The ongoing Ukraine crisis and the poor reporting of same have pretty much killed this week’s History Friday column for me, so I will yield to my muse and go with it in providing this background information to the Ukraine Crisis.
1. President Viktor Yanukovych was a tyrant in the pocket of President Putin of Russia. His election in 2010 saw Ukraine turn increasingly into a police state with on-going death squad actions against protestors. Political opponents like Yulia Tymoshenko have been imprisoned and beaten. American National Public Radio has reported for some months on the activities of these Yanukovych aligned death squads going into Ukrainian hospitals to “disappear” wounded protestors getting medical treatment. Tortured bodies of some of them are found days or weeks later. President Viktor Yanukovych utterly honked off the entire non-Russian speaking Ukrainian population through these actions.
2. The Euromaidan movement is not just a grass roots movement. It is a political coalition that is in part a tool of Ukrainian oligarchs that don’t want to go extinct like the Russian oligarchs did under Putin. This means they play rough. And by rough I mean they are forming road blocks and threatening anyone with high end autos on the theory they are Yanukovych supporters.
Likely a good part of the reason that Ukraine police melted away from Yanukovych involved threats to police families and property. There were not enough Eastern and Crimean Ukrainians in the Kiev police units supporting the Berkut to keep it all from melting away
3. The timing of this Euromaidan takeover was no accident. The key development in this crisis was the Ukrainian Military refusing to come out of its barracks to shoot protestors with heavy weapons a la Tiananmen Square. Without the ultimate force sanction of military heavy weapons, President Viktor Yanukovych could not win a forceful confrontation without outside Russian military action. He had to hold on through the Olympics to get it, but he and his inner circle of supporters suffered a classic case of elite collapse of will. Euromaidan and its outside supporters knew that from the get-go. Which brings us to…
4. Euromaidan had outside European help. That help was Polish. See this text and the link below it for the full article:
The Polish government has been funding civil society projects in ex-Soviet countries such as Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia and Moldova, with much of the aid channeled through a fund controlled by Mr Sikorski’s ministry.
Recipients of Polish government money include opposition television stations operating in exile from Belarus, giving Poland influence in a country that, after Ukraine, could be the scene of the next confrontation between Russia and the West.
Such Polish activism arouses suspicion in Moscow, where centuries of rivalry between the two big Slavic powers, Roman Catholic Poland in the West and Orthodox Russia in the East, were marked by repeated wars and invasions in either direction.
5. The Polish help took the form of providing a telecommunications system. A system that gave Euromaidan the logistical chops described here in the “War is Boring” weblog.
Logistics of that scale requires good communications.
President Yanukovych controlled all the media, all the land line phones and cell towers per Russian/ex-USSR standard operating procedures. Yet the Euromaidan opposition was operating at/inside President Yanukovych internal security force’s decision cycle.
That meant the Poles already provided these “protestors” all their telecommunications, independent of President Yanukovych, to pull off the logistical operations that the Euromaidan exhibited. That is why both Yanukovych and Putin were both caught so flat footed. There was in independent Euromaidan communications network that Yanukovych, and by extension Putin, didn’t know about at work.
6. Ukrainian Nationalism was an independent force here that no one expected. It is a force, now that it is aroused, that won’t go away any time soon. President Yanukovych and his entourage convinced the majority of the Ukrainian people they had nothing to lose but their lives to gain their freedom…and that was communicated to everyone in Ukraine on live TV.
See this John Fund text and the link below:
As someone who reported from Eastern Europe during the fall of Communist regimes there, I recognized a recurring pattern in the collapse a quarter century later of the regime in Kiev. Regimes can stay in power in an age of mass media only if they have enough murderers willing to gun down people in the street. Snipers were willing to kill their fellow countrymen in the streets around the Maidan last Thursday, but their superiors reached a breaking point when the shots didn’t achieve the desired level of fear. “The shooting stopped when the security chiefs realized the game was over — not because they didn’t have enough Kalashnikovs, but because they proved ineffective: For one person killed, many more came out on the Maidan,” Maria Semykoz, a Ukrainian economist from Lvov, told me by e-mail.
