An Uneasy Pause
There has been an uneasy pause in Ukraine ever since Putin completed the formalities of the political annexation of Crimea. The focus this past week has been on his “green men” conducting mopping up operations in Crimea, forcing Ukrainian armed forces out of the remaining military bases and posts that they still occupy. Meanwhile, his gangster puppet Prime Minister Sergey Aksyonov, has been busy appropriating and nationalizing state property while his goons terrorize the local Ukrainian, Tatar and Jewish population.
Despite world leaders bombarding Putin with constant phone calls, few have been able to get a read on what he intends to do next. He has not hesitated though in ratcheting up the psychological pressure by massing troops on Ukraine’s eastern borders and conducting “military exercises”. His provocateurs continue to try and stir up violent protests in Donetsk and other eastern Ukrainian cities, trying to create justifying propaganda for sending in his armies to protect the safety and human rights of supposedly beleaguered and persecuted Russians.
Beleaguered would be a good word to apply to the current Ukrainian government as it struggles to implement massive structural changes to the corrupt and ineffective government bureaucracy that it inherited while facing the reality that the state coffers are empty. At the same time, it is desperately trying to mobilize its armed forces and deploy them against the mounting threats on its eastern borders.
The effort is being hampered by inadequate stocks of even basics supplies of fuel and rations. Although a new National Guard of some forty thousand is being formed and training has started, it will likely be many months before it can be said to be operational.
Although the government still enjoys strong popular support, criticism is beginning to mount from some quarters over the lack of a military response to the takeover of Crimea, the lack of progress in coming up with a lustration process, the absence of any significant prosecution of the perpetrators responsible for the deaths on the Maidan, and the overall slow pace of reform in general. A prominent target of a lot of the discontent has been Acting President Turchynov, who increasingly appears to be a leader without a clear cut plan or strategy for dealing with the multi-faceted crisis Ukraine is facing. There are growing calls for his replacement.
Although Ukraine’s current circumstances are undeniably dire, there are some positive things that Ukrainians can point to with some pride and optimism. Prime Minister Yatseniuk has been both busy and effective in stirring up support, both political and financial amongst the leading countries of Europe and North America. A political agreement has been signed with the EU to be followed by an economic association agreement in the near future. Financial commitments have been secured from the US, the EU, Canada and the IMF that will keep the country solvent. An escalating series of economic sanctions have been imposed upon Russia that are starting to exact a serious toll on the Russian economy and the ruble. The European and NATO countries have also finally recognized Putin for the inveterate, recidivist tyrant and danger to the free world that he is, and will now seriously work towards developing a containment strategy to limit his imperialistic ambitions. The Ukrainian police and militias are also showing signs of regaining some semblance of control over the demonstrators and provocateurs in eastern Ukrainian cities and are slowly restoring some semblance of law and order there. Lastly, the Ukrainian armed forces, though underfunded, underequipped and understaffed, have demonstrated during the Crimean standoff that they have nerves of steel and are not lacking in courage or loyalty. Should Putin send his forces across Ukraine’s eastern border, he will find that taking Donetsk and Luhansk will not be the cakewalk that Crimea was.
There is one other factor that will likely take on increasing importance in the days, months and years to come. I read today that there was a strong anti-war, anti-Putin protest march in Moscow that attracted an estimated 70,000 people. These marches are growing in both size and frequency and should be a clear indicator to Putin that his adventurism is not playing well with all Russians.
Like most experts, I too have no idea of what Putin will do in the coming weeks. If his plan is to invade Eastern Ukraine, then the longer he waits the more difficult it will become for him to do so. If invasion is in his plans then likely it will happen over the next few weeks or not at all.
Right now, what Ukraine needs more than anything else is some breathing room, some time to regroup, strengthen its control of the country and reinforce its defenses. A key aspect of that will be the Presidential election scheduled for the end of May. A new, democratically elected and hopefully competent President will be a major step towards a real future for Ukraine. In the meantime, one can only hope and pray that Ukraine can survive the next few months from the predations of a mad bear.