Friday, June 13, 2014

Update on the Ukrainian-Russian War

So far we see only the "possibility of stabilization" without any actual signs of stabilization. Or maybe it's a perverse kind of stabilization whereby Ukraine sacrifices its sovereignty for the sake of stability between more important geopolitical actors.

Strange things are happening. Poroshenko becomes president and immediately declares that the antiterrorist operation needs to be over in a week (How? Through military victory, capitulation, or a ceasefire?). Three Russian tanks bearing a Russian flag cross the separatist-controlled eastern border of Ukraine and drove to Donetsk. Then Putin calls Poroshenko to talk things over, recognizing Poroshenko as the President of Ukraine, and soon thereafter calls George Bush Senior to congratulate him on his 90th birthday.

The peculiarity of the tanks, Putin's phone calls, and the almost total lack of reaction in Kiev is analyzed by Andrey Illarionov in his blog (Eng. translation here). It will soon become clear what the meaning of the tanks and the phone calls is.

Why are Ukraine's attempts to protect its sovereignty so feeble? Yes, the army's level of equipment and competency is rapidly rising. Yes, the volunteer battalion "Donbass" is growing in strength, directed by pragmatic and charismatic "Semen Semenenko" (read his interview, Eng. translation here).

But the degree of mobilization in Ukraine seems inadequate to the threat. Many Ukrainians believe that behind-the-scenes intrigue is sabotaging the government's ability to establish control over its eastern territories and undertake the large-scale reforms most Ukrainians want to see.

Things have always been like this in Ukraine. Why? Here is one increasingly plausible explanation (Eng. translation here) — the Kremlin has been trying to direct things in Ukraine all along. This could explain some of the strange events that have taken place in Ukraine in the past 20+ years. It also puts some meat onto the bones of Putin's view of Ukraine as a failed state.

Georgian ex-president Saakashvili is notably agitated and perplexed about the military situation in Ukraine in this news interview (in Ukr. and Rus. only). He characterizes the new president as "decisive" and recognizes the Ukrainian people's will to preserve their freedom, but is careful to speak euphemistically about what must be done in the east, though it is plainly clear that he believes the only solution is to destroy the separatists as quickly and decisively as possible while sparing civilians. One gets the clear impression that he is unsure whether this will actually be done (because he is aware of what's happening behind the scenes). Saakashvili says that Putin will not stop unless forced and that Putin believes that defeat in eastern Ukraine will lead to the fall of his own regime. These are plausible viewpoints.

One more broad-scale interview: Illarionov on the chances of a world war around the events in Ukraine (Eng. translation here) from before the presidential elections.

Sorry to keep referring to Illarionov, but if our aim is to obtain an understanding of events that best predicts future events and explains past ones, then we should listen. Illarionov has an incredible track record of predicting developments in Ukraine. His ability to decode diplomatic interactions that mean little to ordinary citizens is also stellar.


  1. Has the tank incursion been proved yet? Last I heard Russia denied any tanks entering Ukraine via Russia, and amateur video footage was inconclusive and unverifiable.

    As a foreign citizen currently in the Lugansk People’s Republic, I can tell you first hand how hard it will be to stop the separatists. Locals have a large amount of support for the movement, and recent activities by the Kiev government have done little to change that. My town has not had pensions and government salaries paid this month (because Kiev fears the money is going to the separatists). This has hardened people’s views of the Kiev authorities. Indiscriminant shelling of Slovansk and use of airstrikes have also scared people. More than 20% of my town has left for fear of their own safety. I myself will be leaving soon.
    The only way this can end is with peace talks or many many deaths of local citizens who still make up the majority of the separatists here.

  2. Thanks for the comment. How safe do you feel personally out there? Do you fear being targeted as a foreign citizen? Do you feel free to express your opinions to local friends/strangers, or online?

    My impression of the LPR and DPR is that these regimes have an almost totalitarian bent.

    I hope you're able to get out safely and relocate to a safer place.

    More news from the inside would be very interesting, if you feel inclined to share.

  3. Not sure how "proven" the tank incursion is, but I've seen pictures and videos and numerous reports, including that 2 had been destroyed. I wouldn't trust official statements from Russia — Putin's lied on a number of occasions about green men in Crimea and Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.

  4. Up until two weeks ago I felt very safe. After the airstrike against the Lugansk headquarters, there has been a stronger feeling of unease and unhappiness.
    I've been here for a while now (pre-crisis), and I've been interviewed on local TV, as well as trying my bad Russian in shops etc. So everyone knows me as the crazy Englishman. Nobody is worried that I am a spy.
    BUT I've been hearing strong anti-Europe and anti-American talk, on the street and from neighbors. So I feel less safe because of that. I had an awkward bus journey beginning of the week with a drunk insisting I was an american journalist.
    I wish I didn't have to leave because my life is here. So I am staying in Ukraine and will return as soon as I can.

    I try not to have an opinion on the matter. I am this town's adopted son, but I'm not a true Ukrainian, and I don't understand about the history that has lead Ukraine to this point.
    I just tell people i love the town, and that seems to be OK for most.

  5. Rob, how are things now? I imagine things have gotten worse...

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