There are three very different and excellent articles today with respect to the crisis in the Crimea and Ukraine. The first is by Greg Treverton, currently a senior policy analyst with the RAND Corporation and formerly the vice chair of the National Intelligence Council. The second was drafted by Richard Fontaine, formerly a top national security aide to SEN John McCain and now the President of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). The third is by Reno resident Oleh Weres who has close ties to Ukraine. All three pieces provide different perspectives and all are worth reading.
Treverton’s op ed represents the “Realist” school of thought. He feels that Ukraine is hardly functioning now; the reality is that Russia regards the Crimea as a vital interest, and the US and the West can do little to influence the situation. Hence, now is the time to engage Russia rather that confront it.
Fontaine’s piece represents the thinking of those who believe we should be taking a very hard line against Putin and Russia, employing a mix of political and economic levers to punish Moscow. While Fontaine does not call for direct military confrontation, he does advocate implementing a range of other levers. Critics may find fault with Fontaine’s recommendations in that any administration is going to have a most difficult challenge in bringing the EU and NATO Allies on board his list of actions, let alone the resistance that would be there from the US/European business community.
Finally, Oleh Weres’ very well argued and passionate plea on behalf of Ukraine is very moving. I was also struck by his relative optimism regarding Ukraine’s ability to oppose a Russian military incursion beyond Crimea and its capacity for recreating a viable state in a short period of time from the corrupt failed nation it was under Yanukovich. Weres also underlines Russian weaknesses; points with which I agree are often overlooked.
First, here is the link to Treverton’s piece: Click here: Where is Ukraine Headed?
And here is the link to the Fontaine op ed: Click here: U.S. Should Resist, Reinforce and Reassure in Face of Ukraine Crisis | Center for a New American Security
And finally, here is the passionate piece by Weres:
ANOTHER ACTION-FILLED WEEK IN UKRAINE
By Oleh Weres
The joy at ousting President Victor Yanukovych proved short-lived. The following week, a mob with Russian flags surrounded the Crimean parliament, and some 30 masked gunmen seized the building. With gunmen present in the Chamber, Parliament created a new government headed by the leader of a party that received four percent of the vote and three delegates in the last Crimean election. February 27th, Russian troops with no identifying marks on their uniforms, deployed from bases of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, and more troops started arriving from Russia.
Friday, February 28th, Yanukovych gave a press conference in Rostov, a Russian city on the SE border of Ukraine, nearest to Yanukovych’s home base in Donetsk.
March 1, mobs with Russian flags stormed government buildings in several cities in the East and South of Ukraine. The largest mob appeared in Kharkiv; a long row of chartered buses with Russian plates was parked nearby. Russian social media sites have been urging Russian “volunteers” to enter Ukraine as “tourists.”
That evening, President Putin was granted authority to deploy Russian troops in Ukraine.
March 7- Ukraine-MoD stated that 16,000 Russian troops were already present in Crimea, and more continue to arrive. Moscow denies the presence of Russian troops; those well-armed guys driving fighting vehicles are “local volunteers” who bought their Russian uniforms as military surplus.
As it stands, Ukraine has lost Crimea and much of her Navy, but is winning in all other respects.
Russia has gained Crimea, but is losing everywhere else.
Meanwhile, the people of Crimea are losing most of all.
Putin struck Ukraine at her weakest moment, a week after the new government took over, with the essential purge and reorganization of the military and security services just beginning.
The Ukrainian authorities responded quickly and effectively. Full mobilization was immediately ordered, and accomplished in three days’ time. Forces have been deployed at the border with Crimea, and further deployments are under way. Mobilization of reserves has begun, and every day thousands of men are volunteering to serve in the military and local militias which would become partisans in the event of a Russian invasion.
In a brilliant move, President Turchinov appointed “oligarchs” governors of several oblasts in the East and South. In late Soviet times, people were controlled mostly through their jobs, and that mentality persisted. By effectively appointing the largest employer in each oblast governor, Turchinov brought the restive oblasts under control. The police and security forces have been purged and redeployed, and are protecting government buildings. The last occupation, in Donetsk, ended March 5 with arrest of the seventy occupiers and their “governor”. Strict border control has been implemented, and every day hundreds of “protest tourists” from Russia are denied entry.
The international community responded according to their abilities. The US is offering $1b, the EU $15b and additional loans are expected from the IMF. Ukraine’s government has promised to obey IMF directives to reform the economy. The EU is ready to sign the political part of the Association Agreement immediately, and is considering dropping ALL import duties on Ukrainian exports pending signature of the economic part of the Agreement following Ukrainian elections in May. Ukrainian authorities estimated $70b was stolen during the Yanukovych regime, and some of that money has already been found and sequestered in the Netherlands. Even partial recovery of the stolen money could exceed the promised aid and save Ukraine’s economy.
