Things heat up in Ukraine

Yesterday’s Guardian reports even more violent incursions into Ukraine by Putin’s thugs:

Pro-Russian separatists seized control of the TV station in the eastern city of Donetsk on Sunday, and immediately set about switching off Ukrainian TV and replacing it with Russian channels that broadcast exclusively pro-Kremlin views.

A crowd of about 300 left a rally in Donetsk’s Lenin Square and marched through the city centre, pulling down Ukrainian flags.

With police looking on but not intervening, the activists surged into the regional television centre. Masked youths, armed with baseball bats, ran up the flag of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” from the roof of the Stalinist neo-classical building.

. . . The seizure is another blow to Kiev, which has struggled to assert its authority in the east, amid an insurrection that it says is plotted by Moscow. Law-enforcement agencies here have largely sided with anti-Kiev protesters and have made little effort to stop the occupations of town halls and other buildings. Three riot police with Kalashnikovs stood next to the TV station on Sunday, apparently ensuring the takeover went smoothly.

The activists complain that Kiev channels have failed to reflect the popular mood in the Russophone Donbass region. But only a few hundred anti-Kiev activists turned up for a rally in Donetsk on Sunday, in a city of one million people. The capture of the TV tower appears to be part of an unfolding plan to shut out information critical of Moscow and replace it with Kremlin propaganda.

The rebels thugs, as you know, have kidnapped eight European military advisors (one was released because he had diabetes), and described them as “prisoners of war.”

The invasion won’t be long in coming, I think, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. Sanctions won’t work, of course, but I suspect we will discover that Putin has illegally sequestered billions of dollars in government money (or other people’s money) as his personal fortune. But of course those in favor of the Russian takeover of eastern Ukraine (some on this site) could excuse that too.

The man is a megalomaniac. Russians should be ashamed that such a person is leading their country.

 

46 Comments

  1. Marella
    Posted April 28, 2014 at 3:30 am | Permalink

    Russians expect to be lead by a megalomaniac, it’s traditional.

    • stephen
      Posted April 28, 2014 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

      Quite so,unfortunately, in spite of the tongue-in-cheekness of your observation there remains something Byzantine about Russian politics.

  2. Dominic
    Posted April 28, 2014 at 3:59 am | Permalink

    The kidnap victims are OSCE: Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, diplomats who wear uniforms. The Russians are members.

    It is very hard to know to what extent the separatists are in the ‘control’ of Putin or rather of themselves. Has Putin just started the ball rolling that he cannot stop, is he ‘riding the tiger’ or his he playing a much bigger game? I have heard analyses suggesting both from various experts, so I doubt that anyone can really control these events which suggests that any longer term game is just nuts because he would be gambling on certain reactions or inactions.

    • eric
      Posted April 28, 2014 at 4:51 am | Permalink

      He is certainly not in control of every local upset, but I think the presence of the ‘green men’ shows that he does intend to take over. If Putin really wanted the eastern Ukraine to remain Ukrainian territory, he could order his troops to withdrawl from the region and allow the Ukrainian troops to impose order instead.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted April 28, 2014 at 5:24 am | Permalink

        The problem to confer responsibility stretches to the ‘green men’, as ukranians have been russian (rather CCCP) soldiers including special forces. So are they running on Putin’s orders or their own interest? That’s a tough one.

        What isn’t a tough one is that Putin has ordered yet another military ‘exercise’ at the border, inflaming the situation yet again.

        PS. The release OSSE/OSCE member was swedish. He was the ‘lucky’ diabetic.

  3. Diana MacPherson
    Posted April 28, 2014 at 4:33 am | Permalink

    It would disappoint me if I were characterized as on favour of a Russian take over of Eastern Ukraine as I’ve never said that. Nor have I been, as I’ve been accused of, a Russian apologist.

    • Dominic
      Posted April 28, 2014 at 5:34 am | Permalink

      Admiral “Jacky” Fisher wrote (in 1919);
      “Never contradict
      Never apologize
      Never explain.” ;)

  4. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted April 28, 2014 at 5:30 am | Permalink

    I’m surprised, which comment has been in _favor_ of a Russian takeover? That seems so unlikely (but yes, it could happen), akin to spotting the nightjar.

    But if it was a very stupid salad, I would like to see it!

    • eric
      Posted April 28, 2014 at 6:35 am | Permalink

      Diana was likely referring to previous threads. She (and others) defended the Russian actions in Crimea as they were going on. I don’t know her position on those actions now, or her position on the Russian action in easter Ukraine, and this message is not an attempt to open up old arguments.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted April 28, 2014 at 6:57 am | Permalink

        I didn’t defend the Crimea actions but wanted to point out the perspective of Russians and that the West had approached things in a way that meant they lost opportunity to influence. The best way to get your way is to know your opponent. Granted narcissists are also not easy to deal with but I have copious experience with them and knowing my way around them saved me from very near physical and psychological damage.

