Tuesday 25 February 2014

Putin's "Plan B"

Plan B: Did the thousands of Ukrainian revolutionaries who cheered her at the Maidan realise that Yulia Tymoshenko, no less than her great political rival, Victor Yanukovych, is a person the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, can "do business with". If Tymoshenko cannot be leveraged into a regime acceptable to both the EU and the Russian Federation, then the territorial integrity of Ukraine will become a live issue.

WHEN THE RIOT POLICE abandoned their posts and the protesters entered the hurriedly vacated offices of President Victor Yanukovych, Ukraine passed from mass protest to revolution. When the Ukrainian armed forces declared their unwillingness to defend its deposed government, revolution took a further critical step towards consolidation and success.
What happens next will depend on how Ukraine’s neighbours respond to the fast-moving situation the revolution has unleashed. The Russian Federation, which describes Ukraine as a “brother state” and “strategic partner” will be asking itself whether a virulently anti-Russian government in Kiev is tolerable. If the answer is “No”, then Moscow may have to swallow its pride and swing in behind a new Ukrainian leader – one both sides can live with.
The European Union, has a different problem. While achieving most of its short-term goals vis-à-vis removing the government of President Yanukovych, it must consider the long-term ramifications of being seen to endorse the violent overthrow of a democratically-elected government. (Ukraine was scheduled to go to the polls in March 2015.)
The EU also needs to consider the implications of its loud condemnation of President Yanukovych’s use of deadly force to defend his government from armed extremist groups intent upon its overthrow.
Confronted with anything like the same challenges, what would the leaders of Sweden, Poland and the United Kingdom, President Yanukovych’s harshest critics, have done?
Would the right-wing Swedish prime minister, Carl Bildt, have denied himself the resources of the Swedish armed forces if far-Left extremists demanding his resignation had broken into regional Police armouries, seized firearms and started ferrying them to demonstrators attacking and killing police officers in the heart of Stockholm?
Would the spirit of the 1980s protest movement Solidarity have been strong enough to keep the Polish army in its barracks in the face of a violent attack upon the democratically-elected government of Donald Tusk?
Would the same David Cameron who, in 2011, demanded the ruthless repression of the youthful urban rioters in London, Birmingham, Liverpool and other British cities, have urged the Metropolitan Police to “pull back” in the face of shotgun-wielding demonstrators in Trafalgar Square? With the smoke of burning barricades wafting over the Houses of Parliament, would the same political system that gave us “Bloody Sunday” and Blair Peach have unilaterally foresworn all recourse to deadly force?
Certainly, Messrs Bildt, Tusk and Cameron seem unlikely converts to the revolutionary ideas of the Founding Fathers of the United States who, on 4 July 1776, put their signatures to Thomas Jefferson’s celebrated Declaration of Independence.
“[W]hen a long train of abuses and usurpations,” wrote Jefferson, “pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce [the people] under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
Well, there’s no disputing the fact that Ukraine has provided herself with “new guards”, but whether her “future security” can safely be left to the young, hard-core nationalists of the far-right “Pravy Sektor” only time will tell.
The triumph of Pravy Sektor is perplexing. In just about any other jurisdiction the appearance on the barricades of such a heavily armed group would have been the signal for the declaration of a State of Emergency or, more likely, Martial Law. Why this didn’t happen in Ukraine, especially after the exhausted Riot Police started losing men to small arms fire, is baffling.
In the famous Sherlock Holmes case “Silver Blaze”, Inspector Gregory from Scotland Yard asks: “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?” Holmes replies: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.” The puzzled Gregory retorts: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.” Says Holmes: “That was the curious incident.”
In danger of becoming lost in the kaleidoscopic tumble of events of the past few days was President Yanukovych’s dismissal of the Commander of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Col. General Zamana, and his replacement by the Naval Commander, Admiral Yuriy Ilyin. With hindsight this can be seen as the Ukrainian President’s last throw of the dice. That it failed is almost certainly due to the intervention of both the USA and the Russian Federation.
The Obama Administration had warned repeatedly that the use of the army against the protesters would escalate the crisis to a new and dangerous level. Vladimir Putin, clearly unwilling to raise the stakes that high, appears to have abandoned President Yanukovych in favour of a “Plan B”.
How brave and fragile she looked, wheelchair-bound and bundled against the cold, speaking tearfully of a New Ukraine born of the blood spilled in the “Maidan” – Kiev’s Independence Square.
How many of those cheering thousands understood that Yulia Tymoshenko is someone Vladimir Putin can do business with?
Pawns take Knight. Check. Queen takes pawns. Checkmate.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, February 25, 2014.


Ennui said...

This whole episode shows the western "media" as we know it in a very bad light vis a vis their reporting, understanding, bias etc. To me what passes for "news" on TVNZ, and more so on the cable channels is total nonsense and highly propagandised.

