By Paolo von Schirach
March 1, 2014
WASHINGTON – Let me give you my ultra simplified assessment of what has happened and what will happen regarding the Ukraine.
How the plot unfolded
Act 1: Russian President Putin tried to lure the Ukraine away from a closer association with the EU by promising easy credits.
Act 2: Russia and pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych of the Ukraine are surprised by the strong popular resistance against closer tied with Russia.
Act 3: No doubt with Russian support, Yanukovych sends riot police against demonstrators in Kiev, thinking he can just crush them.
Act 4: The rioters prove to be really strong. After weeks of street battles, they topple Yanukovych.
Act 5: Yanukovych flees to Russia. Putin has a nice black eye. His clever strategy gave him a total defeat. The Ukraine is lost.
Act 6 (Being played now): Putin tries to restore Russia’s battered image by occupying the Crimea, an autonomous peninsula situated in the very south of the Ukraine, inhabited mostly by ethnic Russians and (on the basis of a treaty) home of the Russian Black Sea Fleet.
This move amounts to a de facto partition of the Ukraine. No doubt Russia will refrain from any formal unilateral annexation. It will simply “support” a new arrangement between the new government in Kiev and the Russians in the Crimea that will grant them virtual independence in the context of a vaguely defined federation agreement.
President Obama will say that, as long as the wishes of the people in the Ukraine, (and this would include of course the Russians in the Crimea), are respected, all is well.
The Russians manage to save face by claiming to be the saviors of their brethren in the Crimea. Putin is still “The Man”, (at least for his home audience).
Obama can say that the US helped defuse what might have become a major crisis. (In all this, he does not look that great; but it does not matter. These days Americans do not care much about foreign affairs).
The European Union gets to lead the rescue of the semi-destroyed Ukrainian economy. In other words, they are stuck with the bill.
As I said, this is an over-simplified narrative. But I believe that this is exactly what is happening. Russia cannot occupy the entire Ukraine, a country the size of Texas with 44 million people. This would be too difficult, too costly and it would look really bad.
But it certainly can occupy and hold on to the Crimea, a part of the Ukraine that is historically Russian and in fact inhabited mostly by Russians. And so it did. Russia’s claim that it had to intervene in order to protect Russians threatened by Ukrainian ultra-nationalists is not terribly outrageous, and so nobody, despite the protests of the new government in Kiev, is going to do much about it.
This way Putin “loses” the Ukraine; but he can still claim “victory”, by showing that he could act swiftly to protect fellow Russians in the Crimea.
And what about America? Well, the world will once more see that America is both unwilling and unable to do much about foreign crises. Pax Americana is a thing of the past.
And Europe? The Europeans now realize that they have to intervene to save the semi-destroyed Ukrainian economy. And this is going to cost –a lot.
Happy ending? What do you think?