The Last Gasp of a Medieval Russia

Volodymyr Kish

As I write this, Russia is continuing its barbaric campaign to destabilize and eventually re-occupy Ukraine, or at least as much of it as it can. Russian military and FSB infiltrators and provocateurs are continuing to seize government buildings in Eastern Ukraine, and the notorious “green men” that we first saw in Crimea are now appearing in Ukraine’s eastern oblasts. Ukrainian authorities have captured dozens of these Russian operatives, putting a lie to the continuing propaganda being spewed by Russian politicians and Russian media that these are local, pro-Russian self-defense forces angry with the Kyiv government.

Although all of this was foreseen weeks ago, the Ukrainian government has reacted far too slowly and ineffectively to the Russian aggression, indicating that its command and control infrastructure in Eastern Ukraine is sorely lacking. To a large extent, this is due to the fact that most of the police and militia forces in the east were beholden to and controlled by, not the Ukrainian government, but the local oligarchs and the Yanukovych clan. It seems that they still are. In too many cases, when faced with separatist forces, they have either done nothing, or have actively aided and abetted the pro-Russian troublemakers. It is obvious that a wholesale purge of the officer ranks in Eastern Ukraine is desperately needed, yet that is extremely difficult to do when you are in the middle of armed insurrection in a large number of locations.

The Ukrainian government is caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand it needs to react forcefully to the armed provocations on the eastern borders, yet it cannot rely on its forces there to carry out its orders. Russia knows this and will keep ratcheting up the pressure, hoping that the Ukrainian authorities will buckle under the pressure and lose control entirely of its eastern oblasts. The Ukrainian government is reacting as fast as it can, sending in trusted troops and militia from the central and western parts of the country, though it remains to be seen whether it can do so quickly enough and in enough strength to counteract the Russian incursions. It must regain complete control of these areas within the next month, otherwise the Presidential elections scheduled for the end of May cannot realistically proceed. Russia on its part will do all it can to make sure those elections don’t happen, since once they do take place, it can no longer claim that the current Ukrainian government is illegitimate.

What has become abundantly clear is that Russia is willing to risk becoming completely ostracized both politically and economically by the world community in order to pursue its increasingly naked ambition to recreate its medieval Russian Empire, of which Ukraine is the key prize. Aside from such maniacal regimes as North Korea and Syria, no one is buying Russia’s claims that it is just “protecting” the rights of its Russian compatriots in Ukraine. Even China is pointedly “abstaining” from rendering even verbal support to its troublesome, sometime ally.

Regardless of how the Ukrainian crisis is resolved, Russia has condemned itself to economic ruin and poverty. In our global economy, Russia relies heavily on selling its petroleum and other resources to other countries, primarily Europe, to fund its government expenditures. Having proven themselves to be nothing more than geopolitical bullies, Russia will lose most of its resource customers as they will undoubtedly seek more dependable and less politically aggressive suppliers. As it slides into economic chaos and becomes increasingly reviled by the rest of the world, political discontent will undoubtedly accelerate and Putin and his regime will sooner or later collapse. The unfortunate thing with this inevitable scenario is that in the process of coming to pass, Putin can wreak considerable havoc, death and destruction on this corner of the world.

I think it is probably safe to say that Putin is most certainly mad as a hatter, in the grand tradition of Ivan the Terrible. Whereas most of the rest of the world has evolved politically over the centuries, Putin is stuck within a brutal medieval mindset where power and conquest are the only factors of any consequence. Lives, freedom, justice and human rights have no existence aside from being fodder for his all-pervasive propaganda.

It is encouraging that most of the world is coming to recognize the true face of Putin and is beginning to react to his barbaric aggression. True, this reaction has been slow and at times frustratingly inadequate, but the momentum is building, and with each incremental display of overt and covert aggression, Putin is insuring that another nail is being hammered into his coffin. Let us hope that Ukraine survives intact enough to celebrate his funeral.