On the ground the whole situation seems to be predictably heading towards (as you note Chris)where ever Putin wishes it to end up. I have a distinct feeling that the EU and USA are going to be faced by a resurgent Russian Federation reabsorbing much of the Ukraine and Belorussia, etc. And to make it solid, well lets just say the Russians have got the oil and supply the gas....nuff said.

Davo Stevens said...

The sad thing is that what was a legitimate protest, was taken over by extreme right wingers, Right Sector are a neo-nazi bunch that stole guns from Police stations and started to shoot at the Police.

Yanukovich crossed the line when he ordered Police Snipers to shoot at protesters, most of whom were un-armed. Even Russia turned away from him then.

Putin wants a pliable and friendly "Country" on it's borders, freedom for the people there doesn't come into the equation for Putin. His personal dictionary states: Tyranny = Stability, Democracy = Anarchy and he can't have the latter.

Belorussia is a Dictatorship in every way (been there) and the people are very oppressed and frightened of the state secret police. Putin wants the same for Ukraina.

Some files have been found in Yanukovich's "tiny little house" that definately point to curruptoin at the highest level in Ukraina.


Victor said...

A good and intriguing post, Chris.

I agree that Yulia Tymoshenko might well be Putin's favoured candidate for Satrap of Kiev.

Despite her undoubted courage, he's succeeded in bullying her before and he knows he can do it again. All it took last time was a lethal twist of the energy taps in the middle of the East European winter.

Besides, Tymoshenko is a fellow member of the post-Soviet rich club, which must give her quite a lot in common with the Karate Kid from Petersburg. Certainly, reports I’ve read suggest they get on well.

Tymoshenko would also, of course, be an acceptable candidate for leadership from the standpoint of the US and EU, where she'll be seen as both a known quantity and an obviously non-fascistic face for Ukrainian nationalism.

It could even be (as you might be ever so coyly suggesting) that, megaphone diplomacy notwithstanding, there's been a degree of collusion between Moscow and Washington over handling this crisis. Personally, I doubt this but would not totally exclude the possibility.

But the real problem for Tymoshenko is that her political star seems to be on the wane amongst the Ukrainians themselves.

She was locked-up in prison whilst the crowds gathered in Kiev and wasn’t therefore part of the burgeoning protests. Moreover, her reputation has been haunted by accusations of corruption. So she’s unlikely to be viewed as an effective antidote to the graft of the Yanukovych epoch.

Even more pertinent is that Tymoshenko’s appeal is restricted to ethnic Ukrainians. So how can she now pose as the unifier that Ukraine so urgently needs?

And so, although Putin, the US and the EU would all like to see Ukraine hang together, the chances are that it won’t. And its fracturing will send shockwaves across the whole of East and Central Europe. I only hope I’m wrong.

Anonymous said...


You have corrupt and reactionary gangsters, businessmen, and East Orthodox priests on one side, and IMF/EU technocrats on the the other side.

Ukranians are screwed either way..

No wonder so many Ukranian women want to marry rich western men...

Davo Stevens said...

@Anon 18.45

Interesting points you make!

Yanukovich was corrupt and the people of Ukraina knew it. Democratically the only way they could have got him out was to Impeach him. That can take years and there is not always a good outcome.

The people exercised their right to protest but some Neo-nazis infiltrated the protest. They were the ones who armed themselves and shot at the police. Fortunately there were only a few.

We often think of democracy as the best thing since electric lights but if it in not properly controlled it's easy for it to become the "tyranny of the majority". Which is what happened in this case.

Putin is rightly concerned about Ukraina becoming part of the EU as it will put NATO right on his doorstep.

Had things taken a better turn back in the early 1990's, Russia woulkd have been part of Europe now and such problems would not have existed. The Yanks blocked Russia from joining in on the edge of Europe simply because the Yanx needed an enemy to justify their expenditure in their armed forces.

Cant; spend sqiliions on millitary hardware and justify that to the Yank people when there is no enemy to fight!

Unknown said...

The only thing the way its shaping is a new wall, East and West Ukraine.

paul scott said...

So probably Yanukovich would have installed martial law if he could but was refused by the military.
You can always get snipers but not always the Military

Davo Stevens said...

A good summary is here: http://www.globalresearch.ca/democracy-murdered-by-protest-ukraine-falls-to-intrigue-and-violence/5370317

If Ukraina divides there will be a civil war there and lots more people will die.

Most Ukrainians know that their MP's are crooks on both sides and want a complete change. We can waffle on about "Demoracy" but there was no democracy there just deep corruption.

Victor said...


"Putin is rightly concerned about Ukraina becoming part of the EU as it will put NATO right on his doorstep."

Actually it wouldn't of necessity do that. Finland, which is as close to St Petersburg as Auckland is to Hamilton, is a member of the EU but not of NATO. The same, of course, goes for Sweden, Austria and the Republic of Ireland.

And, of course, Russia has managed to cope, however reluctantly, with three members of both NATO and the EU (viz. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) within what it considers its "near abroad" and similarly close up to St Petersburg.

