Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Putin’s Next Moves in Ukraine Won’t Be Pretty

Paul Goble


            Staunton, October 28 – Having failed to disrupt the Ukrainian elections, to gain support for pro-Russian candidates, or to provoke Ukrainians into voting for national extremists that Moscow could use to discredit Ukraine in the West, Vladimir Putin will be tempted to stir up more violence in Ukraine to keep that country from pursuing its European course.


            In many respects, Putin has only himself to blame for the Ukraine vote: his Anschluss of Crimea and aggression in the southeast helped unite Ukrainians as never before. Indeed, one could almost say that just as Stalin was the greatest state builder in Ukrainian history because he added so much territory to Ukraine, the current Kremlin leader is its greatest nation builder.


            Vitaly Portnikov offers that argument on Profile.ru in an article entitled “Thanks to Putin for the Rada” (profile.ru/eks-sssr/item/87912-parlament-ot-putina). But Putin’s unintended success as a Ukrainian nation builder is not the end of the story because Putin still has cards to play both inside the new Verkhovna Rada and in the streets of Ukrainian cities.


            And it is very likely that Putin, who can’t be pleased with the way in which Ukrainians voted, is already making plans to use them.  In a commentary today on Grani.ru, Boris Sokolov outlines what Putin is likely to do next both within the Ukrainian political system and, more importantly, against it (grani.ru/opinion/sokolov/m.234444.html).


            The new Verkhovna Rada, Sokolov points out, will have very few pro-Russian deputies, and those will “not be able to have any serious influence on the activity” of the Ukrainian government. But Moscow almost certainly will attempt to play up personal conflicts as it did earlier between Yushchenko and Timoshenko that allow Yanukovich to come to power.


            According to Sokolov, Moscow will now “do everything to create and deepen a split between Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk,” a split that would allow it “to paralyze the activity of  the [Ukrainian] parliament and government and drive Ukraine into chaos.”  And there is no reason to think Putin would “stop before military intervention” if that is required.


            But Moscow may be restrained at least for a time because the current Ukrainian president unlike the current Ukrainian prime minister still has some hopes for “some kind of compromise with Russia.” There is no basis for such hopes given that Putin has no intention of backing away from his plans to prevent Ukraine and Ukrainians from freely choosing their future with Europe.


             Yatseniuk “recognizes that there is no compromise possible in the foreseeable future which would be acceptable for both sides and therefore is prepared for a tougher stand against Moscow.”  Obviously, the Russians will try to weaken him and thus the supporters of this position by making some superficial concessions to Poroshenko.


            Fortunately, Sokolov says, “approximately half of the deputies” in the new Rada “are now people, the majority of whom are connected with the EuroMaidan.”  Consequently, there is the hope that they will not allow” Putin to divide their ranks and play them against one another. Only by standing together can they ensure the kind of reforms Ukraine needs and the territorial integrity it must maintain.


            But unfortunately, although Sokolov does not say so, there are so many forces in the West who would like to see a compromise between Kyiv and Moscow that there is a danger they will insist on the kind of concessions from Ukraine that would push that country into chaos, precisely the goal Putin is hoping for.


            Only a united front of democrats in Ukraine and of democracies in the West can prevent him from achieving his ends, but creating and maintaining such a front will not be easy given that Putin has shown he is prepared to use power of all kinds, including naked military aggression, to get his way.


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