Sunday, January 26, 2014

Yanukovich's latest move might make a partition of the Ukraine unavoidable

In my past articles about the Ukraine (see here, here, here and here) and in many posts in the comments section I have expressed my complete disgust with Yanukovich whom I see as absolutely immoral, weak, stupid and corrupt.  Every move he has made so far has only strengthened my absolute loathing for this man whose role in igniting the current chaos in the Ukraine cannot be overstated.  But I have to admit that his latest move has caught me by surprise.

Following days of intense rioting in which many government buildings were stormed, in which over 100 riot cops were hospitalized and 2 kidnapped and 1 killed, following clear and unequivocal threats by the leaders of the opposition to "go on the attack" and overthrow the government, Yanukovich did not send in the cops to clear the center of Kiev, neither did he order the opposition leaders arrested for sedition, attempted coup, conspiracy to commit terrorist attacks or anything like that.  No, Yanukovich met with the leaders of the so-called opposition and offered them the following "concessions":
  • To change the Constitution back to its pre-2004 model
  • To allow early Presidential and Parliamentary elections
  • To repeal all the anti-rioting laws recently passed
  • To grant a full amnesty to all the folks arrested since the riots began
  • To appoint Klichko Vice-Prime Minister for Humanitarian Issues
  • To appoint Iatseniuk as Prime Minister of the Ukraine
No, alas, this is not a joke.  He actually did that.

And you know what the opposition's reply was?

"Well, we will think about it" and "we agree to changes, but not on your terms, but on our terms".

Guys, I am serious.  This all really happened.

So Yanukovich's idea of negotiations is "as soon as you get to the table, cave in on every single demand".  How is that for an opening position?

By the way, I think that the opposition did the right thing.  When you are dealing with such a spineless idiot who begins the negotiations with a full surrender the correct reply is to look disappointed, keep a poker face, and say that you need time to formulate a counter-offer.  Why?  Because if your opponent begins with a surrender, you can clearly squeeze him for everything he has got and since the opposition has already de-facto won everything they wanted and, frankly more than in their wildest dreams, the opposition leaders might as well take a slightly annoyed look and express disappointed over the unconditional surrender they have been offered.  At the very least, that will give them the opportunity to further humiliate Yanukovich who, frankly, richly deserves any humiliation these clowns can now heap on him.

Why do I say "clowns"?

Think of it.  Klichko is just a dumb gorilla.  Iatseniuk is a little Jewish weasel who has no compunction working with a notorious Jew-hater like Tiagnibok (whose supporters have already attacked Jews in Kiev triggering a concerned note from the Israeli government), while Tiagnibok himself is your typical neo-Nazi racist punk as only the Ukraine and Croatia can produce.  These are the folks to whom Yanukovich is essentially handing over full power.  The fact that nobody has given Yanukovich to change the Constitution or even repeal laws is besides the point.  After all, who could object, right?

Well, there is somebody who might: the southeastern regions of the Ukraine.

This has, of course, not been reported in the western Ziomedia, but the eastern Ukraine is now also bubbling with political actions.  To make a long story short, the folks in the southeastern Ukraine have no desire whatsoever to let folks like Iatseniuk, Klichko or Tiagnibok rule over them.  In fact, several local assembles - including the Parliament of Crimea - have adopted resolution calling on the President to restore law and order and warning that they would never accept a "regime change" in Kiev.

Now, as I have mentioned many times before, it is wrong to believe the western Ziomedia that the folks in the southeastern Ukraine are "pro-Russian".  They are not.  They are not demanding to be reattached to Russia, they are not claiming that their nationality is Russian and not Ukrainian, and when the organize a meeting they always fly the (West) Ukrainian yellow-blue flag.  No, these guys are not pro-Russia, but they are pro-Ruble: their wealth (and that is the wealthiest part of the Ukraine) fully depends on economic ties with Russia.  Besides being pro-Ruble, they are also strongly anti-Nazi and they are fully aware that the kind of nationalism currently represented by the opposition is the nationalism of the "Zapadentsy" - the West Ukrainians whose national hero is Stepan Bandera.  In other words, even though most southeastern Ukrainians are hardly Russia or even pro-Russian, they are resolutely opposed to what is going on in Kiev because they really have everything to lose and nothing to gain from the EU.