        • Diane G.
          Posted April 28, 2014 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

          Lest you hang separately–I have been in agreement with you. You just express yourself so much better.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted April 28, 2014 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

            Thanks – that means a lot as I’ve begun to feel rather unwelcome here.

            • Posted April 28, 2014 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

              ???

              I certainly haven’t gotten that impression, and I hope I haven’t given it!

              b&

            • Diane G.
              Posted April 28, 2014 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

              Solidarity, tovarish. ;)

            • Dominic
              Posted April 29, 2014 at 3:42 am | Permalink

              :(

        • Posted April 28, 2014 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

          I’ve always enjoyed your comments, Diana, however controversial. I remember the previous discussions on Crimea/Ukraine. I appreciate that you were trying to maintain a logical, objective and intellectual line of argument and inject some historical background into the discussion.

          The problem is when it comes down to a life and death situation in Ukraine, all bets are off, and emotions are running high. When one is trying to know one’s enemy and looks deep into his eyes to see his soul (GWB?!), if you see a bugger, best to set all niceties aside and call a spade a spade.

          When it comes down to the possibility of war, sometimes we find ourselves on the same side as some people who have lost their moral authority in the world. But I think it’s best, if any erring is going to happen, to err on the side of the majority of Ukrainians — what *they* want in the way of self-determination, without a thug strong-arming them into submission. It’s a very murky situation there, and no solution is going to be pretty, so don’t worry if you’ve stepped on a few toes. I’d rather have that any day than the jack boots and green-clad men over there. We’re so lucky here in this part of world to be able to enjoy dissension and free speech!

  5. Tim Harris
    Posted April 28, 2014 at 5:42 am | Permalink

    Anatol Lieven has what seems to be an informed essay about the situation entitled ‘Why Obama shouldn’t fall for Putin’s Ukrainian Folly’ in Zocalo Public Square. The sub-title begins: ‘Russia and the West have conspired to tear the country apart.’

  6. scottoest
    Posted April 28, 2014 at 5:49 am | Permalink

    Russia have valid concerns and complaints regarding Ukraine and NATO, but valid concerns don’t inherently make any course of action legitimate.

    There’s no question that Russia are at least partially behind stoking these flames, because otherwise they’d pull back from the border and let Ukraine restore order.

    They also wouldn’t have, you know, annexed Crimea after electing a new leader there in the dark of night, surrounded by armed men with AKs.

    And before they did that, Russia made all of the same claims they are making now – that they weren’t involved, and any information that they were was categorically false… until they took over, and later admitted the soldiers were Russian.

    Sadly, there’s really nothing we can do, unless we want a military confrontation/buildup, but Ukraine’s territorial integrity probably just isn’t worth that much to NATO. The one other big chip they can play, is methodically shutting Russia out of the global financial market, which would be an incalculable blow to Russia. It would also likely be treated as tantamount to a declaration of war.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 28, 2014 at 6:18 am | Permalink

      The pain in the ass is not only is there nothing we can do if an invasion happens but there will be long term changes with trade perhaps with China and definitely with Russia.

  7. Lurker111
    Posted April 28, 2014 at 6:01 am | Permalink

    Has anyone pointed out the similarities between the Ukraine situation and the Czechoslovak Sudetenland maneuvers of 1938?

    • eric
      Posted April 28, 2014 at 6:43 am | Permalink

      Do you know of any serious political analyst who thinks Russia is annexing local territory as a prequel to starting a major war in Europe? I don’t. I think everyone pretty much understands this to be a local land grab. That doesn’t make it right or defensible, but it does make it significantly different from Hitler.

  8. Greg Esres
    Posted April 28, 2014 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    People only become ashamed when their man starts to lose.

  9. Posted April 28, 2014 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    At this point, I’m pretty much left hoping that the suffering the Ukrainians are enduring and the worse that’s soon to come will be the trigger for sanctions that turn off the Russian petroleum spigots, as that’s about the only good I can see that has any chance of emerging from this.

    And, by “good,” I mean, “cause oil shocks that actually kick the alternative energy industry into high gear while there’s still some oil left in the ground.”

    b&

  10. stevenjohnson
    Posted April 28, 2014 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    The Kiev regime shut off Russian TV channels back in March. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-26546083
    http://rt.com/news/ukraine-court-bans-russian-tv-245/

    The OCSE delegation detained in eastern Ukraine included Ukrainian military officers. http://www.dw.de/osce-observers-seized-by-separatists-in-ukraines-east-kyiv-says/a-17592723
    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/94bbc390-cd4e-11e3-99be-00144feabdc0.html#slide0

    It is impossible for Putin to compel events in eastern Ukraine with a handful of special forces. If the majority of the easterners were pro-Kiev, the Kiev regime could long ago have swept aside the small numbers of activists, so quickly that the Russians could not respond in time. Pretenses otherwise are simply apologetics.

