Thursday, February 27, 2014

Wither Ukraine?

Ukraine, like its neighbor Poland, is a victim of geography. Poland’s historic problem is being stuck between Germany and Poland. Poland though, unlike Ukraine, has had long periods of independence. Ukraine borders Russia on the East and North. Ukraine has rarely been independent. Its history is one of shifting boundaries and continuous battles, and often conquests, by Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Mongols, Ottoman Turks, Vikings, Cossacks, Tatars, Poles, and Russians, as well as invasions by various nomadic tribes out of Asia and the steppes, including the Goths and Huns. Kiev was the great city of Eastern Europe until the Mongols sacked it in 1240. Moscow then rose to prominence. The expanding Russian Empire exerted control over Ukraine in the mid-1600’s, with spurts of independence, such as a few years after World War I until the Soviets incorporated Ukraine into the Soviet Union. Stalin’s rule was especially tragic with Nikiti Khrushchev, his satrap, being known as The Butcher of the Ukraine. The Ukraine was the breadbasket of the USSR. The later Kremlin bosses saddled Ukraine with the April 26, 1986 Chernobyl Nuclear reactor explosion. The Crimea Tatars were brutally expelled by Stalin and Beria. They were only allowed back to their ancestral homes a few decades ago. Later, Khrushchev as the leader of the USSR transferred the Crimean Peninsula to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954. The political boundaries had little political significance as long as the Kremlin made the decisions. Ukraine declared independence on July 16, 1990 during the collapse of the USSR. Its boundaries included the Crimea and other areas in the east with substantial Russian populations. Sevastopol in the Crimea is the base of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. The Russian foreign policy in the Mideast depends on access to the Black Sea, and then through the Bosporus and the Dardanelles to the Mediterranean. The Ukrainian economy has been collapsing in recent years. The government is essentially broke. The country needs outside financial assistance. The Ukraine is dependent on Russia for much of its energy and trade. Russia’s main natural gas line to Western Europe goes through Ukraine. Ukrainians, the non-Russian Ukrainians, have no love for Mother Russia. Yet, Vladimir Putin is about to place a Russian bear hug around Ukraine. The former KGB agent eyes a rebirth of the Soviet Empire, with perhaps the exception of some of the former Muslim republics. Putin went to war with Georgia a few years ago to seize part of Georgia. Any restored Russian Empire must include the Ukraine, which tragically has been joined by the hip to Mother Russia for centuries. The current Ukrainian unrest was triggered when Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych cancelled a trade agreement in November with the European Union. President Putin offered $15 billion to Ukraine. Ex-President Yanukovich is the spitting image of the thugs who ruled many of the Soviet bloc countries. Ukrainians have no love for Russia. They want to join the West, but geography is their fate. President Yanukovych became a Russian puppet. The Ukrainians, at least those in the non-Russian parts of the Ukraine, rebelled. The shooting of the protestors by special riot police did not quell the popular revolt. The Ukrainian military refused to use force against the dissidents. They would not fire on their fellow Ukrainians. The President fled Friday, and emerged yesterday in Russia, claiming to still be the Ukrainian leader. “Independent” Russian militia members “spontaneously seized the Crimean Parliament Building and later the local airport yesterday. Reports are that some “militia” wore Russian Navy Insignias. President Putin suddenly ordered a 150,000 strong “war Games” on the Ukrainian border. Normally a state, such as Ukraine, would send police and the military to suppress a revolt. That could well trigger a military conflict with Russia. The Ukraine has a large military. Will it fight the Russians against strong odds? The Kievan protestors will. The Crimea Tatars Probably will. The Crimea though is probably going back to Russia, perhaps with some of Ukraine’s eastern provinces. President Obama will do nothing of substance to prevent it.

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