Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Kremlin Won’t Launch Major Effort in Ukraine Until After Sochi, Kyiv Expert Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 28 – At present, Moscow is pursuing a strategy of “’administered chaos’” in Ukraine and will launch a full-scale FSB intervention there only after the Sochi Olympiad lest Russian moves lead to a disruption of the games in which Vladimir Putin has such a personal investment, according to a Kyiv expert.

            In an interview published in Kyiv’s “Den” newspaper yesterday and reposted on various Russian sites, Grigory Perepelitsa, a professor at Shevchenko University in the Ukrainian capital, argues that the Kremlin is already shaping Ukrainian events by “fifth column”-type activities (nr2.ru/kiev/481581.html).

                These are bad enough and in many ways effective enough, he says, but Moscow would be doing even more if it were not for the Sochi Olympics which is slated to start ten days from now.  A massive Russian intervention in Ukraine before then could disrupt the games, possibly provoking a boycott and giving Putin a black eye politically.

            “Unfortunately,” Perepelitsa continues, “to a large extent, the situation [in Ukraine] is developing according to a scenario which has been written in the Kremlin.” That scenario does not anticipate “the strengthening of Yanukoich” but rather his further weakening and the passing of power to those Moscow controls more fully.

            The Russian FSB is promoting that outcome by provocations intended simultaneously to discredit the existing regime in Ukraine and the opposition, isolating both and reducing the support either has in the population and internationally.

            Such a strategy is one that Moscow has successfully applied in Transdniestria and in the Caucasus, Perepelitsa says. In South Osetia and Abkhazia, Moscow’s special forces helped create a situation that the Kremlin could then use as justification for intervention.  The Russian government is trying to do the same thing in Ukraine.

            But the Russian special services are still some days away from a “broad-scale” application of this model. They won’t take any such step “until after the completion of the Olympics in Sochi.” In the meantime, these services will seek to use just enough force to keep the situation at a level of turmoil that the Russians can use but not be threatened by.

            If and when Moscow does intervene more massively, Ukrainians will face a terrible challenge.  Their armed forces are weak and Molotov cocktails won’t enough to stop it. Consequently, Ukrainians need to think about what they can do before the end of Sochi and what they must be prepared to do after the Olympics.

            That Moscow is intervening already but at a low level has been documented by many.  One of the best surveys is an article by Andrey Illarionov posted on the Kasparov.ru portal yesterday in which the Russian scholar points to Moscow’s introduction of Russian “journalists” and other agents into Ukraine (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=52E6102C11D4C).

                Perepelitsa’s argument leads to three broader conclusions.  First, the Sochi Games are now an even greater problem for Putin  because he faces greater international scrutiny than would otherwise be the case and because his timing is driven not by what he sees on the ground in Ukraine but by what he fears might be the reaction of the West in Sochi if he moves too soon.

            Second, the risk of Russian intervention could drive the opposition and Yanukovich toward cooperation because neither wants what such intervention would lead to. But third, this risk and the fact that Moscow is already engaged in provocations in Ukraine means that the opposition itself will remain divided, even as Ukrainians become increasingly anti-Russian.

            In short, the next several weeks are likely to be decisive in the history of Ukraine and determine not just what happens there but what happens in the Russian Federation and in Moscow’s relationships with the outside world.

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