    The new regime, a bloc of oligarchs and neofascists, purged the parliament of eastern representatives. Its immediate abrogation of language rights for the majority in the east made its intentions clear. It has begun incorporating neofascist fighters into the military, especially in the new National Guard, and is closely cooperating with the neofascist Right Sector bloc. Calling upon neofascist militants to “restore order” in the east is endorsement of neofascist repression.

    It is clear that the east has returned the favor, and regards the Kiev regime as illegitimate. There appears to be much less support for union with Russia, but, relying on the support given to the neofascists by their friends abroad, the Kiev regime will make no concessions. Indeed, it is probable that the neofascists and their would-be masters, the oligarchs joined with them, do not have majority support even in most of western Ukraine. The neofascists are strongly represented in the military/security organs, however, and a war/war scare strengthens them immensely.

    The issue for observers here is US support for neofascists. The Kiev regime is an abomination and does not deserve any support whatsoever. US policy is wrong.

    Putin’s official policy of federalization and neutralization of Ukraine is a capitulation to the Kiev regime, ceding the neofascists the rest of the country. Although the annexation of Crimea may have been desirable for both Ukraine and Russia under other circumstances, in these circumstances it constitutes an acceptance of the Kiev regime. If Russia’s policy has a preWWII parallel, it is like the British Empire being neutral towards Franco, so long as it keeps Gibraltar.

    • W.Benson
      Posted April 28, 2014 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

      “The issue for observers here is US support for neofascists. The Kiev regime is an abomination and does not deserve any support whatsoever. US policy is wrong.”

      I agree. This is the basic issue.

  11. Posted April 28, 2014 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Why would ethnically Russian Ukrainians want to side with Putin? How shortsighted to place themselves under the authority of a despot with no appreciable respect for civil liberty or democracy and who places a greater priority on romantic, archaic empire-building than on the Russian economy and the welfare of the Russian people. It is to their longterm benefit to live in an independent, democratic Ukraine with eventual membership in the European Union.

    • Darkwhite
      Posted April 28, 2014 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      Either they have no regards for their own well-being and that of their children, or perhaps they – living in Ukraine and having other channels of information than western media – they don’t share your evaluations.

      • Diane G.
        Posted April 28, 2014 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

        Or, less nobly than either your or Roan’s suggestions, perhaps intra-region tribalism trumps all.

      • W.Benson
        Posted April 28, 2014 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

        As I understand it, prominent political leaders of the provisional government have recommended hanging or nuking opponents in eastern Ukraine. Others have declared people occupying buildings in east Ukraine “terrorists” and have sent columns of several hundred tanks to do away with them.

        Russia has long complained of the west’s political use of OSCE (Wikipedia). The OSCE group, accompained by several Ukranian military officers from Kiev, was probing around the anti-Kiev defenses at Slavyansk.

    • Posted April 30, 2014 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      The Russian people are falling for the same ruse that dictators have used in the past to direct attention away from their sagging popularity, a consequence of mismanaging their country’s economy and failing to improve the lot of the citizenry: They appeal to nationalism by invading other countries.

      It hasn’t been that long since the Falklands War when an Argentine dictator (more accurately, a military junta) tried to invade the Falkland Islands to direct attention away from the nation’s disastrous economic problems. However, Putin’s tactics, in his attempt to takeover Ukraine, are strongly reminiscent of those used by German National Socialists in the 1930s. One would think the Russian people would be wiser.

      In the past, without the internet, the masses had an excuse for their ignorant foolishness. Today, the Russians have no excuse for being ignorant about recent history, forgetting the thousand injustices of Putin’s regime and stupidly supporting him. His popularity was way down prior to his invasion endeavors and now it is surprisingly high. It works every time but only in the short term.

      • Tim Harris
        Posted May 1, 2014 at 7:45 am | Permalink

        Come on, RR, have you learned nothing from recent history? ‘One would think the Russian people would be wiser’ – One might also think that the American people could have been wiser than to support. as so many of them did, George DoubleU Bush’s invasion of Iraq and the general mess that he created… But of course they weren’t – or those who were wiser, like, say, the Dixie Chicks, were shouted down and called ‘fat slags’, among other things, by such as Christopher Hitchens, who one ‘would think’ could have behaved better. Why this contemptible animus against a whole people – an animus also apparent in Marella’s first, and near racist, comment about how the Russian people love dictators? Really. learn about Russian history, read, say, Vassily Grossman, Mikhail Bulgakov, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, Osip & Nadezhda Mandelstsam, develop some awareness of the intractableness of some political problems, and perhaps reflect upon how human affairs are often not things that can be readily resolved if only we were all nice, well-meaning people. And perhaps also take to heart the lesson from physics and biology, that everything is determined.

