February 24th, 2014

Will Russia let Ukraine go?

What’s going on in Ukraine, and what’s likely to happen next? Here’s one analysis:

A real democracy in Ukraine is an existential threat to the entire system that Vladimir Putin has built since 2000. Ironically because Putin is right – most Russians regard Ukraine as a kin state, or not really a different state at all. They are used to stepping in tandem; so if something changes in Ukraine, why not in Russia too? And now the dominoes might fall in the other direction…

…[T]he new government in Ukraine, however it’s made up, will be given the briefest of ritualistic honeymoons before Russia uses every instrument at its disposal to try to make it fail. Unfortunately, Russia holds most of the economic cards. Ukraine’s coffers are almost empty, and the old guard is busy looting what is left. It has less than $18bn (£10.9bn) in hard currency reserves, its currency is dropping and immediate debt-repayment needs are more than $10bn.

Russia tied Ukraine to a $15bn bailout deal in December, which is parcelled out by the month to maximise leverage, and periodically suspended whenever the opposition looked like getting the upper hand. But Russia’s real aim was to provide just enough money to support the old semi-authoritarian system (helping Viktor Yanukovych pay the police) and keep Ukrainian society post-Soviet, that is, still dependent on government. So Ukraine’s new leaders will have to be honest and say their aim is to dismantle both. They cannot declare victory now, but will have to plead for popular support during what will be two or three difficult years.

The new Ukraine will pay more for gas, which will be regularly cut off for “technical reasons”. Russia’s crazy “food safety” agency will declare that everything that comes out of Ukraine is radioactive. Ukrainian migrant workers will be sent home now they have finished helping to rebuild Sochi.

Worst of all, Russia will work hard to try to re-corrupt the political system.

I freely admit that I know very little about Ukraine—including the fact that until recently I kept calling it the Ukraine. But the above seems credible to me.

23 Responses to “Will Russia let Ukraine go?”

  1. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    It is credible but incomplete. My knowledge of the Ukraine is also highly limited but I have been minimally educated by those more knowledgeable.

    The Ukraine region is Russia’s breadbasket and the geological corridor for invasion of Russia. Thus the Russian’s xenophobic fear that allowing Ukraine to leave its sphere of influence invites eventual misfortune. I suspect that fear of invasion, first by Napoleon and then more recently by Hitler retains some force in the Russian imagination.

    Its only a 10 hour drive from Kiev to Moscow.

    IMO its unlikely that Putin will let Ukraine go. Especially as he knows that the West can only offer empty verbal threats.

  2. Richard Saunders Says:

    Putin will almost certainly grab the Crimea, which has not only the Russian naval base in the Black Sea but a majority Russian population.

    Whether he grabs Eastern Ukraine will depend on whether he thinks he can get away with it. My guess is that the odds are about 50/50 right now.

  3. JimG33 Says:

    A great cross link at NRO by Jonah Goldberg on the Red/Brown politics of the Eurasian Union, a group hoping to present itself as the mortal enemy of the European Union. Very interesting reading.

    http://www.nationalreview.com/node/371705/print

    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/mar/20/fascism-russia-and-ukraine/?insrc=hpss

  4. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Richard,

    What could convince Putin that he couldn’t get away with it? Another Obama ‘red line’? EU finger wagging?

  5. vanderleun Says:

    When Israel was in Egypt’s land,
    Let My people go!
    Oppressed so hard they could not stand,
    Let My people go!

    Refrain:
    Go down, Moses,
    Way down in Egypt’s land;
    Tell old Pharaoh
    To let My people go!

  6. vanderleun Says:

    What’s wrong with calling it “the Ukraine?” Is this some sort of Myanamar PC thingeee?

  7. Nick Says:

    vanderleun – The Russians and Soviets and Russians called it “the Ukraine” to describe it as a region – naturally, a region of their country. Calling it “Ukraine” implies that it’s a distinct nation with its own history, language, and interests.