Now that the regime is gone, Ukraine will face wrenching change.
Yanukovych ran when it played out exactly that way, without enough loyalists willing to use guns, or Putin’s tanks, between Yanukovych and the nationalist Euromaidan mobs.
7. There are more than Russophiles in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea. The Crimean Tartars do not want to be under Russian rule again and especially at Putin’s KGB bloodstained hands. They will be a factor before the crisis is over. And by “factor” I mean they will either be ethnically cleansed again or they will ethnically cleanse out the Russian speakers.
See text and link below:
Pro-Western opposition politicians who led the rebellion have filled the power vacuum in Kiev, Which triggered demonstrations in Russian-speaking areas of eastern and southern Ukraine, where industry remains elaborately entwined with Russia’s economy and Moscow keeps its Black Sea fleet based in Sevastopol.
Several dozen Russians worried about their status in a potentially opposition-ruled Ukraine have been demonstrating for the last three days outside public buildings in Sevastopol, Simferopol, Odessa and other southern cities, some demanding that Russia protect them or that the region secede and annex to Russia.
On Wednesday, rival demonstrations involving thousands of Crimean Tatars, who were exiled from Russia to Crimea by dictator Josef Stalin during World War II, pledged allegiance to Kiev and their place within Ukraine.
Shouts of “Ukraine is not Russia” and “Allahu Akbar” could be heard from the crowd of historically Muslim Tatars as they waved the yellow and blue Ukrainian and Tatar flags in defiance of the considerably smaller pro-Russian turnout, according to news agencies and Ukrainian television.
8. It is still the money, Stupid. Yanukovych has left the Ukraine broke. Putin and President Yanukovych’s Russian speakers in Ukraine now have a huge P.R. problem due to photos of Yanukovych’s abandoned estate to go with their loss of control. The ability of President Yanukovych to get money from the International Monetary Fund disappeared with those photos (plus whatever Yanukovych documents that survive) and Putin’s ability to replace the IMF just got a lot more limited because of the media bleed over. Putin’s security concerns at this point include digital pictures of Yanukovych’s estate being sent via ‘cell-phone samizdat.’
Putin already had the Ukrainian government in his pocket prior to this crisis, and any Russian military intervention planning into Ukraine likely assumed it would still be there when Russian armor rolled. The Ukraine military’s decision as an institution to stay in the barracks, and not shoot fellow Ukrainians when President Yanukovych called them too, makes a “South Ossetia-Georgia Model” intervention for Putin a great deal more problematic.
Putin is in the position of a master political chess player being forced to play a game of political fast-break basketball. The situation is outside his political frame of reference.
Putin can’t use his usual military hammer Georgia-style because it isn’t big enough, and he now has the example of forcible regime change next door to make him worry about his own regime’s stability if he tries and fails. Yet, Putin seems set to double down in the Crimea regardless.
The thought of President Yanukovych as a 21st Century Archduke Ferdinand does not appeal…but it seems to be a growing possibility.
The bottom line is that we cannot make assumptions that either the Poles or Baltic Republics won’t act to support an anti-Russian Ukraine regime out of their own national interests. These actions may be covert — the arming of Crimean Tatar militias is an example — or in some more overt form.
So what happens if the Poles put a “no-fly” air defense zone over Kiev in the event of Russian-Ukrainian ground hostilities and the Russians then throw tactical missiles from their Baltic enclave at Polish airfields?
If the Russians attack Polish territory it invokes the NATO defense treaty Article Five “attack on any is an attack on all” clause.
If the Poles plus Ukrainians are duking it out versus Russians in Ukrainian territory…that is a gray area.
This is one of the reasons President George Washington warned against “entangling alliances” in his farewell address.