In the light of Russia's history, it's not hard to understand its desire to have subservient buffer states along its western frontier.

Nor is it hard to understand the suspicions aroused by perceived western meddling in the borderlands or the widespread desire amongst Russians to see their country re-assert itself as a great power.

But it doesn't follow that these quintessential Russian fears and needs are always justified.

Similarly,the now independent states of the borderlands have their own equally tortured and bloodstained histories, which, in many cases, have bred deep suspicion and dislike of Russia.

To my mind, there would be nothing inherently unreasonable about a country such as Ukraine wanting to join the EU. But, obviously, it's a long way short of meeting the membership criteria at present. And it would obviously be impolitic at this juncture for the EU to encourage hopes of early membership.

By the way, I can certainly understand how and why Catherine Ashton's weekend rush to Kiev played poorly in Moscow.

Meanwhile, the process of disintegration continues. It's not without some prompting from Putin. But it also has a life of its own, as Tolstoy would have understood.

Davo Stevens said...

Good points Victor and yes, I am aware of other nations that are part of NATO on Russia's doorstep.

Crimea is going to be a flashpoint! It was Russian territory after Catherine united it when her army defeated the Turks. Given to Ukraina by Krushchev in 1954. As long as the Russian Navy could keeps it's base in Sevastipol.

I am reminded of what happened in Moldova a few years ago. The eastern side of the country across the Dneister River was predominately Russian and the Russian Army went in to "protect" the Russians there. They weren't wearing insignia to identify themselves and were supposed to be a militia to keep the peace so to speak. The next thing the region had split off from Moldova with the help of the Russian forces. Now we have a silly little country that can't survive on its own and needs consistant help from Russia to survive (artificial state) that no country, including Russia, recognise it as an independent state.

A similar situation happened in Georgia and Ossetia split off with Russian help. Same economic problem.

Crimea survives just now by the injection of funds via the Russian Naval Base there, it has few natural resources and it is mountainous too, not good for agriculture.

Victor said...

Hi Davo

Good points from you too

I agree that Transnistria is a silly little state.

One thought that keeps occurring to me is that Crimea isn't contiguous with Russia.

So, if Crimea's ethnic Russian majority wants out of Ukraine, Russia would need EITHER to take over a broad swathe of other (less overwhelmingly Russian speaking) territory in eastern Ukraine to link Crimea to the Motherland OR it would need to create another Transnistria.

But, from a Russian point of view, would a Transnistrian solution (another silly little state) be acceptable as the home base of the Black Sea Fleet.

Ouch. It's looking quite nasty!

Davo Stevens said...

You're right Victor, it does look nasty.

I don't think Crimea will go that far as to split right off Ukraina. Yes, it has a majority Russian Population but other than Khakiv it's the only place where there are a Russian Majority. There are many ethnic Russsians in the east but they are not the majority. So a split would probably trigger a civil war there.

I realise that Crimea is not contiguous with Russia but nor is Kalliningrad and that functions okay.

I suspect the Vlad is just flexing his 6 pack abs again, I hope so anyway.

Anonymous said...

Quote: "The European Union, has a different problem. While achieving most of its short-term goals vis-à-vis removing the government of President Yanukovych, it must consider the long-term ramifications of being seen to endorse the violent overthrow of a democratically-elected government. (Ukraine was scheduled to go to the polls in March 2015.)"

Well, I doubt very much that the EU had any well thought out agenda on overthrowing the Ukrainian government. The EU leaders have enough of challenges to deal with in many of their own member states, so overthrowing a government in a fragile state, that has divided populations that have differing expectations, interests and focuses, that is the last thing the EU leaders will have wanted.

It is also a bit silly to compare a "revolution" in Ukraine to what may happen in the UK, in Sweden or Poland. The UK government has now a challenge with Scotland holding a referendum on independence. But even there, same as Sweden or Poland, leading political parties are not so much aligned alongside ethnic or cultural groups.

Most EU states are too busy trying to pay off debt that is the consequence of the GFC and in some cases poor budget policies, so creating a situation where a new Ukrainian government will likely need substantial financial support, given Russia has decided to withhold funds, that makes NO sense, dear Chris.

Let us face the facts. Ukraine is a totally divided country, much of the East and of the Crimean Peninsula populated by ethnic Russians, and the west and centre feeling closer ties to the rest of Europe, also having a rather patriotic Ukrainian orientation. Maybe it is time to split Ukraine in two or three parts, so that they all get what they feel happier with, living amongst the like-minded and somehow ethnically and culturally related group they belong to?

And Yanukovich seems to have been a rather corrupt figure too, so what good did he do for Ukraine, stabbing his own people in the back, by not allowing them to establish closer ties with the EU, instead giving in to Putin's pressures.

Now we have Russian troops get involved, and some even talk of potential war. Putin is hardly a true democrat, he had his earlier career as a KGB operate, by the way.