Friday, May 9, 2014

Eastern Ukraine's Schism with Moscow - Analysis and Scenarios

Dear Readers,
this past Wednesday, in a move that may have surprised many, and in particular his Western detractors, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that:
“We are calling for southeast Ukraine representatives, supporters of federalization of the country, to postpone the May 11 referendum to create the necessary conditions for dialogue”

This proposal, clearly directed at the pro-referendum leaders of Eastern Ukraine, was voiced by President Putin at a press conference held in Moscow together with OSCE Chairperson and Swiss President Didier Burkhalter, as can be seen in RT's video report. 

Now, in the wake of the ongoing escalation of events around Slaviansk, Donetsk, Lugansk and other Eastern Ukrainian cities, who would have expected President Putin to choose this particular venue with this particular guest to air such a conciliatory appeal for dialogue?

There are a multitude of possible interpretations to Putin's proposal for postponing the impending May 11 referendum in Eastern Ukraine, but one thing must be made very clear, namely that Putin did NOT rule out the referendum "per se", but simply asked for some (indefinite) procrastination of the latter. In other words, it would be reasonable to assume that Putin's proposal to the pro-referendum leaders is to "buy some time" before going ahead with a popular consultation that may be a little too preposterous at present, in order to be fully successful. 

Indeed, calling for a hastily organized referendum in such warlike conditions (the Kiev Junta's offensive is still in full swing in the East of the country), especially in regions where the population may be more or less evenly split between those who still support the Kiev government, and those who are in favor of autonomy through federalization, may potentially backfire and disprove the aspirations of the pro-federalization movement.

So, while the result of the Crimean referendum was easily foreseeable and was carried out in peaceful conditions with the presence of up to 135 international observers, a referendum held in Eastern Ukraine amidst raging battles, intimidations, beatings and other kinds of disruptions, would be very difficult to organize and manage. One of the biggest drawbacks of the present situation is that there is simply not enough safety and security around the locations where makeshift voting stations will be set up by the pro-federalization supporters. Holding a referendum not only at gunpoint, but under the barrels of tanks, Grad missile launchers and with combat helicopters circling overhead, would be highly risky for the local population, no matter how noble the cause and intent of the pro-federalization supporters. 

Vladimir Putin is fully aware of this, and he also knows that in any case, the May 11th referendum and its results will be deemed illegal by the Kiev Junta and won't be recognized by any Western political leaders and organizations. Putin also knows that whatever he does and no matter how Russia reacts, all he can expect from the West are sanctions upon sanctions (this would be the 3rd round!), and more NATO military buildup in the Black Sea region and in Eastern European countries close to Russian borders. So, what may be interpreted as an apparent show of Russia's weakness in the face of outrageous Western bullying, is probably a tactical move dictated by Putin's "Realpolitik" of letting opponents fall into the very traps they created.  

By sending troops off to the East of the country in order to carry out an illegal punitive operation against the pro-federalization supporters, the Kiev Junta showed in no uncertain terms that it is acting as an oppressive regime ready to deploy heavy weapons against Ukrainian citizens. In doing so, the Kiev Junta also breached the Geneva accords in spite of being a signatory and party involved in the negotiations. By allowing the CIA to set up a forward operating base out of Kiev, and following CIA Head John Brennan's and US Vice-President Joe Biden's visit, the Junta made no mystery as to whose patronage it falls under. Finally, by refusing to disarm the Right Sector and other Neo-Nazi extremists, the Kiev Junta created and actively fostered the necessary conditions that led to the May 2nd Odessa massacre, a tragedy that will be remembered by all Odessites and all Russian speakers for generations to come. No matter how much these facts are spun around and distorted by the Western and pro-Maidan media, they underscore how deep Putin's opponents are sinking into the moving sands they recklessly stepped into.

To sum things up, Putin's calculus is that, by procrastinating the referendum in the Eastern regions of Ukraine, he will be able to exercise influence over the Kiev Junta in a way that keeps his options as open as possible, without having to precipitate events by having to endorse the referendum results or even worse, having to intervene militarily across the border, thus giving the US and NATO the long-awaited excuse to send troops straight to Ukraine. There is another reason why Putin may have decided to put the referendum back into the backburner for the time being, which has to do with Ukraine's ever rising gas debt to Gazprom, and the (tacit) conditions set by the IMF for Ukraine's loan eligibility. 
More on that later, but in the meanwhile, let's keep in mind that people in the Eastern Ukrainian regions are fighting and dying, day after day, to defend their homes, families and freedom against the Western-sponsored Kiev Junta. Just yesterday, pro-federalization leader Denis Pushilin declared that Donetsk and Lugansk are due to go ahead with the May 11th referendum against all odds. But whatever may happen , let us hope that the  sacrifice of the men and women of Eastern Ukraine will not be made in vain, and that their stand against the oppressors shall ultimately be successful.

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