Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Things To Note About Russia, Ukraine, and The World

With the ongoing crisis in eastern Europe between Russia and the Ukraine over Crimea (and Ukraine itself should Russia all-out invade), there are a few things you'll need to know. This Slate article does a nice job about covering the current events, but there's a few bits of background info you'd need to consider:

1) Russia has historically been heavily involved in Eastern European affairs for centuries.  They consider it "their" stomping grounds the way we Americans would consider, well, the Western hemisphere.  To an outsider, Russia reacting to the Ukrainian uprising this past month seems a bit like overkill: however, just consider how the U.S. reacts/reacted to Cuba just 90 miles off our shores over the last 150 years (trying to annex it, fighting Spain for its' "independence"... going apesh-t when Castro took over and joined the Soviets).  And the Ukraine is right on Russia's border.

The reason World War I escalated the way it did was because Russia inserted itself as a major player into the Eastern European Balkan nation-states like Serbia: when Austria-Hungary mobilized against Serbia in response to the Arch-Duke's assassination, Russia mobilized in response (which got Germany mobilizing against both Russia AND France, since France and Russia were allied via treaty already).  Just think of Russia still wanting to insert itself into Eastern European activities... whether those Eastern European states want Russia meddling or not.

2) What Putin is doing with sending troops into the Crimea may be an over-reaction because the Russians clearly didn't think their ally President Yanukovych would fall so quickly.  There's also the possibility Putin didn't figure on Europe or the United States over-reacting to his sending in the troops and getting his parliament to rubber-stamp the use of force against Ukraine.

A previous stir-up with a former Soviet state in 2008 - Georgia - ended up being lopsided in Russia's favor with few international repercussions.  But that was due more to Georgia's leadership being too aggressive towards Russia, hurting their stance with the U.S. and NATO nations.  Ukrainian protesters that overthrew Yanukovych may have been anti-Russian in their stance, but they were openly protesting in favor of joining the European Union.  That would make the EU nations - Germany, France and the UK in particular - more keen on providing political and economic support to Ukraine.

2a) Another reason for Putin's over-reaction: he's increasingly surrounded himself with yes-men and cronies (sounds familiar...) who only give him the news he wants to hear.  As such, he may have gotten separated from the real world and is operating on full Disconnect mode...

3) It's that pro-EU stance of the Ukrainians that's upsetting the Russian government.  Having a bordering nation go fully into the Western European sphere of influence would seem like a weakness to the Russians.  Again, see how Russia reacted to the start of WWI...

4) Crimea itself is relatively sparsely populated, but is mostly pro-Russian citizenry, which is why Russia moved so quickly and successfully in occupying it.  Save for the Tatar population, which is an Turkic-Arab minority that also happens to be very pro-Ukrainian and pro-Western.  What happens to them is a serious issue.

5) Crimea is key territory for Russia because of its' natural seaport geography in the Black Sea, a major aspect of Russian naval security.  There's a reason after the Soviet break-up that Ukraine and Russia made a series of treaties allowing the Russian navy access to Sevastopol: Russia needed that seaport, big time.

6) Western responses to Russia's takeover of Crimea has been limited.  Mostly diplomatic ties getting cut, a planned G8 meeting in Sochi in June now likely to get suspended, possibility of the other nation members kicking Russia out.  There's been a huge response already, however, to Russia's economy where their stock market's taken a huge hit, their currency's been devalued, and a lot of trade deals getting struck down.

6a) Which is why Putin may be talking tough, but it's increasingly unlikely Russia would fully invade Ukraine.  An actual invasion would be a huge blow to Russia's economy: they have few allies siding with them on this, and the nations that would line up on Ukraine's side are the major economic powers - the EU, Japan, the United States, even China - that could cripple Russia's finances and cause an internal economic depression that would anger up the Russian populace.

7) If Russia does invade, the Ukrainian forces may have fewer numbers than the Russian forces but will be better organized and fighting a defensive war, which favors them.  While NATO or the U.S. won't contribute ground troops or any overt support, they will back Ukraine as far as possible.  More than likely, Ukraine will find military support coming from Poland and other former Warsaw Pact nations not on good terms with Russia and terrified of a Putin-led government acting like a reborn Russian "empire".  It definitely won't be a swift curb-stomp fight like Russia had against Georgia.

8) Most likely scenario: Russia forces the annexation of the Crimea.  There'll be a fight - mostly political, possibly military - to force Russian concessions to Ukraine to make that annexation go over smoothly (especially something that would ensure the Tatars political and physical safety).  Russia may face some sanctions and their political leadership might find themselves persona non grata on the international scene for a few years, but it may stabilize matters over the long term.  That's only if they don't invade.

8a) If they do invade... it'll be like their 1979 invasion of Afghanistan (or the U.S. invasion of Iraq 2003) all over again: an occupying force in hostile territory while the rest of the world sits by in anger and open contempt.  With the added woes of a tanking economy as much-needed trade deals get wiped out.

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