  8. Sgt. Mom Says:

    In answer to the question – probably not. I greatly fear the long-term outcome will be more like the Hungarian Uprising, than the Polish breakaway.
    But there is always hope.

  9. Ymarsakar Says:

    So how is the Peacekeeper and Messiah Obama’s nobel prize working out for the world so far?

  10. parker Says:

    In addition to being the traditional route for invasion and an important source of bread for mother russian; many natural gas pipelines cross Ukraine bringing gas to Western Europe and points southward. Additionally, Ukraine depends upon a favorable price for that gas for its own domestic consumption. Putin holds all the cards. The lead from behind messiah and the EU will bluster and bluff, and Putin will call that bluff.

    Not directly related, but a sign of the times; Iraq is buying arms from Iran. http://tinyurl.com/o3homd5

  11. blert Says:

    FYI:

    The word art: “THE Ukraine dates exactly from the kulak purge of Stalin.

    Ukraine was NOT an issue during 1812.

    It was HUGE during the the Polish war (1918-1919) in which Stalin and Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky fought in tandem. Stalin was the political officer, Tukhachevsky was the genius general for the Red Army. (Stalin later referred to him as ‘his Bonaparte’ … as in genius political threat. This officer was the first man purged by Stalin in the great purge.)

    WWII/ The Great Patriotic War was over concentrated in Ukraine.

    1) The Donbas/ Donnets basin was the source of (met) coal at the time. It was THIS coal that Stalin shipped to Adolf by the train load during 1939-1941. Met coal is that special, low ash, low sulfur, low phosphorus coal that is required to make coke — essential to pig iron production.

    Germany had bituminous coal and peats coming out of its ear. It came up short on met coal. Met coal is sold at a premium — as in 5 to 10 times the price of lesser coals. (!) Even now, America exports met coal to Germany and France in massive quantities.

    2) Ukraine held a world class nickel deposit. This was so important that it’s the reason that Adolf refused to permit his army to retreat. Speer explained it to Von Manstein: war production will drop without Ukraine’s nickel. The Germans dropped everything to pull as much ore out of the mine before it was overrun.

    3) Ukraine was the location of Stalin’s ‘answer’ to FDR’s Grand Coulée Dam:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dnieper_Hydroelectric_Station

    This facility was so massive that it electrified eastern Ukraine — and drew Soviet manufacturing investment thereby. It’s resemblance to Grand Coulée Dam can’t be tolerated by Wiki, so they throw all of the design credit to Canadian dams. (!)

    (Of course, the Canadian dams mentioned were all designed by American experts. At the time, no other nation on this Earth was building hydro-projects like America. Without American engineering there would be no funding.)

    It was destroyed by the Red Army — not the Germans. It had an integral rail and road running across its top. This is normally not shown in most pictures. Doing so was very much in the style of Hoover Dam/ Boulder Dam.

    Because of its destruction, the German army stopped its re-gauging of the Soviet rails at the Dnieper — right there. The associated (construction) town, Zaporizhia/ Zaporozhye became the super HQ for the Wehrmacht. This was as far east as Adolf ever went. It was Von Manstein’s HQ during 1942-1943.

    Immediately to the west of the river the Germans employed/ enslaved hundreds of thousands of Red Army prisoners to shift army supplies off of the rails and onto trucks.

    This was the end of the German military railroad system. An attempt was underway in late 1942 to extend the military railway down from the north to Stalingrad. This extension was a mortal threat to Stalin. This particular project used the Russian/ Soviet gauge and captured/ repaired rolling stock.

    4) To this very day the Russians/ Soviets pitch the zany notion that Stalin up-rooted countless industrial plants from Ukraine and placed them east of the Urals. This is the biggest lie of the 20th Century. Stalin wouldn’t permit ANY manufacturing in his hostile breadbasket.

