The comment counts on our Ukraine threads make me think some readers have tuned out this story. Now’s the moment when you’ll want to tune in.
If what The Interpreter’s hearing is true, Yanukovych has left Kiev for the city of Kharkiv. Maybe that’s because he’s lost control of the capital or maybe, as the State Department claims, he’s gone to Kharkiv to, ahem, shore up support. Either way, though, there’s no scenario where the government simply abdicates and the opposition takes over. Russia won’t relinquish the country that easily. So either things are about to get even rougher in Kiev as Putin fills the power vacuum or Yanukovych is planning a new move. What does that mean? Naval War College prof John Schindler fears the worst:
Make no mistake: if Yanukovych announces the succession of a Moscow-backed "Eastern Ukraine" – Europe has a war on its hands. A major one.
— John Schindler (@20committee) February 21, 2014
Here’s the latest from a story highlighted by The Interpreter:
Tomorrow President Viktor Yanukovych will take part in a Congress of the “Ukrainian Front” which is being organised by the Kharkiv governor, Mikhail Dobkin.
Sources at Kharkiv airport told Hvilya that the aeroplane carrying Yanukovych will land in Kharkiv within half an hour.
Furthermore, our sources in the Presidential Administration reported that all of the most combat ready of the Berkut and army forces have been transferred to Kharkiv and the southeast.
There is, in theory, a deal between Yanukovych and the opposition to reform the government, but Russia’s apparently not interested and neither are the Euromaidan protesters. They want Yanukovych to resign; meanwhile, the woman he defeated for the presidency four years ago could be out of prison within the next few days and ready to help lead the opposition. All the makings of civil war are present, in other words, from powerful national sponsors to ethnic tensions between Russian descendants living in the country and native Ukrainians. Someone just needs to give the word, whether Yanukovych or his boss. And even if Yanukovych resigns, depriving Putin of his proxy, the word may still come down. That’s what “Little Russia” means to Moscow.
How serious it it? This serious:
Russia is prepared to fight a war over the Ukrainian territory of Crimea to protect the ethnic Russian population and its military base there, a senior government official has told the FT.
“If Ukraine breaks apart, it will trigger a war,” the official said. “They will lose Crimea first [because] we will go in and protect [it], just as we did in Georgia.” In August 2008, Russian troops invaded Georgia after the Georgian military launched a surprise attack on the separatist region of South Ossetia in an effort to establish its dominance over the republic…
However, many government officials say in private that Ukraine falls inside Russia’s sphere of influence. “We will not allow Europe and the US to take Ukraine from us. The states of the former Soviet Union, we are one family,” said a foreign policy official. “They think Russia is still as weak as in the early 1990s but we are not.”
The speaker of the Crimean parliament has already said it’s possible the region would turn to Russia for “protection” if the country fractures. That’s likely to be one of the first flashpoints. What better way to celebrate a successful Olympics than with a big irredentist blowout on the peninsula?
If Russian tanks roll, how does the EU answer? While you mull that over, follow The Interpreter’s liveblog for updates.
Update: I’m sure it went well.
WH: Readout of President Obama’s Call with President Putin pic.twitter.com/5m6Hpd1qPh
— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) February 21, 2014
Update: The Lenin statues are coming down in Ukraine.
Update: I missed this earlier but Noah Rothman didn’t.
Multiply reports of Yanukovych fleeing to Kharkiv. His personal belongings are being evacuated from suburb residence, @glavcom says
— Maxim Eristavi (@MaximEristavi) February 21, 2014