Putin’s Slow And Steady Take Over Of Eastern Ukraine
On Thursday, Acting President of Ukraine Oleksandr Turchynov admitted to provincial governors that the Kiev government has practically lost control of the east with his security forces being ‘helpless’ to stop a rolling takeover by pro-Russian gunmen. Numerous Ukranian military and security personnel had defected to rebel, he confessed.
The acting president had been speaking after pro-Russian militants had been taking over government institutions in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luthansk. In Luthansk, pro-Russian militants had attempted to storm the police headquarters but were resisted by Kiev’s security forces.
Reports said that, despite heroic resistance by Kiev’s security forces, it was evident that the balance of power was shifting away from Kiev towards militants supported by Moscow and cities such as Luthansk which is only 20 km from the Russain border and is on the brink of declaring themselves autonomous regions or political entities of Russia.
Moscow’s plan, it appears, is to resurrect a historic region of a ‘New Russia’ – a large chunk of land of Southern and Eastern Ukraine.
The Kiev government, on Thursday, announced reinstatement of military conscription as the security situation deteriorated and fears of an invasion by Russia escalated. Observers considered this move to be merely symbolic in the context of Ukrainian troops being no match for Russians and 40,000 troops being amassed on Ukraine’s borders.
On Thursday, Russian President Vladmir Putin told German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the Kiev Government should pull out its troops from the south east regions of Ukraine, ‘end the violence’ and commence a dialogue on key issues, a Kremlin media briefing said. Merkel had telephoned Putin to seek his assistance to free seven observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe from pro-Russian militants who are holding them.
What Putin hopes for with the proposed ‘end to violence’ and a dialogue is discernible. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in several statements, has said that a solution to the crisis lay in a federal solution where people with different loyalties could decide the country’s future.
Eastern Ukraine is preponderantly Russian and there is little doubt that the militants taking over Ukrainian buildings are those of Russian origin and loyalty, acting at the behest of Moscow.
The Russian Foreign Ministry, on Thursday, called the proposal made by Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk of Ukraine to hold a poll on Ukranian unity and territorial integrity ‘cynical and a sham’. Yatsenyuk had said that the parliament would enact a law to conduct a nationwide poll on May 25 when Ukraine is scheduled to hold a presidential election.
US sanctions puerile
The United States and Europe brought on added sanctions against Russians who are identified as being close associates of President Putin. The sanctions are on seven prominent Russians blacklisted for visa bans and asset freezes and 17 Russian companies. The European Union upped the number of targeted Russians from 33 to 48 top Russians. These sanctions seem puerile in the context that Russia’s intentions are to acquire vast tracts of land which Russians consider to be historically theirs.
The Russian strategy seems to be a gradual but steady de facto takeover of eastern Ukraine through pro-Russian militants and a final coup de grace for a Russian or pro-Russian autonomus state.
West at fault?
Pro-Russia commentators have pointed out that the European Union and the US are at fault for the precipitation of the present crisis.
Their strategy was to force pro-Russian elected Prime Minister Victor Yanukovych out of office through armed protestors in Kiev’s Mandan Square who also seized government buildings and demanded a change in the government and the constitution.
American and European Union leaders backed these militants. American leaders like Republican Senator John McCain flew into Kiev and, standing shoulder to shoulder with core rightists of the Svoboda Party, declared, “America is with you”.
This was alarming for Russia who, for two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, helplessly watched NATO, the military alliance poised against Russia, creeping towards its borders. When it became apparent that Ukraine was about to be prized off to the West, Putin gave the West a dose of their own medicine by using the same tactics used to throw out Victor Yanukovych.
Whether President Barrack Obama, who has shown positive inclinations to develop close ties with Russia, would go ahead towards a Second Cold War or not is to be seen. But his moves into South East Asia to contain economically and militarily burgeoning China appear to be bringing together a Sino-Russia alliance three decades after the breakup of the Sino-Soviet friendship – the alliance of the then two Communist giants.