Monday, March 24, 2014

Choosing sides in Ukraine

Just as the Crimea has chosen to side with Russia, so western Ukraine under its new interim government in Kiev has sided with the EU. As you may remember this whole crisis erupted months ago when the elected Pres. Yanukovich of Ukraine, a pro-Russian Ukrainian, decided to abort the signing of a treaty between Ukraine and the EU that had been initiated by his predecessor Pres. Timoshenko, whom he had imprisoned, and instead he flew to Moscow to do a deal with Pres. Putin. It was clear that Putin was totally opposed to any deal between Ukraine and the EU, and wanted the Ukraine to remain within the Russian sphere of influence. Accordingly he offered Yanukovich a loan of billions of dollars to help support the ailing Ukrainian economy in place of the deal with the EU. This maneuver was anathema to most western-oriented Ukrainians who wanted to get out from under the Russians, and so a series of demonstrations started in Kiev and elsewhre that led after many months to the overthrow of Yanukovich, who fled Kiev and is now believed to be in Russia.

However, surprisingly Putin did not try to replace his puppet Yanukovich by force in Kiev, but instead he instigated a pro-Russian uprising in the Crimea, a part of sovereign Ukrainian territory that had been originally Russian, until in 1954 USSR Premier Khruschev (some say in a drunken haze) signed the Crimea over to Ukraine. This was a big mistake since the Russian Black Sea fleet had its headquarters at Simferopol in the Crimea. There followed years of haggling between Ukraine and Russia over who would control the fleet docked at Simferopol, until an agrement was arrived at that divided the fleet 2:1 in favor of Russia. However, that and all other treaties between the two States have now become defunct since the people in a referendum and the Parliament in Crimea voted to leave Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. A delegation was sent to Moscow where the Duma also voted for the inclusion of the Crmea into the Russian Federation and then Pres. Putin in a historic ceremony signed the papers that made Crima part of the Russian Federation. Now the question is, when will the rouble become the official currency in Crimea, will Russia continue to pay pensions and salaries that were previously paid by the Ukraine, and what will happen to the Ukrainian soldiers, sailors and the Ukrainian fleet still docked at Simferopol.

Meanwhile the interim Pres. Yatsenyuk of Ukraine lost no time in first visiting the White House to meet with Pres. Obama and then to meet with the EU leaders and sign an accord with them, which is about the same as the original one that Yanukovich balked at. Now Ukraine (without Crimea) can consider itself a European nation and will receive support and financial assistance from the US and the EU. So the counter-signing has been done and the sides have been chosen. The big question is whether Putin's appetite for Russian expansion has been appeased or whether the signing by Pres. Yatsenyuk is like a red rag to a bull and it will provoke Putin to instigate violence in eastern Ukraine, that is already starting, in order to cause Ukraine to be further divided and then Russia will eat up the eastern half, leaving a much smaller pro-Western Ukraine. Would the US and EU intervene, not likely, they will merely turn the economic screws tighter on Russia. Will there be another Cold War? Probably. But where will it end, only time can tell.


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