'BRINK OF DISASTER'
This "BRINK OF DISASTER" thing is the masthead headline today on CNN. Frankly, as one who still remembers the heady days of Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 (albeit as a child), the goosebumps caused by a headline of that type are quite considerable.
So what does a concerned news watcher in the West see as the things develop? The Russian army does what an army usually does: quietly and without undue fanfare the first line of attack, most probably including the Russian commando forces, occupy the possible centers of resistance in Crimea, including three Ukrainian army bases that were surrounded "to guard the Ukrainian troops from any provocations". Whatever this Machiavellian formula means. There are some reported pockets of resistance, but so far not a single shot was fired in anger and the resistance was verbal. The Ukrainian forces in Crimea, besides being small, are definitely not trained to stand up to a solid Russian strike force anyway, so if a shot will be fired, it will only result in a short and decisive annihilation.
I hope that the said news watcher notices that Putin and his henchmen, being old KGB-trained hands in psychological wars, have already prepared a local group of quislings who are readily executing the old Soviet times trick with "asking for Russian assistance" in that hour of need (need for what exactly?).
While the new Ukrainian leadership denounces the Russian aggression and calls for mobilization, vowing to defend Ukrainian sovereignty, it is very doubtful that Ukrainian military, small and poorly trained as it is, its loyalty divided and its moral low, will be able to put up anything more than token resistance. Sentences like "In Kiev, Ukraine's new prime minister urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to pull back his military, warning that 'we are on the brink of disaster.'"may impress an uninformed watcher, but there is not a lot of cattle behind that hat...
Russian press has already reported that the Ukrainian Navy flagship, Hetman Sahaidachny, deserted its navy, refused to follow orders from Kiev and came over to Russia’s side. Russian language report ads that the desertion was a result of direct command by the deposed Ukrainian president, Victor Yanukovich, who relocated himself and his close supporters to Kharkiv (or Kharkov as this east Ukraine city, sympathetic to Yanukovich and Putin is called in Russian). Whatever the reason for desertion, Hetman Sahaidachny is (was) an only military vessel of substance in the otherwise largely token navy. So there is nothing to protect Crimea from the (comparatively) powerful Russian Black Sea fleet or from sea-based amphibious assault.
As far as the military angle is concerned, the Crimea goose is cooked, in case Putin and his clique decide to complete its conquest, sending in more troops, armored units and air force.
So, all in all, the hypocrisy and the flawlessly carried out power play win another day for the leader who outmaneuvered the Western world several times during the last two or three years. That same leader who, in tune with his Chinese friends, endlessly repeated the mantra of non-intervention in internal matters of a sovereign state, is brazenly and openly acting against his own (oh well...) bit of cheap wisdom. While enjoying quite a rise in popular support at home for his troubles, it must be mentioned (check the pictures coming from Moscow, please).
Whether Putin intends to keep the Crimea for good or not is an open question right now. To be discussed later in this post.
What could West do?
Ukraine is not a NATO member, meaning that U.S. and Europe are not obligated to come to its defense. However, NATO and US committed to protect Ukraine as compensation for Ukraine ridding itself of its nuclear arsenal. I doubt that this clause will be ever invoked.
Technically, aside of Turkey, there is no military presence in the Black Sea basin to be of any possible significance, and the significance of Turkish Navy and Air Force as a possible threat to Russian activities in the area has, most definitely been taken into account by Russian planners, with appropriate messages passed to whom it may concern.
In short: all the West could do for Crimea amounts to diddly squat - in the best case and a lot of face loss in any other scenario - militarily speaking, at least. For instance, sending a few squadrons of long range bombers to bomb the heck of quite dense civilian population in Crimea will be hardly a model of a meaningful international assistance, would it?
And how about the rest of Ukraine? What if Russian army starts moving into the eastern parts of it, ostensibly to protect its ethnic Russian population? What is left to the Western powers, aside of toothless entreaties and protests? Put troops on the ground? Send armor brigades to Ukrainian borders with Russia and relocate the NATO air force to Ukraine? A better recipe for WW III was rarely hatched...
But should the West intervene?
If you ask the American pundits, strangely there is an agreement between the former doves and hawks. Fareed Zakaria of CNN fame:
In any event, Washington’s response should be clear and forceful. Russia has violated all kinds of laws and norms, including most crucially, a treaty that it signed with Ukraine guaranteeing that country’s borders, in return for which Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons.And Charles Krauthammer, as expected:
For Washington, for Americans, for people around the world, it would be a terrible precedent to allow issues like this to be resolved not through diplomacy, but by force. If Russia could detach parts of neighboring countries with impunity, won’t other great powers like China decide that they too can act in such ways?
