Saturday, March 1, 2014

Some kind of attack on Crimea definitely happened yesterday

First, a shot bullet style news update from the Ukraine:
  • New government in Kiev declared that Russia had deployed 6'000 soldiers to the Ukraine.
  • A car with 400kg of TNT-equivalent explosives was intercepted a a checkpoint yesterday in Crimea.  There is no word on the diver or possible passengers.
  • Crimean authorities had decided to hold the referendum on the status of Crimea on March 30th, and not May 25th as originally decided.
  • Gazprom is threatening to cancel the rebate on gas it had granted the Ukraine in December saying that the Ukraine had not paid on time.
  • Authorities in Crimea have declared that nationalist insurgents had attempted to seize control of the building of the Internal Ministry building in Crimea.  That assault was repelled by local militias, but there are casualties.
  • There are reports of a number of APC intercepted during an attempt to enter the Crimean peninsula.
  • The Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Crimea, Sergei Aksionov, declared that Kiev had attempted to nominate a nationalist insurgents as commander of the internal ministry (police) affairs forces in Crimea and that armed insurgents had attempted to seize control of local government buildings.  He therefore appealed to Putin to help protect the Crimean Peninsula.
  • Russia declared that it will act on Aksionov's request.
  • Telephone, Internet and cell-phone connections were re-established in Crimea (they had been cut by unknown people yesterday)
  • The Russian Parliament and the heads of the various parties represented there adopted an appeal to President Putin to take action to protect Crimea.
  • In Kiev, Iatseniuk has told his finance minister to contact his Russia counterpart to begin negotiations to financial issues.
  • Iatseniuk also promised never to use force in the Crimean Peninsula.
  • The self-style "acting President" of the Ukraine, Alexander Turchinov, has declared that he will veto the recent bill of the insurgent-controlled Parliament in Kiev which has repealed the previous "law on languages" and that a new law will have to be adopted.
  • Nationalists have taken control of an administration building in Kharkov.  A mass rally around the building has arisen, clashes have been reported between the demonstrators and the nationalists in the building, one reporter has just reported that the crowd had given assault to the building.
  • Obama appeared to made a special statement warning of a "price to pay" if Russia intervened militarily in the Ukraine. 
Russian forces in Crimea
What does all that mean?  Can we discern a pattern?  Do these events hint at what the various forces confronting each other might be doing.  Let's ask a few basic questions of common sense:

1) If all parties agreed never to use any violence in Crimea, and if the local people were given a free choice on the future of the Peninsula, which side would win this referendum - the nationalists of the Russian-speaking and pro-Russian majority?  The answer is obvious - the pro-Russians would win.
2) If the pro-Russians are sure to win in any free and fair political contest, who is the party which would benefit from an escalation of violence in Crimea?  The answer is obvious again: the Ukrainian nationalists?
3) Considering that a clear majority of the local population is pro-Russia and that there are plenty of Russian forces in Crimea, what would the Kremlin gain by sending in Russian military forces into Crimea?  Again a obvious answer: nothing.
4) The insurgents in Kiev know that a clear majority of Crimeans is opposed to their rule, and Iatseniuk is trying to negotiate with Russia on economic issues, while Turchinov says that he will veto the repeal of the former law on languages, what could Kiev hope to achieve by sending in insurgent forces into Crimea?  Nothing, of course, it would only make things worse.

and now a few more question I will not immediately answer:

5) Somebody cut off all communications (phone, Internet, cell-phones) out of Crimea yesterday; today is was restored.  Who would gain from that and why?  6) Nobody disputes that some kind of unidentified but clearly professional and pro-Russian force suddenly took control of two airports in Crimea, only to later apologize and withdraw leaving just a few guards.  What could have triggered such a move?
7) Russia has admitted that it had closed the airspace over Crimea overnight.  Why would it do that?
8)  While the 6'000 Russian paratroopers claimed by Kiev appears to be false, it is most likely that some kind of Russian force, supported by helicopters, was seen in operation yesterday.  What could they have been doing?

What follows is only my interpretation and I might be 110% wrong.  Still, this is how I connect the dots.

Some kind of attack on Crimea definitely happened yesterday and it was repelled.  I don't think that the attacking side was controlled by the new regime in Kiev as Iatseniuk and Turchinov had nothing to gain from such an action and much to lose.  I think that the attacking side was a third party, most likely some kind of assault force of Ukrainian and/or Tatar nationalists organized and controlled by US special forces.  I believe that this force tried cutting off the communication lines of the local authorities and attempted to storm the Internal Ministry building to seize control of the local police.  The Russian military clearly believed that some kind of force would be sent to the Crimea by air and that triggered a move by the Russian to seize the airports and defend them by force if needed.  When they saw that their move had been detected and preempted, the attacking force withdrew.  The US was clearly worried enough about the Russian reaction to have Obama issue a public threat about a "price to pay" should Russia invade the Ukraine.  As for the Russians, they are clearly incensed and key political figures have all expressed their demand that the Kremlin take action to protect Crimea.  Both sides are clearly in shock over what took place last night.

What is going to happen next?

Frankly, I believe that unless Obama does something truly extraordinary, Russia will move additional military forces in over the week-end.  The Kremlin simply cannot appear to ignore the plea from the local population.  Considering how much the West has been lying to Russia over the past 30 years or so, it would take some truly extraordinary reassurances and guarantees from the USA to stop a Russian military move into Crimea.  Russia will also take control over the Crimean airspace.  As for the tiny and rusting Ukrainian navy force, nobody needs it, but as long as it sits tight and stays put, it will basically be ignored.

The US and EU reaction to that will be a truckload with of anti-Russians hysterics, followed by a boycott of some meetings and activities, and that's about it.  For Russia, this is even far more important that South Ossetia and Obama understands that, even if he will never acknowledge that publicly.  The US is not going to war with Russia over Crimea.  I think that the real message of Obama to Putin is "don't do the same thing in the eastern Ukraine" (Kharkov, Dnepropetrovsk, Lugansk, etc.).

On the mid term, Crimea will vote to become an independent state within a Ukrainian Federation with the option to secede should the fascist regime remain in power in Kiev.

So what do you think?  Does my (admittedly highly speculative) interpretation make sense or do you connect the dots differently?

Kind regards,

The Saker