Ukraine Promises Only Trouble for Russia

What Putin Won't Do Next

After Vladimir Putin’s speech in the Kremlin justifying and welcoming Russian annexation of Crimea, the western press now asks what next will Putin do? How far will he go?

That question was answered by Vladimir Putin himself in his address. The Russian president said his country has no further demands to make on Ukraine. Crimea became an issue because the West “crossed a red line,” a reference to American and European efforts to bring Ukraine into NATO, which they renounced in exchange for Russian agreement to German unification.

The Ukrainians -- the Ukrainian-speaking westerners at least -- don’t believe that President Putin intends to go no further. Ukraine’s new prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, back from Washington, declared that President Putin now “threatens the entire world.”

More modestly, but perhaps more significantly, was the opinion reported by Le Monde’s special correspondent in Kiev. He reports that after Mass last Sunday, groups were volunteering to battle the Russian army, allegedly “massed at the frontiers.” An army reservist said he and his friends will form a parallel army, as they have “no confidence in Ukraine’s defense minister, an idiot who won’t even let us train with live grenades.”

But one must ask, why should President Putin make further demands? Thus far, he is winning all the way. The Crimea vote was a triumph. So was his speech in Moscow: all cheers and tears of joy. He brushes off western sanctions. Once again he has made Barack Obama seem out of touch, protesting violation of international law when the world knows the United States is the country that ignores it most.

Crimea has climate, beaches, agreeable hotels and views, as well as a naval base that was Russian for many years, where Russia has already made heavy investments, depending upon it for naval access to warm waters. The rest of Ukraine has nothing to match this. It only offers trouble for Russia, or so I would assume Mr. Putin thinks. His speech once again offered propositions to make peace, which Washington has scorned.

As a separate and independent country, Ukraine only promises trouble for Russia. The Russian ethnic and linguistic minority there, which lives mostly in the east and south, near the borders with Russia, has been put in a furor by all that has happened, and claims that Russian troops in unmarked uniforms have infiltrated the region as if readying the country for a Russian invasion and annexation.

But there seems to be no hard confirmation of these reports from western journalists or foreign diplomats actually there. There are many reasons to think them implausible.

The first is that any Russian move towards further intervention in Ukraine, or sign of annexation ambitions, would immediately provoke a sharp and dangerous military reaction from NATO, with major western forces sent to Poland and possibly the Baltic States, and conceivably entering western Ukraine itself on a call for help from the new government, the present improvised one, or the one that emerges from new elections.

The existing authorities in Kiev have already assured Russia that there is no Ukrainian threat to Russia. Ukraine will not join NATO -- the threat of its doing so having been one of the chief causes of the present crisis. (Unofficial or quasi-official pressure from the United States -- and Poland -- to get Ukraine into NATO has continued ever since the so-called Orange and Rose revolutions nearly a decade ago.)

The second reason to doubt Russian intervention in eastern Ukraine is that the Ukrainian economy is in poor condition and Russia, whose own economy is weak, scarcely needs the burden of supporting Ukraine as well. The two countries’ already intertwined economies, particularly their energy industries, would be severely damaged by the still stronger western reprisals that would follow any aggressive Russian move.

It is true that Western Europe heavily depends on Russia for natural gas supplies. Russia sells Europe one-third of the latter’s natural gas. But that gas is being sold, and Moscow would be badly hit by loss of its return on gas sales to the West.

The same is true in a wide array of industrial relationships between Russia and Europe. Germany -- Siemens especially -- has heavy investments in Russia. France risks a big loss if it applies sanctions on Russia’s recent order for two new and expensive warships, the first of which is now running trials. The Russian Navy ordered them after its little war with Georgia in 2008 -- saying that with them it could have accomplished in a few days what in 2008 took a few weeks.

Britain now looks like the big loser in applying sanctions. Russia’s oligarchs all have (or had) their money with London bankers (who tucked it away in British-flag islands and territories) and their lavish family homes in Mayfair and Kensington, with stately homes in Surrey. They may go back to Russia, if things get rough, but they can’t take their money with them, and can’t even get at it where they are. The City and Wall Street have it, locked up by sanctions.

