analysts think that having lost a leader in Kiev likely to do Moscow’s bidding, Mr. Putin is settling for a second-best solution by helping to carve off the Crimea region. It’s an outcome he has engineered in Georgia and in Moldova, two former Soviet states with Russian-dominated breakaway zones…
Mr. Putin appears to be assuming—correctly in the eyes of many Western analysts—that the U.S. and Europe do not have an interest in confronting him…
Sponsoring uncertainty about the territorial integrity of a country encumbers it politically and economically, and makes formal ties with the West and Western aid more problematic, she says.
In a tweet, Carl Bildt, Sweden’s foreign minister, suggested he had reached a similar conclusion: “I fear we see a scenario we have seen before playing out in Crimea now. Russia establishing new gray zones and frozen conflicts.”
“What does he want here? Chaos,” Mr. Saakashvili says. “He has good chances here this time to really chop up Ukraine. It’s going toward big-scale conflict. Big, big internal conflict. He’ll stir up trouble in some of the Ukrainian regions. It’s a very crucial moment. Russia will try to Balkanize Ukraine.”…
The collapse of the Yanukovych regime set back the Putin plan to control Ukraine through a crony. His $15 billion in aid, no strings attached, couldn’t prop up Mr. Yanukovych, who had done Moscow’s bidding by shelving an EU “association” treaty and moving Ukraine toward the Putin-led Eurasian Union.
“If Ukraine’s a success, a smooth transition, a nice government, doing nice reforms—for Putin, it’s the end of him,” says Mr. Saakashvili. Russians will see the contrast with their slowing economy dragged down by an oligarch-Putin complex that makes Mr. Yanukovych’s corruption look thrifty. “Putin is old fashioned,” says the Georgian, who is now 46. “He is really obsolete.”
At AI, our concern has always been that Putin sees the United States as an opponent in a zero sum contest, not a partner in a quest for win-win. Putin sees the American faith in win-win solutions as a long line of Russian negotiators back to czarist times have done: as an irritating though occasionally useful blend of hypocrisy and fecklessness. We worry that Putin sees Obama’s effort to keep bargaining in good faith over Syria, Iran and now perhaps Crimea as a weakness to be exploited, not a foundation for mutual trust and cooperation. Putin, we suspect, wants President Obama’s prestige damaged, and for American foreign policy to endure one setback and humiliation after another. He will happily play Lucy as long as President Obama is willing to play Charlie Brown and run at the football Lucy holds…
We’ll have to see, but without a sharp turn, neither President Obama nor his chief European partner Chancellor Merkel will do anything but seek to defuse the crisis as quickly and painlessly as possible. If Putin offers a face-saving solution that leaves him with some visible gains in exchange for some mostly cosmetic concessions, they will have a hard time saying no even as they wrestle with the ugly financial and political arithmetic that a Ukrainian bailout involves.
If that is how this crisis winds up, the West, the United States and President Obama himself will all have been significantly undermined, and both President Putin and Russia will emerge looking more potent than before. This is exactly what Putin wants, and if he succeeds it will feed his contempt for Western leaders and encourage him to look elsewhere for new surprises and new wins.
None of this should blind us to the sterility of Putin’s foreign policy agenda. Russia cannot recreate the old Soviet Union; it is so poor that it cannot afford the cost of carrying the weak republics that once formed the USSR.
If Russia excludes its own borders from the general international standard of inviolability, it might face some unwanted challenges down the road. If Russia’s external frontiers are flexible zones, to be pushed in various ways with appeals to the rights of ethnic brethren and passport holders, then what will happen, down the line, in Russia’s eastern Siberia? There, Russia holds major natural resources along its border with China, the world’s longest. Some 6 million Russian citizens in eastern Siberia face 90 million Chinese in China’s bordering provinces.
Beijing pays attention to Ukraine because it has a major stake in Ukrainian agricultural territories. It will likely note the developing Russian doctrine on the flexibility of Russia’s external borders. China also has a stake in eastern Siberia. It needs fresh water, hydrocarbons, mineral resources such as copper and zinc, and fertile soil for its farmers. The Chinese economic relationship with eastern Siberia is a colonial one: China buys raw materials and sells finished goods. Beijing actually invests more in eastern Siberia than does Moscow. No one knows the exact number of Chinese citizens in eastern Siberia — in part because the last Russian census declined to count them — but it certainly dwarfs the number of Russians in Crimea, and is expected by Russian analysts to increase significantly with time.
It seems rather risky for Russia to develop, on its own border, a challenge to the basic premise of territorial sovereignty. Beijing and Moscow currently enjoy good relations, and Chinese leaders are too sophisticated to consider open threats to eastern Siberia. But down the road, as demographic pressures mount and Russian resources beckon, a Russian doctrine of the ethnic adjustments of Russian borders could provide Beijing with a useful model.
Therein lies a profound irony. Putin, like many of his countrymen, is convinced that the West, institutionalized in NATO and the EU, constitutes a strategic threat to Russia. In fact, the West and the North are the only points of the compass that do not point to danger…
[T]he number one threat to Russia’s sustainability as a unified state is internal: the combination of a demographic time bomb (low birth rates among Slavs and high rates among other ethnic groups), an intractable public health crisis, a failure to modernize its economy, and Putin’s “vertical of power” — a euphemism for authoritarianism — makes efficient, transparent, accountable, and democratic governance impossible…
That has now led to a final irony. One key goal of Putin’s foreign policy in recent years has been to prevent Western powers for bringing about regime-change — especially when the regime in question has ties to Moscow. With that imperative in mind, Putin has so far been successful in keeping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power in Damascus. Yet last weekend, much closer to home — indeed, in the most precious part of the near-abroad — there was regime-change in Kiev.
It wasn’t caused by Western meddling, as the Russians claim. It was caused by Russia’s own muscling of Ukraine and its support for the escalating brutality in the Maidan.