The Ukraine Crisis — Some Background and Thoughts

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.,0,6553481.story#ixzz2uRPdPGko

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.

28 thoughts on “The Ukraine Crisis — Some Background and Thoughts”

  1. It’s about bloody time Britain left the EU and NATO. It’s no business of ours if Poles, Germans, Russians and Ukrainians want a war. It would be incredibly foolish to enter any war when the US is run not only by a President who is a bozo, but by a political class of staggering ignorance about the rest of the world and its history, informed by a deeply coarse mindset.

  2. It’s interesting that real news, as opposed to Kardashian soap opera, must be found in the press of other countries. I read the Telegraph and Mirror for US news.

  3. NATO is largely a dead letter already, because no major NATO power has the will or the means to stand up to Russia in the event of open aggression. But the Poles, the Baltic nations, and the Czechs, Slovaks, and Hungarians having seen Fraternal Assistance up close and personal may have different ideas. The logical extension is the necessity of developing some form of countervalue deterrent, which could be interesting. Multi-polar worlds are not all they were cracked up to be when everybody was complaining about the Cold War.

    Buraq Hussein is not going to do anything [and there are a number of measures possible to do that are far from open warfare]. I expect Britain also will back off, if only because last time I looked, they had misplaced their armed forces.

    Granting that nothing will be done by either; that leaves the FSU Republics that are now independent, and the former Warsaw Pact countries very, very nervous. Because the entire regime of agreements made in the wake of the breakup of the FSU are being tossed away.

    There is the little matter of something called the 1994 Budapest Memorandum. When the Soviet Union cracked up, a lot of their nuclear weapons were on Ukrainian soil. This was considered untidy; so to convince the Ukrainians not to keep them a deal was cut. They gave up the nukes, and the US, UK, and Russia absolutely guaranteed the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Ukraine.

    The guarantee is worthless, and now the other countries know that all such are worthless. And it is a lesson not confined to Europe. The US’s Asian allies are seeing further proof that they are on their own. And all of these countries will have to make some serious decisions on how to best protect themselves. Some may cut their own deals with the local aggressor. Some may decide to acquire their own WMD’s.

    This “Smart Diplomacy” stuff can get expensive and uncertain.

    Subotai Bahadur

  4. This is when people start openly calling Obama “President Zero.”

    American military power times Zero _Presidential Will_ to use it is _Zero American military power_.

    And everyone is going to see that.

    The likely domestic consequence of Ukraine is none of Obama’s defense cuts will stick. They are as dead as both Jimmy Carter’s pre-Afghanistan defense budget and his Presidency.

    Meanwhile, Putin is set to give Russians “Czar Antonio Lopez de Santana Anna.”

    In 10 years Santana Anna managed to lose half of all Mexican territory between his defeats in Texas and the Mexican American war.

    Czar Putin is going to do the same with the Russian economy.

    The reality of fracking technology means that Europe is going to make itself independent of Russian energy supplies in 10 years or less…and Israel will be selling more natural gas to Europe than Russia.

  5. Israel will be selling more natural gas to Europe than Russia.

    From your lips to God’s ear. Let’s just hope the Crazy Mullahs™ aren’t listing in…

  6. Well, how many American cities do you want Bozo to trade for the Ukraine? You do know that Russia has got ballistic missiles with thermonuclear warheads? Why is Ukraine a vital American interest? Even a worthwhile President wouldn’t rattle a sabre over this because his bluff would be called.

  7. The problem is, Putin’s military operates from menus. When the ‘Georgia’ model fails, they may decide to us option ‘Grozny’. As for the US getting drawn in, I’ve already come to the conclusion that the Big O views treaties just like laws, or his promises for that matter, e.g. sometimes inconvenient and easily ignored. If Japan and the Philippines would be on their own, It’s difficult to see why Ukraine would be essential…

  8. dearieme,

    The problem of Obama dishonoring treaty obligations the the catalytic spread of nuclear weapons it will kick off.

    That is a bigger threat to American cities and American freedom than Putin.

  9. There is plenty of precedent for Dearieme’s sentiments.

    How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing.

    The problem with deciding to throw the little guy to the wolves is that it will not be the last time.

    We don’t have to invade anybody to influence the situation although, as in 1938, it gets harder and harder as fecklessness provides incentive. If Clinton had done something after the embassy bombings, would 9/11 have happened ?

  10. The Russians don’t have the military power to defeat, or even fight, the Ukraine. Any stand-up fight will result, eventually, in the ethnic cleansing of non-Ukrainian minorities from the Ukraine and Crimea. Sure that will wreck the Ukraine, It will also wreck Russia, and that’s a win from the Ukrainian perspective.

    Trent has it right. Putin is Santa Ana all the way. He’s concerned only with himself in the short run, and to hell with his country. It’s just a vehicle for his eqo.

  11. Good point about the Poles.
    The whole situation is tricky.
    Don’t forget though that Ukraine has been close to joining NATO in the past. It’s military likely sat out the Maiden because they prefer NATO to the Red, er… Russian army. Putin has got to be concerned that a western oriented Ukraine is de facto subject to Article 5.