(c) 2014 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

About the Author

William Pfaff, a former editor of Commonweal, is political columnist for the International Herald Tribune in Paris. His most recent book is The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America's Foreign Policy (Walker & Company).



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Somehow, I find myself in some sympathy with Russia. I do not know why the U.S. feels compelled to urge Ukraine into NATO. To Russia, it must look like an unfinished agenda of the Cold War. The revolution in Ukraine which toppled a pro-Russian leader was a humiliation, triggering the Russian response in Crimea. Now, I hope we call it all a draw and get on with life.

A very plausible analysis. If it is true, then Putin must now control the pro-Russian sentiment events have generated in the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine before some volent event with unforeseen consequences occurs, allow the Ukrainian military personnel and their familes safe passage out of Crimea, release and let sail out of Crimea the remaining Ukranian naval vessels, likewise for all aircraft, and begin to scale back the Russian military presence on the Ukranian border. With that accomplished, he should signal his willingness to sit down with EU representatives and the interim Ukrainian government to discuss further ways to ease tension. This can be done without any formal recognition of the interim government. The Ukranian government must take steps to assure the Russian-speakers in Ukraine their language and culture will be respected and to reiterate they have no intention of joining NATO. Crimea is Russian now, as it has been for most of the last few centuries, and that will not change. It would be foolish for the Ukraine and the West to try to "liberate" Crimea by either military action, or by more aggressive sanctions at this point. The West and Russia must also begin talking about how the Ukranian economy can be put back on its feet and how Ukraine may become a bridge between the EU and the Russian Economic Union, a sort of Finland/Switzerland. This has largely been a bloodless crisis. Let us pray both sides act prudently so that it will remain so.



Above is a line to another insightful article on the subject by George Friedman. Unfortuantely, Ukraine has gone ahead and signed that agreement with the EU BEFORE the elections and, in my opinion, needlessly escalated tensions. It should have been part of negotiations, not an "in your face" move, and certainly should have waited until after the Ukrainian elections. This gives Russia more incentive to possibly invade or at least, which is more likely, begin to inciet escalated resistance to the Kiev government in eastern and southern Ukraine. What will the EU do? Any moves that ups the ante, putting the area closer to military conflict, means NATO could get involved, and, of course, without the US, NATO is mostly a shell. Yet, Obama, seems to have ruled out US military involvement. (I agree with that position, but it should not have been made public.) So, Russia now has what they may consider justification to go further, with perhaps little risk to them, at least militarily. We need to pray harder for peace in this area.



The truth that dare not be spoken: Ukraine is a failed state. The last president, pro-Russin, was a gangster and a looter of the public treasury and foreign aid. The presnet president, pro-US and pro-EU, is a gangster and a looter. He will grow fabulosuly rich from EU and US money while his country grows even poorer. Not to mention the outright fascists holding the most power in the presnet, US backed government. The sole purpose of going into Ukraine politics is to join the ranks of the plutocrats who run the country exclusively for their enrichment.

This Ukraine neo-con scam will finally convince the Europeans that they should not follow the lead of the US in talking about violations of "international law."

A sensible government in Ukraine would move toward a Belgium type division into autonomous language communities, with a central parliament. Russia would probably be favorable to such a solution, as long as Ukraine does not join NATO. But a Belgium-type solution would require people totally unike the "leaders" in Ukraine.

John, the solution you suggest would work. It is much like the view of that uber-Realist Henry Kissinger, who advocates strict nuetrality for Ukraine, much like Finland. Russia could live with that; unless Putin has bitten too hard on the forbidden fruit of pride. And, yes, the current interim leaders in Ukraine are almost as loathsome thugs as those ousted. The EU and US should be putting pressure on Ukraine to clean up their corrupt political structures prior to any additional support, economic or otherwise.

President Obama's latest words on the Ukraine seems to indicate an openness to neutral Ukraine as a solution to the crisis. I hope this is a serious foray and that Putin will respond appropriately.


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