Saturday, March 1, 2014

Ukraine/Russian: Update--Putin Wrestles Control of Crimea Away from Kiev, Future Tenuous

According to Reuters, Russian President Vladimir Putin wrested control of the Ukrainian Black Sea region of Crimea from Kiev early on Saturday (March 1), citing a threat to Russian citizens and servicemen of the Russian Black Sea fleet based there.

Putin asked the upper house of Parliament to approve sending armed forces to the Ukrainian territory, which has a majority ethnic Russian population. Yet, Crimea had already begun to slip from Kiev's control with closure of the main airport and deployment of pro-Russian guards at key buildings.

Ukraine accused Russia of sending thousands of troops to Crimea, largely hostile to the Kiev government which emerged from the overthrow of president Viktor Yanukovich last weekend. It placed its military in the area on high alert.

Mired in debt, the Ukraine of today is on the edge of collapse of economic collapse. Any further spread of separatist sentiment to industrial, Russian-speaking eastern territories could raise the risk of disintegration with serious ramifications for surrounding states.

COMMENT: Putin turned to Parliament after a day of events viewed with deep concern in Europe and the United States. British foreign minister William Hague said he had spoken to Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and called for a a "deescalation" of tensions. US President 

Barack Obama said any Russian intervention in Ukraine would carry costs for Moscow. Yet, as we've seen so often, Obama the ideologue seemingly believes that the US should NOT be dabbling in foreign affairs.

Unfortunately, European and US leaders have verbally threatened Russia, but very few are prepared to take military action against Putin. As for economic sanctions, such remedies take months to have any impact. 

The US, weary of  twelve years of being at war, is hardly capable of responding militarily let alone perceptively.

And with US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel primed to take the US military back to pre-WW II days, the Republicans in both houses of Congress, hopefully, will not go down without a formidable fight.

That being said, the Republicans have "caved-in" before and are likely to do it again.

In the meantime, and throughout his life, Putin has been a hardened "street-fighter" who relishes conflict.

"In connection with the extraordinary situation in Ukraine, the threat to the lives of citizens of the Russian Federation, our compatriots, and the personnel of the armed forces of the Russian Federation...I submit a proposal on using the armed forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine until the normalization of the sociopolitical situation in the that country," Putin said in a statement to Parliament.

Ukraine's new leaders, who had pressed for a long campaign in the streets against Yanukovich after he rejected a deal with the EU in favor of closer ties with Russia, appear to be impotent to contain even cursory events in Crimea.

Given the enormity of the negative reaction from the West, even Russia's Putin may well conclude that the political backlash is worth the short-term gains.

On the other hand, there are few active world leaders who have perceptions of grandeur that recall the days when the US and Western Europe were the only ones to prevent the former Soviet Union from making much of the world a reflection of Lenin.