, ,

Russia pushes Ukraine to the brink

| by James Wilson

( March 2, 2014, Kiev, Sri Lanka Guardian) Crimea is currently controlled by the Russian army, which in a stealth operation involving more than 6000 marines took control of all major strategic installations in the peninsula over the past few days. Ukrainian troops and police were ordered not to resist. The region enjoys the status of an autono-mous republic in Ukraine, with its own elected assembly and a high degree of autonomy. It has been part of Ukraine since 1954 when Nikita Khrushchev transferred authority over the region to Kiev. The naval base of Sevastopol, home to the Russia’s Black Sea fleet, is located in Crimea and is of major strategic importance to Russia as it allows the Russian Navy to access Mediterranean waters. It is also important in terms of heritage and culture and is home to icons revered in Russian military history.

Members of Ukrainian elite police force Berkut Reuters
With a regime change in Ukraine, which has brought to power a government that could potentially be antagonistic to Moscow, Russia has taken the decision to keep control of Crimea through mili-tary power. It previously managed the area through the puppet administration of former Ukrainian President Yanukovych.

To justify the military action, Moscow has given ipso post facto approval to President Putin to mobi-lize the Russian army to enter not just Crimea but also the whole of Ukraine, in order to exert con-trol in a country they regard as having lost control. The stated fear is that the lack of government authority in Ukraine could expose Russian speakers in the country to risk. This, however, is ill dis-guised propaganda. Ukraine has always been a tolerant and multi-ethnic society, then majority of its public speak Russian. In Crimea, there is an important ethnic minority of some half a million Tartars, most of whom support the government in Kiev and have no wish to come under the direct rule of Russia. In a co-ordinated pro-Moscow public relations campaign, demonstrations have been held in Donetsk, Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk and other regional capitals in eastern Ukraine calling for Russian support to oppose the newly established government. The campaigns conveniently ignore the charges of murder and corruption against the former president and his regime, and the fact that there is no fundamental conflict between the vast majority of Russian and Ukrainian language speakers.
Winds of change

Ukraine’s new government, led by Acting President Turchynov and Prime Minister Yatseniuk, came to power last week following a popular revolution fueled by the desire to change the corrupt regime in Ukraine. The new authority was quickly recognized by the European Union. The ousted former President Yanukovych and his supporters have had their assets frozen in Western banks, and face international prosecution for ordering the assassination of more than 100 protestors on the streets of Kiev and for systematic corruption and theft from the Ukrainian state of billions of euros. International companies based in Ukraine have issued public statements to differentiate their own legitimate corporate operations very clearly from the businesses and bank accounts of Yanu-kovych and his associates, whose assets are being seized by European authorities.

The immediate danger now facing Ukraine is that Russia may deploy further troops to other regions of Ukraine

Yet within 24 hours of the new government starting their work, unmarked Russian troops were qui-etly but professionally deployed in Crimea to take control over all key strategic installations. Former President Yanukovych gave a pugnacious interview on Russian television claiming to still be the president of Ukraine and vowing to return. Whilst this is probably in the realm of fantasy, given the charges pending against him for corruption and mass murder which make it unlikely that he could ever hope to return to public office, his cameo public appearance on Television has served the purpose of fueling the myth that Ukraine has destabilized, thereby providing a pretext for Russia’s use of military force to restore order in the country under their terms.

Immediate danger

The immediate danger now facing Ukraine is that Russia may deploy further troops to other regions of Ukraine, particularly in the eastern provinces of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk in a bid to annex the eastern regions of the country. Recognizing the danger, Kiev’s government has enlisted the support of influential businessmen Sergiy Taruta and Ihor Kolomoisky to ask them to take over the key regional administrations of Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk as governors loyal to the new government. Yulia Tymoshenko the leader of the main government party now in control of the interim government (The "Fatherland" party), is due to go to Moscow for talks with President Putin on March 3 in a bid to urge him to respect Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty. The next 48 hours will see a whirlwind of diplomacy with UK foreign Minister William Hague visiting Kiev, the European Council convening an emergency meeting on Ukraine on March 3 and NATO also convening an urgent summit.

Russia will face strong international criticism. Turkey has condemned Russia’s actions and has pledged to assist the Crimean Tatars; there have been demonstrations in Turkey in support of the Tatar community in Crimea. The U.S. has also called on Russia to de-escalate tensions by with-drawing forces back to bases in Crimea and refraining from interference elsewhere in Ukraine. They have warned that Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty has been breached in contravention of in-ternational law, and that if Russia does not defuse the situation, there will be a huge cost for Russia to pay. Senator John McCain has demanded that President Obama defines those costs and spells them out to the Kremlin.

The situation teetering on the edge and is clearly the most serious crisis to have emerged in East-West relations since the end of the Cold War. Ukraine has put its army on full alert. There is an im-portant opportunity for the Islamic world to come to the support of the Muslim minority in Crimea, to call for the respect of international law and for Russia to pull its forces back to their military bases, leaving civilian society to manage their own affairs democratically, and peacefully. Ukraine faces a potentially violent meltdown and the country needs the whole hearted support of the international community to back their right to self-determination in a peaceful way.

James Wilson is the founder Director of the EU Ukraine Business Council, an organization established in 2006 in Belgium to promote trade and investment between the EU and Ukraine. James is a communications professional with more than 25 years of international business experience in Europe and Asia with a background in government relations. He divides his time between Brussels and Eastern Europe, where he is the Director for Fipra International responsible for their country operations in Ukraine and Belarus.