Saturday, February 22, 2014

Ragnarok--Part II

Events in the Ukraine continue to move at a fast pace as the country threatens to fly apart. Meanwhile, Obama sticks his head in the sand.

First, an update on events. BBC News reports:
Ukraine's opposition has asserted its authority over Kiev and parliament in a day of fast-paced events.

MPs have replace the parliamentary speaker and attorney general, appointed a new pro-opposition interior minister and voted to free jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

Police appear to have abandoned their posts across the capital.

Protesters in Kiev have walked unchallenged into the president's official and residential buildings.

President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leaders signed a peace deal on Friday after several days of violence in which dozens of people died in a police crackdown on months of protest.

But the deal failed to end the protests and huge crowds remain in Independence Square, the Maidan.

The opposition have called for elections before 25 May, earlier than envisaged in Friday's peace deal.

The president's whereabouts are unclear - his aides say he is in Kharkhiv, close to the border with Russia.

Presidential aide Hanna Herman said he was due to give a televised address later.

A gathering of deputies from the south-east and Crimea - traditionally Russian-leaning areas - is taking place there, but Ms Herman said the president had "no intention" of attending, nor of leaving the country.
However, USA Today reports that Yanukovych has denied he has resigned:
Ukraine's parliament voted to remove President Viktor Yanukovych on Saturday, even as the embattled leader remained defiant, calling the country's political crisis a "coup" and saying he has no intention of resigning or leaving the country.

"They are trying to scare me. I have no intention to leave the country. I am not going to resign, I'm the legitimately elected president," Yanukovych said in a televised statement. "What we see today is a coup — I did everything to prevent the bloodshed. We adopted two amnesty laws. We did everything to stabilize the political situation."

"I will do everything to protect my country from breakup, to stop bloodshed," he added.
 The Associated Press reports that Yanukovych's primary political rival has been released from prison, and many his political support is slipping:
Hours after her release from prison, former Ukrainian prime minister and opposition icon Yulia Tymoshenko appeared before an ecstatic throng at the protester encampment in Ukraine's capital Saturday, praising the demonstrators killed in violence this week and urging the protesters to keep occupying the square.

Her speech to the crowd of about 50,000, made from a wheelchair because of the severe back problems she suffered in 2 1/2 years of imprisonment, was the latest stunning development in the fast-moving Ukrainian political crisis.

... Her call for protests to continue and Yanukovych's defiance leaves unsettled the fate of Ukraine, a nation of 46 million of huge strategic importance to Russia, Europe and the United States.

The country's western regions, angered by corruption in Yanukovych's government, want to be closer to the European Union and have rejected Yanukovych's authority in many cities. Eastern Ukraine, which accounts for the bulk of the nation's economic output, favors closer ties with Russia and has largely supported the president. The three-month protest movement was prompted by the president's decision to abort an agreement with the EU in favor of a deal with Moscow.

"The people have won, because we fought for our future," said opposition leader Vitali Klitschko to a euphoric crowd of thousands gathered on Kiev's Independence Square. Beneath a cold, heavy rain, protesters who have stood for weeks and months to pressure the president to leave congratulated each other and shouted "Glory to Ukraine!"

"It is only the beginning of the battle," Klitschko said, urging calm and telling protesters not to take justice into their own hands.

The president's support base crumbled further as a leading governor and a mayor from the eastern city of Kharkiv fled Russia.

Oleh Slobodyan, a spokesman for the border guard service, told The Associated Press that Kharkiv regional governor Mikhaylo Dobkin and Kharkiv Mayor Hennady Kernes left Ukraine across the nearby Russian border.
 Reuters reports:
In a television interview which the station said was also conducted in Kharkiv, Yanukovich said he would not resign or leave the country, and called decisions by parliament "illegal".

"The events witnessed by our country and the whole world are an example of a coup d'etat," he said, comparing it to the rise of the Nazis to power in Germany in the 1930s. He said he had also come under fire. "My car was shot at. I am not afraid. I feel sorrow for my country," he told UBR television.

