The Ukraine stand-off is continuing with language on both sides suggesting the situation could end in war. The protests in Kiev continue, and as the value of Ukraine’s currency constantly drops as a result, more and more of its citizens are feeling the pinch. Adding to this tension is the language coming out of Russia.
Former Putin aide Andrey Illarionov has stated on television that Russia is extremely keen to seize Ukrainian territory. He hinted that the Kremlin might be ready to act soon, even during the Winter Olympics. Although, the potential for a major international outcry is so great, and the fact that Putin has put so much personal prestige on the line for the Olympics, make others strongly doubt such a move. Never-the-less many in the Ukraine also suspect that Moscow is planning the annexation of at least part of the country if the Russian friendly government of Viktor Yanukovych should fall.
Another Kremlin advisor Sergei Glazyev, has accused the US of meddling in the affairs of the Ukraine by supplying $20 million in support, including weapons to the protesters. Glazyev also claims that this is in violation of the Memorandum on Security Assurances signed in 1994. However, that same memorandum clearly states that “The United States of America, the Russian Federation, and the United Kingdom, reaffirm their obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine.” So perhaps some needs to tell Andrey Illarionov about the contents of this memorandum. Also the breaking off of European Union trade negotiations, and accepting a $15 billion loan from the Kremlin, which started the protests, is questionable in light of the agreement, if the alleged $20 million is an issue.
On the other side of the stand-off is far right Ukrainian group Pravy Sektor, led by Dmitro Yarosh, who have publicly stated they are ready for an armed struggle. However, the nature of Pravy Sektor is of concern to the western powers who seek a peaceful, and ultimately democratic and economically beneficial, resolution to the crisis. The group has refused to talk to the press, except for one interview, and should the government of Viktor Yanukovych survive, they will likely find themselves as marked men for having carried out the most violent acts of the protest movement. Their violence has led the US State Department to call on all other Ukrainian protest groups to distance themselves from Pravy Sektor, not that Pravy Sektor appears to have been all that welcoming of them in first place. Indeed, it does seem that in this Ukrainian stand-off Pravy Sektor is ready for war.
In europe Chancellor Angela Merkel is under pressure from her party to begin sanctions against the government of Viktor Yanukovych. This could be especially impactful to the Ukraine as significant amounts of coal from the Russian-speaking Eastern Ukraine are exported to energy hungry Germany. However, even in parts of Eastern Ukraine Yanokovych has lost support among powerful business men, who dread the prospect of Russian control of the economy. They fear a “mob”-like quasi governmental system of control will descend on them, and all they have built will be taken away. As an indication of the likely future, as soon as they made their support for the protesters publicly clear, their businesses suddenly and mysteriously lost all their power supplies.
The real strategic question though appears to be: If Russia sees itself as on the losing side in the Ukraine, will it act and will the US and the EU be able to face down the Russians if they try to annex the Ukraine? This Ukrainian stand-off has the possibility to end in war.
By Andrew Willig