  12. The Poles are mobilizing to go into Western Ukraine, according to a number of Russian language social media.

    You will need to run the following link through Google Translate.

    A Pole mobilization would be the prudent move in any case, whatever the ultimate purpose.

    The “President Yanukovych as a 21st Century Archduke Ferdinand” scenario just got closer.

  13. “Yet, Putin seems set to double down in the Crimea regardless.”

    The problem is the strategic situation around the naval base of Sevastopol. Russia is not willing to see Crimea become NATO. So the way I read events, Russia is backing a pro-Russian Crimean government. As long as Kiev respects Crimea’s autonomy, everything will be ok. The recent authorization to use force generally in Ukraine is a warning to Kiev to respect Crimean autonomy and not to contest the Russians there. If they do, the Russians might act in a more general fashion. Basically the idea is, Crimea will be in the Russian orbit regardless of what happens to the rest of Ukraine.

  14. Russia cannot survive without a warm water port on the Baltic or the Black Sea. Russia lost its Baltic ports in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland when the Soviet Union crumbled. St Petersburg remains but it freezes over in winter. Only The Ukraine, and access to its Black Sea ports, remains in Russian hands. The warm-water-port principle is the basic principle of Russian foreign policy beginning with Peter the Great (1672-1724) to the present. The Ukraine is part of Russia – always has been, always will be.

    Obama and Kerry are foolish in using threats to force Russia to give up the Ukraine. Unless Obama plans to send troops and bombers into the Ukraine, Obama must back down. If Obama backs down, then the government of China will think Obama will back down from any threat he makes. Obama has already surrendered in Iraq, Afganistan, Iran, Egypt, Libya and Syria. He has also backed down from several territorial confrontations with China in SE Asia. Lastly he has made huge cuts in US troop strength and naval power so even if he wants to intervene in the Ukraine, he can’t.

    A problem worse than Putin is China. The China government wants to get back the lands that China lost in previous wars. The Chinese government wants to rebuild the empire of the Qin which in 200 BC included Korea (both N & S), Japan, Vietnam, Cambodian, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philipines as well as all the Pacific Islands east of Hawaii. China plans to start rebuilding the empire of the Qin with a quick strike on Japan.

    If China attacks Japan, China needs to sink the US Pacific fleet because the fleet uses bases in Japan and S. Korea and will defend these bases because they are staffed by American military personnel. Remember WW2 started (for the USA) when Japan sank the pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor.

  15. David’s right – the port situation is given too much significance.
    Also, Russia’s actual Black Sea fleet is old and run down. They are apparently planning on building some new quiet subs but they won’t be delivered until 2016, which will be plenty of time to expand Novorossiysk if needed.

    The real problem for Putin isn’t Crimea, which everyone agrees, including probably most Ukrainians, that Russia will hold as long as they want it. It’s Eastern Ukraine and the fact that his Eurasian Union is crumbling. If you look at a map you can see why.
    The southern portion of the East European Plain is Russia’s weakest link and a strategic chokepoint. It wouldn’t take much for a west friendly Ukraine and a west friendly Kazakhstan to cut Russia off completely from both the sea and their Caspian energy deposits.

    It’s hard for us in the West and in the US specifically to think about things in these terms because, as they say, we’re constantly going off on our holidays from history.

    I think Crimea is a misdirection. Putin is really painted in a corner and trying to buy time until he can figure out a way to dig himself out the worst hole of his reign.

  16. Don’t see how they could be completely cut off from the sea by Ukraine/Kazakhstan, given Novorossiysk & probably other potential ports on that coast…UNLESS Turkey acted to close the Black Sea exit to the Med…in which case Russia would probably find several new allies to reverse that situation, maybe even including us.

  17. It’s only about 600 miles from Donetsk to Astrakhan

    Which was the objective of the Nazi’s southern invasion

    they would have made it except for the stretched supply lines.
    When they were finally able to establish seaborne reinforcements, they couldn’t break out from the ports. And of course, they decided to decisively focus northward.

    Presumably supply lines through Poland or Romania would be much more effective and the coastal areas would be isolated.

  18. Much more effective nowadays with modern infrastructure and technology, that is.
    Still way too long, especially for the kind of short, integrated, slam dunk strikes that our military is only capable of.

    But there’s no telling what Putin’s thinking.
    Imagine a hostile regime friendly with Cuba taking over the Yucatan and Panama staying neutral-to-hostile. We wouldn’t feel too comfortable about our oil supplies for very long.


    “On Kiev’s Independence Square, the center of the anti-government uprising that toppled Yanukovych, protesters yesterday carried British, French and German flags and held banners with slogans including: “Putin — hands off Ukraine!””

    Any theories here on why the American flag was apparently absent from said protest? Is it a perspective that this is only a European issue? Or rather an acknowledgement that Obama’s America is about as useful for nascent democracies as say, China?

  20. This situation is not simple or one-sided.

    “… If the plan is to install Yanukovych in a Russian-controlled Crimean mini-state, it might work, for a while. But that does not mean it will be easy. Putin’s imperialist gambit may turn out to be his Waterloo.

