Joe Innes

A collection of 3 posts

Crimea in Crisis—How the West Has Lost

Russia and Ukraine have always felt a very close unity. Indeed, Russia’s name places it as the descendent of Kievan Rus, which unsurprisingly had its capital in Ukraine. It’s worth mentioning that this is not a one-way thing. Many Ukrainians support Russia, and support forging closer ties with them. In Crimea, this number is around 80%. Crimea has always been something of a thorn in the side for both Russia and Ukraine.

Put simply, it’s an expensive peninsula to maintain. It has no fresh water, and As a result, Ukraine have allowed it to have its own devolved parliament, in much the same way the UK allows Scotland autonomy. Crimea even want their own US embassy. While since the end of February, all other languages have been abolished and Ukrainian is the only official language of the Republic of Crimea, 77% of its inhabitants speak Russian as their native language. 60% of them are ethnic Russians.

This is at least partly due to Stalin’s ethnic cleansing of the area, but the fact remains that the majority of Crimeans feel a closer affinity to Russia than they do Ukraine. Their parliament operates in Russian, their media is almost exclusively Russian, and many Crimeans are Russian passport holders. In 2009 the deputy speaker of the Crimean parliament said that he hoped that Russia would do the same to Crimea as they had done in South Ossetia and Abkhazia in 2008.

The short-lived Georgian war saw Russia mobilising into Georgian sovereign territory. The Russian argument is that they moved to protect Russian citizens living there. The Georgian argument, which was better publicised in the West, although has significantly less evidence to support it, is that Russia attacked first wanting to take control of the territory.

The Crimean parliament refuse to recognise the government currently sitting in Ukraine, and have appointed Sergey Aksyonov as Prime Minister, who has taken control of Crimean security forces. It is all but certain a referendum in Crimea would see citizens voting to join the Russian Federation.

Putin has carefully stage-managed the entire incident, from troop deployment to last night’s announcement that Russian troops were there with the blessing of Viktor Yanukovich, currently in exile in Russia. He has forced the rest of the world to make a choice, and either way it ends well for Russia. The least likely choice is that the West backs down, and recognises Yanukovich as the rightful leader of Ukraine. If we do that, the occupation of Crimea is perfectly legal, as it is at his behest. We would be making it very clear to the Ukrainian protesters that we did not support them, the result of which would probably be anarchic violence in the streets once more.

The middle ground is that we refuse to recognise Yanukovich as the rightful leader. We accept the interim government and claim that Yanukovich no longer has the legal authority to allow Russian troops to enter Ukraine. It will then be simple for Putin to claim that if armed protesters can storm a government building and gain legal recognition, surely it’s only fair to allow the peaceful residents of Crimea a referendum on whether they want to be governed by this leadership. We can dispute this, but I struggle to see how we could win.

The most likely choice is that we refuse to accept the current government, pending democratic elections in a few months time. Russia will almost certainly refuse to back down, and so Russian troops in Crimea are almost guaranteed until the elections. Russia will continue to insist that Yanukovich is the rightful leader, and will almost certainly help him to win the elections (legally or otherwise), contingent on Crimea being allowed a referendum.

What happens after? Initially, probably the secession of Crimea from Ukraine, followed swiftly by its assimilation into the Russian Federation. The real question is for whom does this matter? Realistically, not many people. In fact, it would benefit almost everybody. Russia get their Black Sea Fleet harbour and take back some of the territory given away by Krushchyov (allegedly while drunk), Ukraine would no longer have to support Crimea financially, and would find their new electorate more EU-friendly, and Crimeans would get their wish. Those the worst affected would probably be the pro-Russian elements of Ukraine who do not live in Crimea. Their position would lose many supporters as a result of Crimean secession.

Whether you agree with what he has done or not, it has been played out very elegantly, and for what it’s worth, peacefully. As you see, Putin has outpoliticked us.

Well played, Vova.

Ukraine on Fire as Protests Turn Violent

It was to be a decisive move that put an end to the Euromaidan protests. After three months of protesters camping on Ukraine’s main city square, pro-Yanukovich forces moved in thousands of protesters. Although they were not the first casualties during the past quarter of the year, the 28 people (or more — exact, verifiable figures are hard to come by) who lost their lives on the night of the 18th February were to mark a change in the atmosphere on the Maidan.

