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Report from Moscow

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By:Srdja Trifkovic | April 14, 2014

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.



Nenad Radulovich
4/14/2014 11:15 PM

  This "proposal" makes sense on many different levels. It would allow the heavily industrialized Donbas region to continue with the access it enjoys to the Russian market. Let's face it...the Germans and Dutch are not going to by Ukrainian goods. The northeastern Kharkov and the southern Black Sea areas, with their Russian-speaking population and their historic ties to the rest of Russia could continue that relationship without fear from Galician influence in Kiev. In the meantime, the L'vov region and the central region around Kiev could negotiate closer ties with Poland, Germany and the rest of the E.U. if that is their wish. Ukraine as a whole would, of course, have to stay outside of NATO and recognize the annexation of Crimea. In return, they might receive a better deal from the Russians on their gas debt and an aid package from Europe and the US (if they, and we, can afford it). Overlapping sovereignties are a respectable and ancient way to reconcile varied interests. The United States, Russia, the European Union and Ukraine should grab the chance to implement this and avoid a Yugoslavia-like scenario.

John Sobieski
New York
4/15/2014 03:28 PM

  Federalization is a non-starter. Ukrainians perceive it, correctly in my view, as annexation by another means.

Andrew Sorokowski
4/16/2014 01:32 AM

  If this report is "value-neutral," I take it that in using the term "putschist" the author means to quote his Russian interlocutors. But more to the point: what right do Russians (or Americans for that matter) have to "insist" that Ukraine have this or that constitutional order? Isn't this up to the Ukrainians?

Gilbert Jacobi
4/17/2014 04:50 PM

  “Russia will demand…”; “Russia will insist”. Exactly. And, as has happened time and time again, when “the brother is at the door”, as the Russia-wise Ukrainian saying has it, “brother” gets what he wants. That is, “big brother”, the dominant role the Muscovite power has historically justified for itself through its doctrine of the “Triune Nation”, a convenient schema used by tsarists, All Russianists, and Bolsheviks to pretend the Belarus, Ruthenian/Ukrainian Rus, and Muscovite Rus peoples are all part of one big Greater Russian Nation, so that it is no one else’s business what one member does to another. Nothing to see here, move along. Thus, the Russian Federation Council’s March 1st resolution authorizing the use of force in Ukraine goes uncriticized, which dovetails with seeing Ukraine as "the key to limiting Russia's access to the Black Sea", rather than as an independent nation with its own interests. A view which also does not square with the peacefully negotiated lease of the Black Sea port which Ukraine granted Russia. Not only did Ukraine never make any move to deny access, it freely gave up its nuclear weapons to appease Russia. By the way, this selfless act means that, in the words of Ukraine's former security chief Ihor Smesho, "Throughout the US history, no other country invested in the defense of the American state more than Ukraine did when it renounced nuclear arms. I’d like to remind you that a salvo of those weapons could make the American state cease to exist." But the paranoid view does serve nicely, however, to promote the idea that Russia has a right to go after Odessa and the rest of the Black Sea coast, which Dr. Trifkovic ominously seems to pardon in advance by condemning any Ukrainian action to secure this territory as something that "could lead to outright civil war". It will certainly lead to courageous Ukrainian patriots defending their sovereign nation against foreign invasion and internal collaborators; after all, if any

Gilbert Jacobi
4/17/2014 04:55 PM

  (this is the last sentence of above post) After all, if any nation is under "existential threat" it is Ukraine, which has no Baltic and Pacific ports as does Russia.


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