  12. stephen
    Posted April 28, 2014 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    Rather than reply to individual comments,I’ll make a general observation. Ukraine,as it stands, is an artificial polity created by fiat in 1954 when Khruschev (the name gives it away-he was Ukrainian) transferred the Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Republic. Like it or not a majority of people in Eastern Ukraine and the Crimea consider themselves to be Russian rather than Ukrainian. It might have been better if this problem had been addressed when the Soviet Union disbanded itself, but-as ever- expediency won the day and left the problems for the morrow. The “how” of resolving these problems is ,of course, giving rise to much wringing of hands,which will do as much good as it ever does. These events are very much “business as usual” from the viewpoint of diplomatic history.

  13. TJR
    Posted April 29, 2014 at 4:40 am | Permalink

    For what its worth, a friend ran a role-playing exercise based on Ukraine a couple of times a few weeks ago. The idea is that the adversarial nature of this gives you a better idea of what might happen than just discussing it (similar sort of idea to the adversarial legal system).

    In both cases Russia slowly took over eastern Ukraine in much the way that they have since been doing, and no-one else could work out how to stop it without unwanted escalation.

    • W.Benson
      Posted April 29, 2014 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

      If Kiev and Kerry refrain from doing something stupid, bet you a dime to a donut that things will cool off after Ukrainian provinces are allowed to elect their own governors. If voting is possible in the east, the new central government to be elected next month will find it convenient to establish friendly commercial relations with both the EU and Russia (with Crimea). Anti-Kiev forces in the east now seem to be armed with anti-tank and anti-helicopter weapons taken from, or given to them, by the army. Kiev will now think twice before trying to wipe out the ‘terrorists’.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted April 29, 2014 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

        Federation is something Moscow wants because they can then influence East Ukraine while maintaining relations with the West. Of course, this wouldn’t help the East-West Ukraine divide.

        Electing governors is something I suspect Russians want as well but who knows if Putin will be willing to allow it again. It would score him big points at home and abroad if he did.

  14. Posted April 29, 2014 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    Things I’m learning about Ukraine:
    http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Articles/2014/04/27/12-Things-You-Didn-t-Know-About-Ukraine

    Seems to me that Russia would like to have it back, as it has a lot going for it.

    And the more I read, the more confused I get about this mess:
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/ukraine/10797108/Ukraine-separatists-push-east-as-US-intercepts-Moscow-orders.html

  15. Posted April 30, 2014 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    Thugs in Kiev still stirring up trouble on Maidan square. There is no real consensus in western Ukraine, it would appear:

    Massive fights erupt as masked nationalists march on Maidan Square, Kiev

    Published on 30 Apr 2014

    Violent clashes erupted in central Kiev on Tuesday after masked, torch-bearing Ukrainian nationalists attempted to march on the capital’s Maidan square to honour protestors killed there last February.

    The march, by organisations including the radical Social Nationalist Assembly, turned violent when the groups’ path was blocked by members of the so-called Maidan ‘self-defence’ units, who continue to occupy the square since the protests that ousted President Viktor Yanukovych.

    One of the activists attempting to enter the square, Dmytro Riznichenko, said before the start of the march that he wanted to show the dead protestors, known as the ‘heavenly hundred’ that they are still remembered.

  16. Posted April 30, 2014 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Russia depends on Ukraine for its wheat – probably as much as Ukraine depends on Russia for its gas. Putin wouldn’t allow Ukraine to fall into western influence.
    History will repeat itself – like Fidel Castro, quietly supported by Soviet Russia
    formed the People’s Republic of Cuba. The People’s Republic of Donetskaya Oblast (East Ukraine) will be shortly announced and ruled by thugs until a new president (puppet) is established in ‘democratic elections’. As Stalin once said, “its not the people’s votes that decide a leader – its the people that count the votes”.

    • Posted April 30, 2014 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      I don’t think so – Russia exports millions of tonnes of grain grown on Russian soil every year. In general, the soil in Russia is very rich, black and sweet-smelling. It is not for nothing that Russia was called the bread-basket of the world until WWI and the advent of the communist rule. The latter was very badly organized with regard to agriculture but things have changed vastly during the past twenty-three years.


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