    The Wehrmacht’s first encounter with Soviet heavy manufacturing was at Stalingrad! It’s east of Ukraine, BTW. The so-called ‘tractor factory’ never produced a single tractor from day one. It was built, ground up, to manufacture the T34 tank. It was the first to do so! ALL of the early war T34s came from this one factory. The town was prioritized to build just it. That’s why it was a boom town — right up until the Germans showed up. BTW, this tank factory is about as big as River Rouge — almost. Stalingrad was built around it.

    5) Starving the Kulaks was big business. So, the very first double-tracked, fully ballasted, rail line in Stalinist Russian ran from Moscow to Kharkov. At its terminus was the biggest set of food warehouses in the Soviet Union.

    Most Soviet rail lines were UNBALLASTED. That is, they were placed directly on the muddy soil — with no provision for drainage or anchoring in the mud season. Since the food had to get through, Stalin ordered double tracks and full ballasting.

    This had a major impact during the war. Every time the Wehrmacht took possession of Kharkov the STAVKA (Red Army high command) freaked out. Unlike all other routes, this was an open door — heading straight NNE — directly to Moscow. Logistics would not slow the invaders down. Yikes!

    Consequently, these assets caused endless battles to an fro between the Red Army and the Wehrmacht. Subsequently, every last stick standing was destroyed during the retreat.

    6) The Italian nation surrendered on September 9, 1943. That included their forces on the Eastern Front. At the time they were defending a ‘quiet sector.’ (by the standards) Orders from Rome / Roma had the ENTIRE force lay down their weapons — with no notice to the adjacent Wehrmacht formations.

    Consequently, the Red Army merely walked forward — without a shot being fired — and accepted the Italians into their prison cages. While common knowledge in Italy, this event has been expunged in ALL Soviet and Allied propaganda/ histories of the conflict. Instead, the public is misdirected towards the super battle of Kursk.

    Contemporary documents indicate that the Germans were NOT defeated at Kursk. Adolf called off the big show because the British and Americans had landed in Sicily! That’s crystal clear from OKW records. (Adolf had stenos taking everything down — in relays.)

    The Red Army surged forward into Ukraine — with the Wehrmacht back-peddling like mad to the Dnieper. (!) During the first days, entire German formations were enveloped by the Russian advance. The Wehrmacht lost enough formations this way equal to an entire army!

    One distressed German Colonel lost his brother as a result. So he machine gunned down an entire Italian brigade — standing in the ranks for surrender — on one Greek island. He was able to fib his way past Nuremberg. Atrocities against Italian military formations got short shrift. The dead were not buried, BTW. He left them for the birds and flies.

    7) The result was that Ukraine stayed the primary battlefield right on through to the next Spring. (1944) These were often sea-saw mobile affairs intermixed with raw slugfests. Since Stalin hated Ukrainians on general principles – along with Jews – this emphasis was perfectly fine with him.

    In contrast, Operation Bagration blew the Wehrmacht back to Poland in one huge shove. (June 22, 1944)

    Naturally this shove stopped just short of Warsaw so that the SS could flatten the Poles. That suited Stalin, too. (Some coincidence.)

    8) In the Cold War era, the Red Army used Ukrainians as sergeants – never officers. (!) Only White Russians of the correct political orientation could be officers. The (common) grunts consisted of everyone else. Naturally, this meant that cross communication was extremely limited. This had its downside as the Afghanistan campaign revealed.

    %%%

    Taken all together: the Ukrainians are sick of being trashed by Moscow, of being treated as step-children. They are also fully aware that they can’t get out of the shadow of Moscow. What Kiev wants is to be treated at least as well as Helsinki. That’s all.

    No Ukrainian wants WWV fought on its soil.

    As for Sevastapol, a rouble per annum in rent would just about cover it: knock yourself out, Moscow. There are no naval threats to the Black Sea dominance of Russia. And it’s no place for Russia to project power from. It really should be named the Black Lake.

    http://indianexpress.com/article/world/europe/yanukovych-reportedly-spotted-in-crimea/

    Perfect.^^^^.