I can assure you, Putin has calculated his calculated his own interests, and he's calculated that detaching Crimea from Ukraine and making it, essentially, a colony of Russia, is in Russia's interest - because he knows he has nothing to fear from the west, because it's not led by anybody. It used to be led by the United States.Notice that both don't go as far as specifying what kind of response they will consider fitting. I hope they don't have in mind some kind of Dr Strangelove scenario. Because the matter is a bit more complex than usual Cold War slogans, dusted off and freely used by the media.
It is true that Putin is behaving like a thug, and one that feels he can do so with impunity. It is also clear that EU will not go further than token verbal resistance, taking into account that even an attempt to apply some kind of economic pressure will be swiftly repelled by Moscow turning off the gas and oil supplies to the freezing Europe. With China benevolently watching the power play between some insignificant European powers, only US may organize and lead some kind of meaningful resistance to the Russian thuggery. But should US really do so?
In the older post John Kerry's "stand with Ukraine's people" and the staggering ineptness of State Department I have tried to present the unappetizing alternatives that anyone who supports the cause of freedom and democracy in Ukraine is facing. The choice between a career criminal Victor Yanukovich and his ultra-corrupt gang of thieves and charlatans, whose only redeeming quality in Moscow eyes is their loyalty to Russia; and, on the other side, another gang of thieves and cads, stained even more by their embrace of the ultra-nationalist, racist thugs with roots deep in the Ukrainian fascist past, is not a choice that anyone in the West should make.
Could really someone seriously consider supporting a political movement, whose leader calls upon the Chechen terrorists to increase their terror activity in Russia in support of Ukrainian cause, whatever it might be? Yes, yes, I know, there are many politicos that live by "enemy of my enemy is my friend", but aren't there some limits?
And, finally, the case of Crimea - probably the main, albeit not yet publicly announced, goal of Putin's military adventure. CNN will tell you in its epic and foolish, as it frequently happens Cold War-style conflict hits Ukraine's Crimea: 3 things to know:
The Russian navy has had a base in Sevastopol for 230 years. The ships and subs are based just north of Turkey and can reach the Mediterranean.For people CNN addresses, the ones that don't want to know more than 3 things (probably CEOs of big corporations), it may suffice. However, the claim re point of contention is laughable in its sheer idiocy and lack of basic knowledge.
The fleet has been a point of contention since 1954, when the former Soviet Union transferred the Crimea, including Sevastapol, to Ukraine, according to Jane's. In 2010, the two countries reached an agreement to permit the fleet to stay in Sevastopol until 2042.
In 1954, when Nikita Khrushchev made a gift of Crimea to Ukraine, the gesture was nothing but an empty and symbolic one. No one, be it a Russian or an Ukrainian, was seriously considering the borders between the republics of the (then seemingly eternal and unbreakable) Soviet Union. Crimea, which history is soaked by blood of Russian soldiers for hundreds of years, has no more historical or ethnic links to Ukraine than, for example, Canada, which has a significant Ukrainian population. A good analysis of the Khrushchev's historical blunder could be found here.
To make sure: I am not in any way supporting Putin's thuggery and expansion. But on the other hand, blind support of the (seeming) underdog, so characteristic in some enlightened, albeit uninformed, Western circles, is not a good idea either.
Stand back and stand fast. Let the hyena settle the brawl between the buzzards.
And if you are looking for a funny side in this grim business, here is one: Dmitry Medvedev (the current Russian PM and the best actor in the role of Russian president sometimes) says about Victor Yanukovich: "The man's authority is minuscule, but he is a legitimate president". Yep... take it or leave it...
Update 1: In the clip below one of the leaders of the "Right Sector" neo-fascist gang is "pacifying" a district prosecutor.
No doubt the latter is corrupt, just because he held the job with the old regime, but how do you like the new guy?
Update 2: And here are the protectors of the new Ukrainian regime in Kiev:
The text on their tees is straightforward: "Kill the kikes". What exactly them kikes have done to the true Ukrainian patriots is unclear, but this is a part of the hundreds years old Ukrainian tradition: when in trouble, kill a few of them...