Russia and the Natural Gas Lever: The West Steps Up
Naturally, Gazprom is threatening to cut-off gas, but now that’s less of a threat. Ukraine produces one-third of the gas it needs, and production is growing rapidly. Poland, Hungary and just last week Slovakia have agreed to deliver “reverse flows” of gas to Ukraine from Europe. Technical means exist to replace most of the gas that Ukraine receives from Russia at lower prices. RWE of Germany has signed a contract to provide 17% of Ukraine’s gas needs, and Washington and London are offering to help longer term. Meanwhile, Europe has ample gas in storage following a warm, if stormy, winter.
There have been stirrings of a military nature. The Council of Defense Ministers of NATO has reminded Ukraine that the invitation to join extended in 2006 stands, and Poland has invoked the NATO Treaty calling for consultations because Poland is threatened. US has deployed additional war planes to Poland and the Baltic countries. In an interview March 7, General Martin Dempsey, Chairman JCS, stated that US would respond if NATO allies are threatened. Asked about the possibility military intervention in Ukraine, he responded “That’s a question that I think deserves to be assessed and reassessed and refreshed as this thing evolves.” Meanwhile, we can safely assume that US is providing Ukraine with military intelligence, a resource of tremendous value in preparing defense against invasion.
The Future of Ukraine and the Cost to Russia
If Ukraine survives the immediate crisis, it will come out much stronger – if a bit smaller – than before.
The feared Russian invasion of mainland Ukraine has not materialized. Putin announced military exercises and their conclusion but there have been no reports of such exercises actually taking place. The Russians have fortified the very narrow frontier of Crimea with Ukraine, but little military activity has been observed along the much longer eastern borders of Ukraine: “10 fighting vehicles”, “15 tanks”, “10 helicopters”, “2 attack planes”. These forces sound about right for a victory parade, but hardly adequate for invading a country of 46 million and larger than France.
Apparently, Putin believed his own propaganda, and expected the “threatened Russian speakers of Ukraine” to rise up demanding Russian protection, whereby Putin would reenact Hitler’s joyous entry to the Sudetenland, which sort of happened in Crimea. While hardly ardent nationalists, the people of the East and South want security, not war, and have come to appreciate that “Banderite fascists” notwithstanding, the new government in Kyiv represents security, while “liberating Russian brothers” represent war.
Analyses published by the US Army War College suggest that promised reforms of the Russian military are far from complete. There are several “elite” divisions, but even within these divisions, only some units are really good; in fact, units of several of these divisions have been reported in Crimea. And if the best of the best are already in Crimea, what does Putin have left ? Properly mobilized, the Russians certainly could penetrate Ukrainian territory, but those forces would sustain heavy casualties as they advanced.
A poll conducted February 24th indicated 73% of Russians opposed intervention in Ukraine. Numerous public figures have spoken out against “the war”, and the Ukrainian national anthem, translated and sung in Russian, has gone viral on the Russian Internet. Aside from the rapidly growing Muslim population, Russia is a country of one and two child families. If Russian boys come home in galvanized boxes a wave of outrage will wash over the Kremlin; this is why Russian forces in Crimea have refrained from initiating the use of lethal force. A true war with thousands of casualties would likely destroy Putin’s regime.
US and Canada have already imposed sanctions, but Europe hesitates. Even without sanctions Russia is suffering. The stock market dropped 13% in one day, and the central bank increased prime rate by 1.5% and spent $12b to support the ruble. JP Morgan’s projection of economic growth has been revised down to 0.8% for 2014.
Crimea depends heavily on subsidies from the Ukrainian government and tourists, mostly from Ukraine. It receives all of its gas, most of its electric power, and much of its fresh water from Ukraine. Russian occupation has terminated the financial inputs, and the price of utilities will skyrocket, ravaging the economy. The “protected” people of Crimea will suffer terribly, and massive aid needed to prevent complete collapse and a genuine uprising in Crimea will further strain the Russian economy.
The people of Ukraine have declared their intention to join the Free World, and the Free World is responding. Meanwhile, let us curse Vladimir Putin and pray for the people of Crimea.
- Reno resident Dr. Oleh Weres is a chemist serving the geothermal power industry. The son of post-War Displaced Persons from Ukraine, he was for many years active in the Ukrainian-American community in the SF Bay Area, and during the years 1983–1988 served as a Public Member of the US Government Commission to investigate the Ukraine Famine of 1932–1933.