Ukraine is quickly spinning out of control, as it increasingly looks like Russian President Vladimir Putin, in an ongoing effort to recreate a mini-me version of the Soviet Union, is preparing to invade the industry-rich eastern region of the country, and annex it, as he did Crimea.
A number of “pro-Russian” men in masks took over several Ukrainian government buildings this past weekend in the key eastern Ukraine cities of Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv.
The men, whom everyone presumes to be (and the US government has openly accused of) working for the Russians, proceeded to set the buildings on fire and then declared independence.
They’re demanding a similar faux-referendum like the Russians held in Crimea. In the Crimean referendum the two choices on the ballot were “secede from Ukraine” or “secede from Ukraine and join Russia.” Seriously. And join Russia won by a whopping 97% or so! It was an Easter miracle!
The Ukrainian government finally sent special forces in to begin clearing the buildings, and the Russians responded by demanding the Ukrainian government stop trying to take their own government offices back. Here’s the Twitter feed of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs:
There are a few things going on here. First, the Russians invaded and annexed Crimea under the pretext of “rescuing” ethnic Russians from “anarchy” and “fascists.” In fact, Crimea was doing fine – the protests were in Kiev – and no one was threatened by anyone. Now the Russians are using the same arguments in eastern Ukraine, which suggests that they’re laying the groundwork for a possible invasion.
Second, note the logic of the Russians. Either the Ukrainian government must let Russian provocateurs take over all government buildings in eastern Ukraine and declare independence, or Russia will take take any effort by the Ukrainian government to defend its own territory as basically an act of war, and a sign that Russia simply must invade and annex anyway. Fait accompli.
The former US ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul – who just left that post recently – expressed concern last night about the increasingly hostile Russian language:
And the Russians are now claiming that US mercenaries are already in Ukraine helping the opposition.
I have a general rule of politics. If you want to do something, think it would be to your advantage, but are afraid the bad guys will get upset, and then the bad guys start accusing you of it anyway, then perhaps it’s time to simply do it.
Polls have consistently showed that Americans don’t want our government getting involved militarily in Ukraine. And that’s understandable. Americans are weary of war. They’re tired of the several trillion dollars wasted on Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade, and are not looking forward to another conflict. And I’m not suggesting we send in American tanks. Though there is that little inconvenient agreement, the Budapest Memorandum, that the US signed along with Britain in 1994, that guaranteed Ukraine’s territorial integrity vis-a-vis the Russians in exchange for Ukraine giving up its nukes (big mistake, Ukraine). Here’s the thing: If Ukraine isn’t “strategically significant” to America and Europe, and we don’t plan on defending the country, then don’t sign treaties guaranteeing to come to their aid if they’re invaded. It’s not just tacky, it’s a great recipe for no country trusting our word ever again, and it doesn’t do a heck of a lot to promote nuclear disarmament, or deter nuclear proliferation, either.
But if the Ukrainians put up a fight this time, rather than simply letting the Russians walk in and annex their territory, which the Ukrainians understandably let the Russians do in Crimea, hoping that would be enough to appease Moscow (it wasn’t), I think American and European public opinion might just change.
If the Ukrainians are smart, they’ll make sure that every Ukrainian in the eastern part of the country has their cell phones ready to record and upload video and photos of the Russian attack. (And figure out a way now to get the videos out if the Russians cut Internet services.) If the Ukrainian military fights back, it will be bloody – and those images and videos will likely outrage the world. And while that may not mean the EU or the US will send troops, it will mean that whatever response there is from the world will be a heck of a lot more than it will be at present.
At some point, Ukraine needs to recognize that playing nice with the Russians isn’t going to save them. Their country is being Finlandized and cannibalized before their eyes. At this point, it’s looking increasingly clear that the Russians won’t stop until they have eastern Ukraine and possibly Kiev, before moving on to other neighbors in the region, and possibly even Scandinavia and the Baltic region. If the US and Europe won’t sufficiently come to their aid, then the Ukrainians need to change their PR strategy in order to change the dynamic and force America and Europe to act.
You know who else needs to change their PR strategy? The virtually-silent Ukrainian-American community. It’s time to take a lesson from the gays, and stop with the cute little friendly protests. You need to act up, or you’re going to lose your ancestral homeland (again).
Imagine the response when a Ukrainian babusya, looking like the off-the-boat grandma of far too many Americans, holds up a sign saying “Obama, Merkel, Cameron and Hollande: Why have you abandoned us?,” and is then shot by Russian troops, and video of the atrocity spreads around the world.
I don’t want to see anyone killed. But at this point, peace is going to lead to one guaranteed casualty: Ukraine.