28 Feb 2014

Why the trouble in Ukraine has only just begun

The troops patrolling the Simferopol airport car park were pretty relaxed. Every now and then they strolled through the forest of tripods to make sure that they got on the telly. Some stood in front of the airport terminal, combat weapons at their side. They wore no insignia but their camouflage bore a distinct resemblance to the new Russian army field uniform.

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When I asked if they were Russian they said nothing, but I could swear that I saw their eyes smiling thru the gap in their balaclavas. This was a disciplined, well trained conventional army unit, not a self-defence militia.

A few heavies of the type we’ve seen on pro-Russian demos in recent days were hanging around the airport car park wearing orange and black striped ribbons, the symbol of the defence of Ukraine from the Nazis in WW11. When I asked one of the more friendly of their number if their soldier friends were Russian nationals, he said: “I haven’t checked their passports.”

Armed men stand guard at the Simferopol airport in the Crimea region

Nothing in Crimea is happening by chance. Yesterday before dawn armed men seized the parliament building in Simferopol and raised the Russian flag. This morning soldiers took over the airports at Simferopol and Sevastopol. Ousted President Yanukovich is due to give a press conference this afternoon from the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don. President Putin put out a statement this morning to say he would cooperate with the EU and USA over urkisne’s economic problems and was considering “humanitarian aid” to Crimea.

So I guess these soldiers, and the eight helicopters that landed at the airport in Sevastopol are going to distribute food parcels.

All of this is designed to pressure the new authorities in Kiev. If they do nothing, it proves that they do not control all of Ukraine. If they react, then they’re in direct confrontation with Russia. It’s an unenviable situation for a new government which is unelected, the product of a slightly ramshackle sort of revolution which has just discovered that they have no money to meet their debts. The Ukrainian currency is losing value daily and there’s fear of a run on the banks.

President Putin has frequently proved himself adept at extracting advantage for Russia from complex situations where his allies are under pressure – witness his fast footwork on getting President Assad to surrender his chemical weapons. It gave the Syrian government legitimacy and meant that western powers had to deal with the man whose overthrow they had been calling for.

The moves in Crimea are ratcheting up pressure on the new authorities in Kiev. They might like to think they have the option of turning their back on Russia and looking exclusively west towards Europe. They don’t. The Crimean parliament voted yesterday for a referendum on whether to stay in a Ukraine or join Russia. The Kosovars split off from Serbia with European and US approval, so what’s so different about Crimea?

Anyone who thought Ukraine’s revolution was over had not bargained on President Putin‘s determination. The trouble here has only just begun.

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7 reader comments

  1. Philip says:

    This looks like an attempt by Putin to do a re-run of Georgia and Abkhazia. Goad his opponents into ill-judged moves which give him the perfect excuse to intervene militarily. If they have any sense, the Ukrainians should allow the Crimea to secede. there are virtually no Ukrainians living there anyway. Yanukovych can then return to a life of luxury running the Crimea & Putin can save face.
    This isn’t like Syria, I don’t think. Unplanned things have happened in the Ukraine & for all the fascists/Nazis” rhetoric, the Russians know well that a very substantial portion of the Ukrainian population don’t want to follow the path of Belarus…and have been prepared to fight and die to stop that happening. Unlike Belarus, the Ukraine won’t be stable or complaisant under a returned Yanukovych. And the luxury living and corruption which the latest events have unveiled indicate similar in Russia. If Yanukovych has been living like that, what do you reckon is Putin’s private wealth & accommodation standards?

    1. Richard says:

      I don’t think it’s so much a question of “the Ukrainians should allow the Crimea to secede” as what does Russia want? They’ve occupied Crimea and if the Kiev gets provoked into defending itself the Russian forces will have the excuse to attack the “fascistNazis” and re-establish control over the whole of Ukraine….

  2. Andrew Dundas says:

    I suspect you may have seen the ancient film called “The Battleship Potemkin”. That film reprised the 1905 mutiny in Odessa that started the series of revolutions that eventually created the Soviet Union. Or, at least, has become the legendary start of that flawed communist revolution.
    The Potemkin was the star battleship of the Czarist Russian Black sea fleet that guarded Russia’s door into the Mediterranean. A similar sort of strategic role applies today to the Russian naval base on the Syrian coast: the fate of Russian access to the High Seas.
    We should recognise Russian sensitivity to matters to do with the Black Sea and be ready to promote some sort of compromise over the status of Crimea.