Ukraine is now right on the brink of civil war. While it’s unclear which side fired the first rounds, it is now all but certain that both protesters and interior ministry forces are now armed. There are rumours that interior ministry troops are refusing to fire on protesters, but the restraint shown so far may well be a political decision. While Ukrainian sources are claiming that three EU ministers are meeting President Yanukovich, EU sources are saying that the ministers have been evacuated for their own security. The latter would seem to be more reliable at the moment.

Proof of police snipers

Live footage from in Ukraine (run by protesters) shows protesters in control of Maidan, but observers are keenly aware that the true reason for the live stream is insurance. Yanukovich is unlikely to allow his forces to resort to brutal violence while, quite literally, the world is watching. Nevertheless, reports from AP are claiming that 8 protesters died this morning while trying to storm a building near the square, while other reports put the number as high as 35.

Kyiv Post journalist Christopher Miller is also reporting that protesters have captured more than 50 police, and are currently keeping them imprisoned in a building controlled by the protesters.

What initially began as a protest against Yanukovich refusing an EU co-operation deal has descended into a more general anti-government movement. We have seen Ukraine’s nationalists capitalising on this, as well as opposition politicians encouraging the protests and government officials losing their jobs. The EU seem to be trying to defuse the situation, calling on Yanukovich to avoid violence, and threatening concrete sanctions. However, the lumbering moves of international democracy are almost certain to be too slow to keep pace with developments in Ukraine. Meanwhile a video made on Maidan has gone viral, in which a young protester explains her reasons for being on Maidan. The video predates much of the most recent violence.

The future is unclear, and for the first time in a long time hushed whispers of secession are spreading. Lviv, another Western, pro-European Ukrainian city has declared political autonomy, and is rejecting Yanukovich. While a split is unlikely, it does make some geographic sense: the vast majority of pro-Europeans live in the Western half of Ukraine. Whatever the future in Ukraine, it’s hard to imagine Yanukovich as part of it. For more updates on the situation, follow my twitter, @d1sxeyes, and keep an eye on the live stream.

Ukraine Has Not Yet Perished

Tonight, riot police line the streets of Kiev. Protestors are bedding down in tents on the Ukrainian capital’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the big square, and there’s no sign of either side backing down. For the most part, the protests and the police reaction have been peaceful, but tensions are high, as are the stakes. Let us not forget that Ukraine’s last revolution was less than ten years ago. These people believe in the power of revolution because they have lived it.

And we are to blame. The EU has dangled the carrot of membership in front of Ukraine’s nose for too long. It’s hardly surprising that Ukraine’s politicians have finally snapped and turned their back on us. In the media at the moment there’s a lot of anti-Russian rhetoric, claiming the Russian administration want to exert control over Ukraine, but it’s not just Putin who’s been playing games.

The EU have asked for the world, and offered little in return. To fund the cuts needed to join the EU, Ukraine would need to turn to the IMF, whose position is that Ukraine would have to double utility prices while freezing salaries. The EU are not prepared to help Ukraine negotiate better terms, although they have offered to cover approximately one eighth of the country’s budget deficit for this year. Due to the tax-free zone that exists between Russia and Ukraine, Russia would be forced to react punitively towards Ukraine to avoid cheap goods flooding the Russian market from the EU, destabilising the economy.

Putin says he wants to join talks to discuss this issue, as well as Ukraine’s pipelines, which carry a quarter of the EU’s gas supplies from Russia. So the biggest slap in the face must be this most recent document, the “last straw”, which the EU might as well have written in piss on a Ukrainian flag. It guarantees absolutely none of the benefits of a rapprochement with the EU, and by the glaring omission of any reference to membership makes it crystal clear that Ukraine will not be a member for a very long time. The Ukrainian leadership has been placed in an impossible position. On the one hand, we have the EU, who seem hell-bent on wringing Ukraine dry, while on the other we have the protestors, desperate to escape the country’s serious economic problems.

We have deceived the Ukrainian people by leading them on, suggesting that we would pave the way for them to join the EU. We have not. When the protests turn violent, we will point at Yanukovich and say that he’s Putin’s lapdog, and that it’s his fault because he won’t sign the Association Agreement. We will say that the reason he balked was because he didn’t want to release Tymoshenko. That Moscow had their hand up his backside and were moving his mouth. But the fact is, only those who are truly guilty need a scapegoat.

This article also published on Fortitude Magazine