Good news and bad news in Ukraine

Thomas Lifson
There is a lot to celebrate in the victory of popular resistance to President Yanukovych's submission to Russia in turning down a deal to associate Ukraine with the European Union. The best symbol of the good news is the toppling of statues of Lenin, which still exist not just in Russia but in other ex-Soviet states, apparently as a kind of symbolic affirmation of Russian ties. Unquestionably, Lenin was an evil man, the iron-fisted enforcer of Marx's theories into a totalitarian state that rivaled Nazism in its murderous outcomes.


So, what's not to like? Mostly a series of dangers that could develop (or might not, if we are luckier than history teaches we are likely to be).

First of all, there is a danger of civil war. Ukraine's current boundaries are the result of Soviet-era politics, and include territory where Russian-speakers predominate, who are mainly loyal to Moscow. John Hinderaker of Powerline writes:

Eastern Ukraine tends to be Russian-speaking and favors closer ties with Russia; western Ukraine is heavily Ukrainian-speaking and favors closer ties with the West. This chart, from Wikipedia, shows the percentage of Ukrainian speakers on the left, matched against results in the 2012 election on the right:


Maybe a partition could be achieved peacefully with a vote. But the history of the Balkans suggests that when Slavs break-up, civil war is a possibility, even when there have been decades of unity with seeming peace.

Second, Russia under Putin has a huge stake in the military facilities in Eastern Ukraine and especially the Crimea. Historian Mark Almond writes in the UK Daily Mail:

Chaos in Kiev could set off a tsunami that will toss Western Europe from its moorings too. (snip)

Civil war would be a tragedy for Ukraine's people. But what makes the crisis so dangerous is the international dimension.

Since the collapse of Communism in 1991, the US and its European allies have seen keeping Ukraine independent of Russia as a key result of victory in the Cold War. 

For Russians, losing Ukraine was a huge blow. 

Ironically, Russian culture and its Orthodox Church were born in Kiev 1,000 years ago. 

Moscow is a new capital. The Kremlin has always regarded bases in Ukraine, like its naval hub at Sevastopol, as key to security.

Now Russia's military presence could be questioned by the revolutionaries swarming through the abandoned government buildings in Kiev.

Nato has never wanted Russia's forces in the Crimea, but nor does Washington want to see any violent effort to force them out.

Bill Clinton famously declared that keeping Crimea in Ukraine and away from Russia was in America's national interest. (snip)

IF Ukrainian nationalists, for instance, shoot at Russian soldiers in the south, local civil disorder could drag the Kremlin in as it did five years ago across the Black Sea in Georgia.

Already the West has been sparring with Putin's Russia over everything from energy prices to gay rights, but a good old-fashioned tug of war over territory is now under way.

Factor in Putin's knowledge that Barack Obama may spout rhetoric about "red lines" and "lines" but backs away when push comes to shove. That, and the knowledge that the EU and NATO are unlikely to commit troops and that Russia has shorter supply lines, offers an incentive for military action to protect Russia's significant strategic interests.

Then there is the uncomfortable fact that while there are plenty of good guys in the opposition, people who want democracy and western values, there is also a hard-edged faction of Ukrainian nationalists, people who hate Jews and see the world in conspiratorial terms.

I am keeping my fingers crossed that the downsides won't develop, and the current triumph can be sustained. But frankly, Vlad Putin does not seem like the kind of fellow who accepts defeat and slinks away. And with Obama leading the free world, we may not be up to a struggle.

Rick Moran comments:

Editor Lifson is correct about Putin; he can't afford a total defeat in Ukraine. But the Russian president has plenty of leverage that he can employ to get much of what he wants without an intervention.

Ukraine is entirely dependent on Moscow for its energy needs. Putin has shown no reluctance in the past to use this weapon to his advantage. The Ukrainian economy is also dependent on Russia for much of its foreign trade - an economy that is close to meltdown. It wouldn't take much for Putin to push it over the edge.

Then there is the threat of intervention itself, with the Russian Black Sea fleet based on the Crimea in Sevastopol and fresh memories of the 2008 intervention in Georgia. In short, there is plenty of room for manuever by Putin to bend events in his favor.

