I am back from Russia’s capital, where I presented a paper at a conference on World War I at Moscow’s Lomonosov State University. Regarding Ukraine, the consensus of my numerous interlocutors of various persuasions and backgrounds is clear:
1. Russia will not invade. She will support demands for federalization in the east (Kharkov), southeast (the Donbas industrial area) and south (the Black Sea littoral), but there will be no boots on the ground and no annexation.
2. Russia will insist that Ukraine’s new constitution be based on federal principles, which will entail legal power of the yet-to-be constituted regions to enter into international commercial and security treaties with other countries and entities (e.g. the Donbas region with the Russian-led customs union that also includes Belarus, Kazakhstan and Armenia).
3. To that end Moscow will support the emerging, self-proclaimed authorities in the southeast and elsewhere with money and logistics. There is no need to send any weapons, apparently, as the police and security personnel in the said regions appear to be pro-Russian anyway, and have willingly handed over their arsenals to the gold–and-black-clad activists.
4. Belated offers of “greater autonomy for the regions” coming from the putschist regime in Kiev are dismissed with scorn (“way too little, way too late”). The three regions to be constituted as fully self-governing entities – formally within Ukraine, of course – are Izmail-Odessa-Nikolaev-Kherson in the south, Donetsk-Lugansk in the southeast, and Kharkov in the northeast.
5. Russia will demand money for Ukraine’s unpaid natural gas bills and future deliveries from the European Union, in whatever form.
6. The “sanctions” are meaningless, and Germany in particular is not committed to them. There will be business as usual, whatever Obama or Kerry say.
7. Putin is widely perceived as the master strategist, even among the traditionally pro-Western Moscow “intelligentsia” which is dismayed at Washington’s inaptitude in playing the geopolitical game.
The overriding impression, formed on my previous visit three weeks ago, is that Moscow no longer perceives Washington and Brussels as credible partners. The key moment came on February 22, when the EU-brokered deal to ease Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych from power was swiftly turned into a regime-changing coup that fitted in neatly with Victoria Nuland’s preferred dramatis personae. Vladimir Putin felt he was being brazenly cheated. Having just persuaded Yanukovych to sign his de facto abdication – to agree to a major reduction in presidential powers and an early election – he was presented with what looked like yet another Western fait accompli. As of now he has a game plan that is non-negotiable. VVP thinks has a strong hand, and he will play it.
This is not “analysis” but a value-neutral report.
Dr. Srdja Trifkovic, Foreign Affairs Editor of Chronicles, is the author of The Sword of the Prophet and Defeating Jihad.