Tuesday 25 February 2014

Ukraine: Who'd Be Putin?

It's hard not to feel some sympathy for our old friend Volodya.  Keen to be seen as a superpower.  Doesn't want to be just a muscle-bound commodity-producer economy, though.  Desperately envious of the Chinese, with their manufacturing prowess and Party-dictated politics.  Beset by ethnic tensions on all flanks.  Watching the price of oil teetering on the brink of three digits.  Watching, more or less as a spectator (with large bets on), as the fickle West plays tunes on its flexible foreign policy instruments over the cacophony of the Arab / ME turmoil.  So many problems ...

And - in the middle of his precious Olympics - Ukraine.  (A rich irony here, given that he royally upset the Chinese during their games by invading Georgia.)  Hadn't he bribed them with enough cheap gas, soft loans and outright cash ?  Then, didn't he show the necessary pragmatism to get the parties around a table the West could also endorse ?  Wasn't there an agreement reached ?

And yet 24 hours later his man has disappeared up his own eastern fastness, the security forces have downed tools, and the rebels hold Kiev as their own.  What's a latter-day Tzar to do ?

This matters, of course, because he really is bound to do something.  Domestically he will shore up the anti-revolutionary measures he so carefully and strategically put in place after the various other soft revolutions around his southern and western flanks.  But he has to do something about Ukraine.  Close the borders ?  Turn off the gas ? (that much-loved standby policy.)   Hardly likely to put a stop to the EU-leaning tendency.  Troops (or proxies) on the ground ?  He can probably afford this in direct military and cash terms (though the Georgia experience wasn't exactly encouraging), knowing that in this case the West really can't, and really won't.  It might push up the price of oil - but equally, it might have other economic consequences that would be harder to bear.

Of course, all this invites us to think about what the West might do - large amounts of cash are the obvious, lazy default response; and no doubt the CIA has all manner of low-level mischief in mind.  But the EU is hardly going to be unanimously welcoming to a renewed accession request, notwithstanding the unbridled enthusiasm of the expansionist tendency in Brussels.  We will probably settle for a fairly arms-length approach that will annoy but not overly provoke Russia, fill the kleptocrats' pockets a bit more, but do little for the average Ukrainian.

It's all to do with the age-old questions of (a) the definition of 'Europe' and (b) introverted Russia's role in the world.  Raedwald writes well on aspects of all this, and it would be nice if Hatfield Girl would take up her pen again.  We shall be visiting the unhappy scene many times in the coming months.



Ryan said...

Oh I think Putin will be happy enough. Yulia Tymoshenko is as corrupt as the outgoing president. Putin has already stated he found her easy to work with. What Putin wouldn't have wanteds would be some unknown 3rd party involved.

So, he is happy with the new Ukraine president, they still owe him money and they still need Russian gas. Maybe the EU can buy Russian gas and sell it back to Ukraine whilst paying off the debts with money it doesn't have? Threaten Putin with an army it doesn't have? Or face up to the realities of Realpolitik. Putin will probably be quite happy for the EU to pay off Ukraine's debts.

What Putin doesn't want is Ukraine joining NATO. They have already expressed this concern via the state mouthpiece, RT.

hovis said...

Away on business with some Ukranians who work for my company klast week easy to say as they live in London, but they are very anti "democracy" and resent outside interference. I haven't been following this closely but it seems a genuine splits within the country not easily fitting the narrative we are served.

rwendland said...

According to Stratfor's analysis all Putin has to do is wait for the new govt to fail - similar to the so-called Arab Spring. Ukraine's badly split uprising partners and the $13 billion of mostly Western debt that needs refinancing will bring the new house down:

"The Russians have agreed to this, likely chuckling. Either parliament will reject the IMF plan and ask Russia to assume the burden immediately, or it will turn to Russia after experiencing the pain. There is a reason the Russians have been so relaxed about events in Ukraine. They understand that between the debt, natural gas and tariffs on Ukrainian exports to Russia, Ukraine has extremely powerful constraints. Under the worst circumstances Ukraine would move into the Western camp an economic cripple. Under the best, Ukraine would recognize its fate and turn to Russia.

What the Europeans and Americans were doing in Ukraine is less clear. They had the triumphant moment and they have eliminated a corrupt leader. But they certainly are not ready to take on the burden of Ukraine's economic problems ..."

I don't see any realistic solution to Ukraine's financial woes that the people in the street will like.

Anonymous said...

Ashton has sorted it...

See here


That's why the EU got the peace prize for statements like "My message to all of them has been: you need to work together."

Outstanding brinkmanship. Savvy political nous. Putin has no hope and is not a match from our Kate.

See the video

Nick Drew said...

Our Kate, eh ? what a woman

we shall all be the poorer when her term of office comes to an end shortly

even poorer still when the Ukrainian begging-bowl comes around in earnest

I can't help thinking that in its post-Iraq, post-Afghanistan configuration, US foreign policy consists mainly in ensuring non-stop trouble for Russia and China on their respective borders

so easily done - and so cheap ...

James Higham said...

The west is being blinded by the PR here. I've run a series of posts by Russians themselves on it and the message in the Ukraine is that the US and EU have for 20 years been supporting a bunch of nazi descendants who carried out a holocaust before Hitler even got going.

This is not reported in the western media.

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