Tuesday, 18 March 2014

The Crimean hostage crisis

The Hindustan Times, 18th March 2014
This morning Russia and the newly declared independent Republic of Crimea (along with the city of Sevastopol) signed a treaty with Crimea to accept it as a subject of the Russian Federation on 1st January 2015.

For Russia's take on what this all means, Russia Today has some interesting coverage here, including Putin's placing the blame squarely at the feet of the "neo-Nazis, nationalists and anti-Semites" who seized power in a coup on Kiev.  (Not that adherence to the Ukrainian constitution and removal of Viktor Yanukovich from office by the legal method of impeachment would have made much difference, but the failure to do so certainly did give ammo to Moscow to de-legitimize the new Ukrainian government).

Amidst my musings on Twitter yesterday, I observed that the biggest threat of conflict in Crimea came from the plight of the Ukrainian military now trapped on the peninsula.

As I previously observed, President Putin appears to be a reader of my blog.  Once again, as if on cue, this happened:

Russia Today, had a slightly different take on things, but what they are reporting is, I think, significant.

Now, of course, the "military centre" that RT refers to is a Russian military base, now apparently occupied by Russian forces.  The really significant element, though, is that a "sniper" has been detained.

Al-Jazeera's reporter has claimed, on the basis of his observations, that the snipers were Russian soldiers.  The fact that RT is reporting that a sniper has been detained says to me that whoever he is he is being set up as a Ukrainian neo-Nazi nationalist anti-Semite agent provocateur.

I am not sure that today's events were planned by the Kremlin; as always the danger in a conflict zone is that all it takes is one itchy trigger-finger to spark off something that neither party wanted or intended.

However, I do reckon that there is a Ukrainian being set up somewhere to take the fall for this, and it will be used tomorrow as the pretext to demand/force the removal of Ukrainian forces from Crimea before Friday.

The question is how does the government in Kiev respond.  If, as Putin suggests, the new authorities are full of nationalists and neo-Nazis, capitulation to Russia seems the less likely choice.

Proving Putin wrong by surrendering to the Russians will be cold comfort for Kiev, but swallowing hard and surrendering to the Russians appears to be the only choice that can avoid this crisis turning into a bloody war.

For Ukraine's sake I hope Putin is wrong and that their foresight is bigger than their pride.

Despite his protestations this morning that Russia has no further territorial claims on Ukraine, the outbreak of armed conflict would certainly give Moscow the pretext to take futher intervention in southern and eastern Ukraine, to protect the "rights of ethnic Russians that were being violated", to use Putin's phrase to describe what was happening (or not) in Crimea.

Putin has the upper hand in all this.  The mistake the West (particularly Poland) in the run-up to this crisis was to forget that.

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