And there isn't much the west can do about it.

There is a lot to celebrate in the victory of popular resistance to President Yanukovych's submission to Russia in turning down a deal to associate Ukraine with the European Union. The best symbol of the good news is the toppling of statues of Lenin, which still exist not just in Russia but in other ex-Soviet states, apparently as a kind of symbolic affirmation of Russian ties. Unquestionably, Lenin was an evil man, the iron-fisted enforcer of Marx's theories into a totalitarian state that rivaled Nazism in its murderous outcomes.


So, what's not to like? Mostly a series of dangers that could develop (or might not, if we are luckier than history teaches we are likely to be).

First of all, there is a danger of civil war. Ukraine's current boundaries are the result of Soviet-era politics, and include territory where Russian-speakers predominate, who are mainly loyal to Moscow. John Hinderaker of Powerline writes:

Eastern Ukraine tends to be Russian-speaking and favors closer ties with Russia; western Ukraine is heavily Ukrainian-speaking and favors closer ties with the West. This chart, from Wikipedia, shows the percentage of Ukrainian speakers on the left, matched against results in the 2012 election on the right:


Maybe a partition could be achieved peacefully with a vote. But the history of the Balkans suggests that when Slavs break-up, civil war is a possibility, even when there have been decades of unity with seeming peace.

Second, Russia under Putin has a huge stake in the military facilities in Eastern Ukraine and especially the Crimea. Historian Mark Almond writes in the UK Daily Mail:

Chaos in Kiev could set off a tsunami that will toss Western Europe from its moorings too. (snip)

Civil war would be a tragedy for Ukraine's people. But what makes the crisis so dangerous is the international dimension.

Since the collapse of Communism in 1991, the US and its European allies have seen keeping Ukraine independent of Russia as a key result of victory in the Cold War. 

For Russians, losing Ukraine was a huge blow. 

Ironically, Russian culture and its Orthodox Church were born in Kiev 1,000 years ago. 

Moscow is a new capital. The Kremlin has always regarded bases in Ukraine, like its naval hub at Sevastopol, as key to security.

Now Russia's military presence could be questioned by the revolutionaries swarming through the abandoned government buildings in Kiev.

Nato has never wanted Russia's forces in the Crimea, but nor does Washington want to see any violent effort to force them out.

Bill Clinton famously declared that keeping Crimea in Ukraine and away from Russia was in America's national interest. (snip)

IF Ukrainian nationalists, for instance, shoot at Russian soldiers in the south, local civil disorder could drag the Kremlin in as it did five years ago across the Black Sea in Georgia.

Already the West has been sparring with Putin's Russia over everything from energy prices to gay rights, but a good old-fashioned tug of war over territory is now under way.

Factor in Putin's knowledge that Barack Obama may spout rhetoric about "red lines" and "lines" but backs away when push comes to shove. That, and the knowledge that the EU and NATO are unlikely to commit troops and that Russia has shorter supply lines, offers an incentive for military action to protect Russia's significant strategic interests.

Then there is the uncomfortable fact that while there are plenty of good guys in the opposition, people who want democracy and western values, there is also a hard-edged faction of Ukrainian nationalists, people who hate Jews and see the world in conspiratorial terms.

I am keeping my fingers crossed that the downsides won't develop, and the current triumph can be sustained. But frankly, Vlad Putin does not seem like the kind of fellow who accepts defeat and slinks away. And with Obama leading the free world, we may not be up to a struggle.

Rick Moran comments:

Editor Lifson is correct about Putin; he can't afford a total defeat in Ukraine. But the Russian president has plenty of leverage that he can employ to get much of what he wants without an intervention.

Ukraine is entirely dependent on Moscow for its energy needs. Putin has shown no reluctance in the past to use this weapon to his advantage. The Ukrainian economy is also dependent on Russia for much of its foreign trade - an economy that is close to meltdown. It wouldn't take much for Putin to push it over the edge.

Then there is the threat of intervention itself, with the Russian Black Sea fleet based on the Crimea in Sevastopol and fresh memories of the 2008 intervention in Georgia. In short, there is plenty of room for manuever by Putin to bend events in his favor.

And there isn't much the west can do about it.