It is hard to tell, but my sense is that when the local authorities in the southeastern Ukraine threaten not to accept any regime change in Kiev they probably do really mean it.  This very much reminds me of the repeated warnings of the Bosnian-Serbs that they would not accept to live in an Islamic state run by an rabid fanatic like Itzebegovich.  At the time, and just like today, nobody took these warnings seriously and we all know how that ended.  The big difference between Bosnia and the Ukraine is first and foremost one of dimensions: Bosnia has an area of 19,741 square miles and a population of 3,791,622 while the Ukraine has an area of 233,090 square miles and a population of 44,854,065.  That is a huge difference which make a direct foreign intervention a much more complicated endeavor.  Second, the entire "Bosnian project" was a US State Department PR move to try to restore some pro-Islamic credibility to the USA.  The root causes of the events in the Ukraine are far more complex and while it is true that Hillary Clinton did clearly indicated that any re-integration of the Ukraine into Russia was absolutely unacceptable to the West, it would be wrong to say that the West, the EU, Soros or any other external factor is the prime cause of the events in the Ukraine.

The real cause of the crisis in the Ukraine can be found into two basic facts:

1) The Ukraine is a completely artificial country
2) The Ukraine is completely bankrupted by oligarchs

These are the two fundamental truths about the Ukraine which most observers and politicians - even from the southeastern Ukraine - are trying to avoid mentioning.  Why?  Well, simply because it is very very painful to the national ego of the Ukrainian people.  These are the folks who welcomed the breakup of the Soviet Union and their separation from Russia with the idiotic slogan "Тому бідні, що невільні" (we are poor kuz we are not free) only to now find themselves both very вільні (free) and very бідні (poor).  In contrast, the hated Moskals (derogatory word for "Russians") have enjoyed an economic boom and Russia has essentially fully recovered her superpower status in the 2000-2014 period while Forbes gave Putin the title of most powerful man on earth.  But make no mistake, if after the collapse of the Soviet Union the Ukraine had done very well economically, nobody in the southeastern Ukraine would have shed a tear about being torn away from Russia.  This is why I can only repeat that the southeastern Ukraine is not pro-Russia, but pro-Ruble and anti-Zapadentsy.  Still, the southeastern Ukrainians are becoming acutely aware that they now risk finding themselves cut-off from the Ruble and under the political control of the Zapadentsy, and that is something which they are willing to resist.

So what could happen now?

The first scenario is that Yanukovich will eventually yield to the pressure of the southeastern Ukraine and a few key politicians and finally crack-down on the rioters and restore law and order.  It is hard to know for sure, but my sense is that he probably has the resources to do so in Kiev.  However, the northwestern Ukraine is likely to rise up, reject such move and basically slip out from under the authority of the central government.

The second scenario is that Yanukovich full caves in the the opposition and that the latter essentially takes over the reigns of power.  At which point it will be the southeastern part of the Ukraine which will rise up, reject such a move and basically slip out from under the authority of the central government.

Frankly, I do not see any room for real compromise between Yanukovich and the opposition for a very simple reason: by opening the negotiation with with complete surrender which Yanukovich offered the opposition Yanukovich essentially closed the door to any compromise: why would the opposition accept any kind of compromise when it has already been offered it all?  With his mind-bogglingly stupid move Yanukovich has, paradoxically, made any form of compromise impossible: from now on it is "all or nothing" for both sides.  Yanokovich can either withdraw his offer and crack down on the opposition, or he can fully cave in.  But he cannot offer less and hope that this offer will be accepted.

The really scary thing is that the opposition is of the same "quality" as Yanukovich: absolutely incompetence, spineless ideological leaders who can't even control the demonstrators on the Maidan square, nevermind restoring order to the entire country.  And that brings me to one more possible solution of sorts, but a weird one: getting Timoshenko out of jail and into power.