Interfax news agency said Yanukovich was refused exit from the country by border guards when he tried to fly out from the city of Donetsk.
Walter Russell Mead provides some analysis on the subject:
... Ukrainian society is unable to produce a strong and united government that could limit the influence of foreign interests and lobbies so that the Ukrainian state and people would follow a consistent course toward either Moscow or Brussels, much less find some kind of effective pathway in between. Meanwhile, given the inability of internal forces to set a firm course, Russia lacks the resources and the West lacks the will to attach Ukraine firmly and irrevocably to either camp. Thus we see what we see: a succession of failed governments as the country flounders and slithers in the mist.

There are three possible futures for Ukraine. In the short term some kind of continuation of the status quo of indecision and drift seems the most likely alternative, but such a volatile and unsatisfactory status quo is unlikely to endure into the indefinite future. When and if the status quo finally ends, Ukraine can go one of two ways. One is partition: the east and the west go their separate ways, as the eastern portion returns to the Kremlin’s embrace, and the west prepares for the EU. The alternative is that either Moscow or the West succeeds in drawing the whole country to its side.
 Mead suggests that partition may be the best course for Russia, as it cannot afford a war and hostile occupation:
A rationalist would suggest to the Kremlin that partition was its best hope. Solzhenitsyn once gloomily speculated that the Ukrainians on the west bank of the Dnieper were lost to the Russian motherland as a result of Soviet history; the Kremlin might well think about trying to move quickly towards a de facto partition with the dividing line as close to that river as possible in the north, and stretching across it to Moldova in the south. It would be surprising if the Kremlin has not entertained the possibility of partition as a second-best outcome and wouldn’t switch quickly to promoting it if all hope of absorbing the whole country is lost.

There are reports this morning that Yanukovych (who must now fear criminal prosecution if his opponents consolidate their authority across the whole country) is calling for the formation of militias in the east. He appears to be ‘forting up’ in Kharkov, Ukraine’s second city and the metropolis of the eastern part of the country. If the Kremlin backs this play, it is a sign that Russia is, among other things, preparing the ground for partition if nothing better can be gained.

One should remember that Putin, conscious of being the weaker party in his high stakes geopolitical game with the West, likes to move swiftly and present his adversaries with facts on the ground. This worked brilliantly for him in Georgia and again in Syria where the exploitation of Western indecision and muddled thinking allowed a weak Russia to score significant gains. Putin at this point does not seem to have much respect for his counterparts in either Washington or Brussels. He believes he is up against dithering wimps who profess high ideals but are deeply risk averse. He may calculate that moving quickly to solidify the power of a pro-Russian government in the eastern rump of Ukraine is his best move — and indeed, this may well have been part of his end game calculation well before the current crisis began. Russian thinking and policymaking is heavily focused on Ukraine; it stretches credulity to suppose that Russian planners have not thought long and hard about their alternatives in what, for them, is the most vital arena in world politics today.
 David P. Goldman also believes partition offers the best option:
I’ve argued for years that partition is the best solution for Ukraine, which never was a country but an almalgam of provinces left over from failed empires–Russian, Austrian, Lithuanian, Ottoman–cobbled together into a Soviet “republic” and cast adrift after the collapse of Communism. Lviv (Lemberg) was a German-speaking city, part of Silesia; before World War II a quarter of its people were Jews. Jews were two-fifths of the population of Odessa.

A fifth of the population, mainly in the East, are ethnic Russians; a tenth, mainly in the West, are Uniate Catholics, who have a special place in Catholic policy since the papacy of John Paul II. Ukrainian nationality is as dubious as Byelorussian nationality: neither of them had a dictionary of their language until 1918.

... Russia never will permit the integration of Ukraine into NATO; were it to come to that, Russia would use force, and the West would stand by cursing. But Russia will settle for half a loaf, namely a Russian-allied Eastern Ukraine. Whatever we do, Ukraine will continue its slow, sad slide into oblivion. The diplomats have the dour duty of managing this decline with the minimum of friction.
So what is Obama's stance? He is urging a unity government, over a country where unity is unlikely. (See also the official statement from the White House).

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