Monday, May 12, 2014

Ukraine crisis: What will Russia do now?

Monday, May 12, 2014
Russia seems to be in a fix, at least, if the crisis in East Ukraine and its handling of affairs to date suggest that it risks facing more sanctions from the United States and European Union. The latest development is that pro-Russian activists in East Ukraine have won yesterday’s referendum to separate themselves from Ukraine government and have asked for a union with Russia.
A Ukrainian separatist leader is calling on Russia to "absorb" the eastern region of Donetsk after Sunday's referendum on self-rule. Self-declared Donetsk People's Republic leader Denis Pushilin urged Moscow to listen to the "will of the people".
In neighbouring Luhansk, where a vote was also held, rebels declared independence.
(See: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-27369980)

Clearly, the so-called Sword of Damocles hanging over Russia is clear, even as the US and EU continue to harp on their warning regarding more sanctions against it if the May 25 elections in Ukraine are botched, apparently because of the turbulence going on in East Ukraine (which they accuse Russia of masterminding).
Then, the sanctions already imposed on Russia have their implications, although Russia isn’t in any position to concede. The EU imposed another round of sanctions two days ago, admitting its negative impact on EU-member countries but insisting that it cannot do otherwise as its response to the Russian “threat” to Ukraine.
Russia has also reacted, saying that it will no longer attend any international conference on Ukraine. In its view, Ukraine must solve its internal problems with its “opponents”, not Russia.
Even though Ukraine regarded yesterday’s referendum as a “farce”, a description re-echoed by the EU, its outcome has dire consequences for it. The separatists are not ready to yield and are bent on moving on with their agenda to unite with Russia, even as military action against them seems to be either in progress or botched. The separatists feel they have the upper hand and will do as they wish.
The conundrum is: Will Russia grant their wish to absorb them into its fold as it has done Crimea? With what consequences? Ready to face more sanctions?
But that is not all. Will Russia be scared of the effect of the sanctions and reject the call from the separatists? What impression will it create if it does anything of the sort (especially when those making the call are its own citizens or Russian-speaking people who feel threatened by Kiev)?
Having set the stage to create the impression that it is ready to accept the separatists in Eastern Ukraine with open arms, will Russia say “enough is enough” to these separatists in Donetsk? Does Russia have any moral or political (if not military) justification not to add Donetsk and Luhansk to Crimea to wrap its arms around?
The unprecedented zeal with which Russia’s Vladimir Putin visited Sevastopol over the weekend to affirm his country’s consummation of the political union with Crimea was too glaring to miss. With its hands already deep in the Ukrainian cookie jar, Russia has a tough call now to remove it from there, damn the US and EU-imposed sanctions or any other threat to its interests.
One fact is clear, though: Russia will do all in its power to ensure that no space exists in its backyard to be encroached upon by NATO, which is why it will disregard all these sanctions and threats of more sanctions to do as it determines.
When push comes to shove, it may also begin imposing its own brand of sanctions on the EU, especially, for a leeway in pursuit of its agenda. Whatever head-butting there may be between it and the US may occur at other levels than what Russia and the EU will lock horns over.
And now that the Russian Foreign Minister (Sergei Lavrov) has declared Russia’s resolve not to attend any international conference on Ukraine, the door seems to closing on diplomacy. At least, the muscle flexing is still going on. What follows next can be anybody’s guess.
Folks, the situation is becoming more intriguing than one might have imagined when the Ukrainian crisis pickled up in February.
I shall return…
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