Yes, I know, it does sound crazy.  But think again.  For one thing Iulia Timoshenko is smart.  And for all her fancy hair-styles and inclinations to theatrics, she can be a very pragmatic negotiator. By all accounts, she had an excellent rapport with Putin.  Furthermore, her basis of popular support is probably pretty good, especially in light of the recent events.  Finally, I would not put it beyond Putin, Lavrov, Obama and Kerry to "gently suggest" that getting Iulia out of jail might be the "least bad" solution.  But yeah, I know, this is most unlikely to happen.

So then what?

If either the northwest or the southeast both threaten to break out from under the control of the central government, what can happen after that?  Violence, for sure.  But keep in mind the figures for the size and population of the Ukraine above.  It will be very difficult for the folks on one side to actually get across the country to put down a local movement.  For one thing, the southeastern Ukrainians will only be delighted to get rid of the northwestern part of the Ukraine.  After all, it is the southeast which feeds the northwest this is why the northwest is so totally and categorically opposed to any partition.  So really the question is can the northwest really crackdown an impose its will on a potentially secessionist southeast?  I am not so sure, mainly because of the distances involved.

Right now, the entire "theater of operations" is composed of a few streets in central Kiev.  And just to hold on to that, the nationalists had to bus in people from all over the western Ukraine.  But anyway east of Kiev the Zapadentsy would run into "hostile territory" which could make things very difficult very fast.

Of course, if the Ukrainian military decided to move in support of the nationalist regime it could definitely reach any part of the Ukraine.  But the problem with that is that the military is probably split as badly as the civil society.  Finally, the Ukraine is not Bosnia were the distances were measured in kilometers and Banja Luka (pop. 150'000) is considered a big town.  The Ukraine is big and it would require big, very big, forces to try to control it.  This is also the main reason why I think that NATO will stay out of it, at least militarily.  Bosnia or Kosovo are "NATO-sized" "bites".  Not the Ukraine.  That is the good news.  The bad news is that terrorism and local clashes are very likely, especially if the nationalist movement continues to enjoy the unconditional support of the West.

And Russia in all that?

I can only repeat that Russia should stay out of whatever happens in the Ukraine.  The Russian government should prepare for an influx of refugees and the Russian military should be placed on high alert to avoid any provocations or cross-border violence.  A special goal for Russia should be to use all the means possible to avoid any violence on the Crimean Peninsula because of the presence of the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol which can find itself in the position of the 14th Army in Transdniestria when it simply had not other choice than to get involved due to the high number of officers with relatives living in the republic.  If, God forbid, the nationalist try to militarily take over the Crimean Peninsula or Sevastopol I don't see how the Black Sea Fleet could stay uninvolved - that is simply impossible and this is why that situation needs to be avoided at all costs.

As for the Ukraine, there is no good outcome.  Whatever side "wins" it will find itself at the head of a ruined and bankrupt country which the EU will not help - if only because it simply does not have the money to do so.  In terms of resources, all the Ukraine has to offer to the EU is cheap labor and agricultural products (mostly chernozem).  It's potential for economic collaboration with Russia are much better (although even they are dwindling), but that is not something acceptable to the nationalists.

For all these reasons I see no other outcome (notice, I did not use the word "solution") to the current situation besides a breakup of the country into two or three separate entities each going its own way.  As a concept, as a project, the Ukraine inside the ex-Soviet administrative borders has clearly outlived outlived its resource.  As things stand right now, there is nobody out there with the qualities needed to try to salvage this country and we can be confident that whoever wins the current contest between Yanukovich, Klichko, Iatseniuk and Tiagnibok will only make things worse.

The interesting thing is that, at least officially, nobody, and I mean nobody, wants that.  Not the regime, not the opposition, not the US, not the EU, not even Russia or any major political figure in Russia.  Of course, not all of them are always honest about their real goals.  Still, it will be interesting to observe whether anybody will be capable of avoiding what appears inevitable to me: a breakup of the Ukraine within the next few years as a result of what I can only call a "Ukrainian national suicide".

The Saker