    To see why, just open a map. That narrow strip of land tethering northern Crimea to the Ukrainian mainland, called the Perokop Isthmus, is the peninsula’s lifeline. What’s left out of most Western analyses of Putin’s brazen military intervention is the Crimea’s complete economic dependence on the mainland, which provides nearly all of its electricity and water and about 70 percent of its food.

    That’s why the Crimea is even a part of Ukraine …

    Most of the Crimea is basically a desert, with less annual rainfall than Los Angeles. It is impossible to sustain its 2 million people—including agriculture and the substantial tourist industry—without Ukrainian water. Current supplies aren’t even enough. In Sevastopol, home of the Black Sea Fleet, households get water only on certain days. In fact, on Feb. 19, when snipers were shooting protesters on the streets of Kiev, Sevastopol applied for $34 million in Western aid (note the irony) to improve its water and sewer systems.

    The Crimea’s dependence on Ukraine for nearly all of it electricity makes it equally vulnerable to nonviolent retaliation. One suggestion making the rounds of the Ukrainian Internet is that the mainland, with warning, shut off the power for 15 minutes. It may not normalize the situation, but it could give Moscow pause. Of course, Russia could retaliate by cutting off Ukrainian gas supplies, but that would mean cutting off much of Europe as well. Besides, Ukrainians proved this winter that they aren’t afraid of the cold, and spring is coming.

    So, while Vladimir Putin rattles his sabers, the authorities in Kiev might decide to just hold tight, for now. If Yanukovych destroyed his own power, he may very well destroy Putin’s as well. The fugitive ex-president, whose greed extended deep into the peninsula, isn’t a popular figure there either and any efforts to install him—especially if they bring real hardship to the locals—may spark a Maidan II.

    That’s because the Crimea has changed since the 1990s. After independence, Ukraine welcomed back the Crimean Tatars. Some 300,000 have returned from exile and their numbers are growing, with continued migration and birth rates higher than either Russians or Ukrainians. They strongly oppose any separatism, and they will not go peacefully into a Russian-controlled, authoritarian “Yanukistan” along the lines of Transdnistria. Not only are they extremely well organized, they are Muslims with friends. Representatives from Russia’s Tatarstan region are already supporting them. Turkey, which controlled the Crimea for much longer than Russia ever did and has close ties with the Crimean Tatars, is watching. So are Chechen rebels… “

  21. Ships can leave the Black Sea only through the narrow straight at Istanbul/Constantinople. These are the straights where Greek Fire was invented to burn passing ships back in the middle ages or earlier.

    Ships can leave the Mediterranean only leave via the Suez Canal or the straights of Gibraltar. Russian ships can use these seas and straights only with permission gained through treaty or because they are armed and dangerous. Therefore Russia needs many Black Sea ports in case of attack. Running a tyranny is always a tough balancing act because no one can be trusted.

    Stalin recognized this problem and decided to find ports on the Baltic. The czars did the same earlier and captured Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland several times. Stalin assumed Baltic ports would give access to the entire world.

    Also Russia is looking for ways to sail under the north pole ice cap. This makes submarines and ice breakers attractive.

    Russia gets a lot of foreign exchange selling Siberian oil and gas but fracking has/will make Europe and Israel self-sufficient. The ruble will be worthless and Russia will have no currency. Joining the EU solves all their problems.

  22. If Obama were not Obama and Kerry were not Kerry, they would be thinking about the geostrategic value of fracking technology. We are the source. I was reading yesterday about Israel and their oil and gas future. One aspect is the man who has devised a method for recovering oil from “Kerogen.”
    His name is Harold Vinegar.

    Harold Vinegar. He had modified a process, developed by the Swedes during World War II, of distilling kerogen into a usable fuel—an innovation that made the extraction of oil shale in Colorado’s Green River formation feasible and economical.

    Vinegar had been working in Colorado when he learned about the rich kerogen deposits in Israel that extended into Jordan. Shell had already partnered with Jordan’s King Abdullah—and Vinegar, a Jew, was unhappy that the project didn’t include Israel, especially since the best shale rock was known to be on the Israeli side of the border. But he also knew that Shell, like all the other major oil companies, feared offending the Saudis by involving itself in Israeli oil speculation..

    So he started his own company with Israeli investors.

    Instead of pissing off Poland, we could be working with them to free them from energy dependence on Russia. Reagan was willing to blow up the Siberian pipeline.

    Obama and Kerry are weasels compared to Reagan.

  23. I’ll keep it simple. The latest round of regime change has installed a Nazi government where there was an elected, quite fairly it seems, president.

    Putin with almost half of the Ukraine as a Russian speaking, Russian leaning, population and with the Crimea giving Russian naval access to the world had little choice.

    This effort for regime change may end even worse than the attempts in Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq have done.

  24. Pengun,

    The Nazis were as fairly elected as President Viktor Yanukovych.

    The Ukrainians, unlike the Germans, did something effective about the death squads trying to supress their freedom.

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