  12. blert Says:

    Parker…

    The Iranians are re-producing a slew of Soviet era arms.

    It’s Russia to Red China to Iran.

    Moscow has entirely retired the AK-47, BTW.

    For all of its success, the Russians re-chambered it in 5.56mm — and called it the AK-74.

    I can’t imagine that Baghdad wants much beyond small arms from Iran.

    We’re already selling them M1-A1 tanks and F-16s!

  13. Matt_SE Says:

    IMO, Putin’s play is to get the west to pay for the Ukrainian bailout ($35 billion). Then, he’ll rig the special elections in May to get his puppet client.

    Putin allowed Yanukovych to be ousted because the alternative was open civil war, in which case Putin would lose control. The only way to reassert control would’ve been to roll Russian tanks into Ukraine, prompting a possible response from the west (whatever you think of Obama). That response could’ve been as little as sanctions (which would hurt enough on their own), or as much as a campaign to arm the western Ukrainians in a proxy war. In any case, Putin would look like a tyrannical agressor, akin to Saddam Hussein.

    I agree completely with the Independent’s analysis.

    I expect very real threats to come, but just short of military intervention. If the special elections in May don’t go “as expected” for Putin, who knows what he’ll do?

  14. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Perhaps a presage of what is to come:

    From Joshuapundit;

    “on Sunday, President Obama’s NSC Susan Rice came out with some forceful language warning Russia, about sending its military into the Ukraine, saying, “That would be a grave mistake.”

    Today, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev responded, both to Rice and to interim Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov’s statement about being ready for dialogue with Russia. And here’s the full quote, a bit different from what Reuter’s reported.

    “Today I see no legitimate Ukrainian partners for a dialogue. If people crossing Kiev in black masks and Kalashnikov rifles are considered a government, it will be difficult for us to work with such a government.” Medvedev said, as he referred to the new Ukrainian government as “the result of a mutiny” and a “real threat to our interests, and to our citizens’ lives and health”.

    And unlike Ms. Rice, Russia is backing up its words with action on the ground.

    According to my sources, there has been a substantial Russian military buildup on the Ukraine’s borders.

    The ending of the Winter Olympics in Sochi allowed the transfer of units of the Russian forces that were guarding the games. They were flown today to Russian bases at the Ukrainian Crimean port of Sevastopol, where Russia leases a naval base. Russian Air Force transports and special forces are being consolidated at a base located at the Rostov, close to the southeastern Ukrainian town of Donetsk.

    A Russian military build up was also seen near Belgorod, just a few miles from the Ukraine border and just to the north of the Ukrainian city of Kharkov.”

    Here’s a map.

    IMO, Putin’s response to the Ukrainian revolt will be a reaction to Ukraine’s immediate actions, not to empty threats from the West. So if Putin is moving troops into position, is it merely a threat or a prelude to invasion? I suspect that the movement of tanks toward the Ukraine border (unknown at this time) would be a determinative factor in answering that question.

    I suspect that Ukraine announcing its determination to accept the EU’s offers would be a ‘trigger’ for Putin.

    If Putin reactively sends Russian troops in, since he’s already said that he doesn’t want to see Ukraine break up (precluding Russia only seizing the eastern portion of Ukraine) it would be a historical parallel to the 1956 Hungary revolt.

    For those too young, that crushing of the Hungarian revolt was compelling evidence of the Soviet’s not having ‘changed their spots’ after Stalin’s death in 1953. But should Putin invade Ukraine, it will conversely pose problems for Obama’s rationale in his foreign policy and in his rationale in downsizing of the US military to a peacetime status.

  15. Richard Saunders Says:

    Geoffrey Britain: No question that Barry would do nothing. The only thing I can think of is that when I was stationed in Germany (1970-72) we were there to “keep the French in, the Russians out, and the Germans down!” Today, the question is not what Barry will do, but what Angela Merkel will do.