  3. josh says:

    Here is few notes:
    1. Most of Kiev population speaks Russian; before 1960 virtually everybody in Kiev spoke Russian.
    2. Most of Ukrainian people were critical about Yanukovich, but there was no better choice at election, there is no better choice now as well.
    3. Most of maydan active protesters from western regions, not from Kiev.
    4. Look in history book: though Ukrainian people are smart they always was looking for other nations for patronage, and never was united on the issue.
    5. Actual Ukrainian territory is about 1/3 size of current Ukraine. Most of the territory Ukraine got thanks Russia after October revolution, and results of WW2, plus Crimea as a gift from USSR leader Nikita Chrushtov.
    6. Russian mentality can not imagine Russia without Ukraine, in their mind Ukraine is a part of Russia. They see Ukraine as a disorderly behaved child, or wife disobeying husband of many years.
    Putin now is under huge pressure / obligation to do something.
    7. Millions of Ukrainians married Russians for generations.
    Most of Ukrainians especially in Central, Eastern and Southern Ukraine, against the break up with Russia.
    8. Ukrainian people feel in Russia like at home, can not say the same about EU where they considered a cheap work force and girls for love.
    9. Ukrainian population reduced about 10% for last 20 years!!, joining EU will deeper this process.
    10. Now Germany has Europe in her snack-pack without single shot!
    Nobody even talk about that.
    11. Ukrainian industry and economy as whole is completely oriented toward Russia.
    12. Let be honest Ukraine has no way to exist in current borders while being in confrontation with Russia, not economically nor politically.

  4. peter harvey says:

    situation in Ukraine is a shopska salad or scrambled egg. Neither the new Parliament in Kiev nor the regional parliament in Simferopol is elected. both could possibly be described as putsches.
    The main thing for all parts of the ukraine is to reconstruct the country and not to break up into sections based on religion, race or language.

    To do this the new elections for a President and for the Parliament in May or June or the near future MUST be supervised thoroughly, perhaps by the United Nations. Even with a transparently elected Government it will be a long haul for the Ukrainians – some 10-20 years – but they must do it peacefully themselves. The EU, Russia and the USA must not intervene politically

  5. Peter Vernon says:

    Readers, may I be so bold as to suggest that those Ukranians living and working and raising their families in the area of the Crimea should be allowed to vote to decide their nationality.
    It would appear from the comments we hear from our t.v. reporters in that area that a majority of the local population have more of a kinship with Russia than they do with the Ukraine. Indeed it would appear their favoured daily language is Russian rather than the Ukranian’s tongue
    And, we should stop a moment to consider the powerful ”Protective” role that Russia offers just by being a part of everyday life, and bringing rising incomes to the local folk and their businesses.The effect of their considerable naval presence, logistically an absolute necessity for Russian access via the Crimea to the Black Sea, will bring financial and a form of secure wellbeing to the local folk.

    We, ourselves occupy Gibraltar for our access to the Mediterranean, and also islands within a ”stones throw” of a very disgruntled Argentina. But we should remember that both the Falklands and Gibraltar Island populations have repeatedly been asked to verify their wish to remain governed by a very distant nation, ourselves, and they continue to say yes

    May I therefore suggest that representatives of the new governing body in Kiev and their Russian counterparts get together to draw an imaginary line which might then divide Ukraine in this locality, provided localised elections by the would-be newly ”encapsulated’ / integrated adult voting population chose to be considered to be now of Russian nationality.

    Surely this would auger well for a peaceful settlement in this area bordering the Crimea’, and perhaps the only way we could expect to get a peaceful settlement. Please ask them for me, if any of you can, and most of all ask for the sakes of safety and wellbeing to all in that area

  6. Bosc says:

    I have family in the Ukraine and I live there few months a year for the last 15 years .
    We are very concerned by the fact that the fascists organisations ( Svoboda , Pravy Sektor = they are paramilitaries …) are controlling things underground .
    We are more worried by the fascists than the Russians .

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