Confusion reigns supreme in the Ukraine, according to the combined dispatches from several news organizations. Unraveling the confusion may require more patience than the participants have, creating a tinderbox condition that could flash into open conflict at any time.
After three weeks of daily street demonstrations and a week of violent clashes with riot police that left at least 26 people dead, peace broke out again in Kiev’s Maidan Square, epicenter of the clashes with police. The violence came to gradual end as the agreement to hold talks resulted in a period of calm beginning on February 22. The riot police disappeared, but the protesters remained in place.
After a popular uprising with legislative support, the legislature ousted former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, who fled into hiding after being deposed. Recent news reports indicate that Yanukovych has surfaced in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, claiming that he still considers himself the legitimate president of the Ukraine.
Once freed from Yanukovych’s leadership, the legislature freed former two-term Prime Minister Yulia V. Tymoshenko, who had been imprisoned on embezzlement charges, from a prison hospital. Finally, the legislature appointed Tymoshenko ally Oleksandr Turchynov as interim president, pending new elections on Thursday.
Within hours, a previously unknown Crimean separatist group favoring a reunion with Russia stormed the Crimean parliament, taking control of the government there. The Crimea is a separate autonomous parliamentary republic inside the Ukraine. Population figures indicate that 59 percent of Crimeans are ethnic Russians, while 25 percent are ethnic Ukrainians. Other population groups include Huns, Bulgars, Khazars, Mongols. and Tatars, as well as the Crimean Khans, descendants of Genghis Khan’s warrior clans. If any one of these groups has an actual claim to being true Crimeans, it’s may be the Crimean Khans, but they represent a very small percentage of the population. Here’s the situation as it now stands:
U.S. President Barack Obama has signalled support for the new regime in former Russian puppet state, warning Russia not to intervene. Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered previously scheduled military exercises near the Russian-Ukraine border to continue on schedule despite the tension in the area. Each leader has warned the other that interference will not be tolerated.
President Obama, entering into the 2014 political campaign has to look presidential and cannot be perceived as weak with respect to Putin. Putin has to avoid looking weak with respect to defending the rights of the 1.5 million ethnic Russians to live in the Crimea. Crimeans have long favored closer ties with Russian as a hedge against possible ethnic violence between Ukrainan and Crimea.
When the Ukraine was considered not much more than a Russian province, the Crimea was not considered a separate political unit of any importance. It wasn’t until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to the breakup between the Ukrainian and the Soviet Union that Crimeans became concerned recognition as a separate state. The Crimea’s status as an autonomous state inside the Ukrainian Republic was part of the brokered agreement under which the Ukraine finally gained its independence from Russia after the end of the Soviet Union.
It was only with the ouster of the Ukraine’s Russian leaning Yanukovych that the Crimean Russians became concerned about their future in the Ukraine. For the Russians, in addition to the vast grain fields that feed millions of Russians, the Crimean city of Sevastopol is home to the Russian Navy’s Black Sea fleet, so keeping some degree of control over Crimea is vital to Russian security.
New riots are breaking out in the Crimea, where several clashes between Ukrainians and Crimeans have taken place over the past 24 hours. Confusion continues to reign supreme in the Ukraine.
By Alan M. Milner