    Matt_SE: I think Putin will do what he did in Georgia: Stage a few incidents, then receive an “invitation” from the Russian population “to protect them from the evil western Ukranian oppressors.” (The population in Crimea already issued one.) He’ll look around, see that nobody will do anything, then invade — excuse me, “liberate” the eastern Ukraine.

  16. Matt_SE Says:

    @Geoffrey Britain and Richard Saunders,

    You are both quite possibly correct. The massing of troops on the border is at least a threat, or could be a prelude to invasion. I’m not sure there’s a way to tell the difference until it’s too late.

    Although some would argue against provocation on Ukraine’s part, I would rather go with the maxim “if you want peace, prepare for war.” If Ukraine wants to deter Russian aggression, they should make it clear that an invasion will be met with stiff resistance.

    Or, at least that’s what they would do if they weren’t bust-ass broke.

  17. Beverly Says:

    If you want to know what Putin will do, my money’s on a repeat of the USSR’s crushing of Hungary’s rebellion in 1956, or Czechoslovakia’s in 1968.

    BTW, there’s a link at Ace of Spades (Feb. 24 post) to an analysis of the people in the Ukrainian uprising that goes into more “granular” detail about the various parties involved, well worth a read.

  18. Armchair pessimist Says:

    Once you’ve decide, as everybody in the West as if by knee-jerk does, that vox molotov cocktail vox dei, then you must allow the mob in the Russian regions to have their way too. Crappy as the Yankovitch government was, it was the lawful government of Ukraine, and recognized as such by other nations, including ours. This is a dangerous precedent, which Russia has warned of more than once.

    Long term, in spite of everything, the USA and Russia have common interests and face common dangers, and need to reach an understanding fast. Putin, I think, knows it. Our parade of daffies and small time politicians don’t. Somebody please dig up Nixon.

  19. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    “the USA and Russia have common interests and face common dangers, and need to reach an understanding fast.”

    That shows a remarkable assessment of Putin. Not a thug at all, merely another dictatorial politician? Not interested in reestablishing the Soviet Empire and superpower status? Would work cooperatively with the US in the UN and stop protecting rogue nations in the UN? Would stop funding and facilitating Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons?

    You might consider that the terms of a US/Russia agreement that Putin would find satisfactory would not be something we could live with, as it would require that we acquiesce to power sharing that condoned the rule of men.

  20. armchair pessimist Says:

    as it would require that we acquiesce to power sharing that condoned the rule of men. Honestly, friend, I’m afraid I don’t know what that means.

    Russia isn’t a squeaky clean democracy. So what? Historically we got along pretty well with the Czars, who did us several good turns when we were just starting out and during the Civil War. We couldn’t afford to be choosy then. We can’t now. Neither can Russia.

    Of course Putin wants to reestablish super power status; having China for a next door neighbor naturally would. Would that be necessarily bad for the US? You sure? Or are you ready to deal with China single-handed.

    Can Putin be trusted? Recall the fate of S. Vietnam, Cambodia, Taiwan, our good ally Mubarrak, our useful ally Col Kadaffi and ask, can we?

    A Washington-Moscow pact based on self-interest, mutual respect and patient horse-trading intrigues the hell out of me.

  21. Ymarsakar Says:

    One of the various fictions around since 1990s, was that the Cold War would end with America allied with the Soviets, crushing all contenders from here on until Doomsday.

  22. Ymarsakar Says:

    Alliances are made upon mutual interest. Right now, Hussein’s interest lies more with the Islamic Jihad and the Leftist alliance than with anything we might consider pro Putin or neutral Putin. They would be fools to ally with the US. Although it might have benefits for the world, that doesn’t mean much for a nation’s sacrificial pawns.

  23. Sergey Says:

    Everything written above is true, but irrelevant. Nothing Putin can do will be successful and probably will do more harm than help to Putin’s goals. Ukraine has passed the point of no return in transforming itself into really independend nation, and nothing can change this. Any pressure from Russia to keep it under Russian influence will backfire and will spoil the relations between these countries even more.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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