Fearless Prediction of the Day

Oh yes, there will be one. But before I give it, read this:

Armed men seized the regional government headquarters and parliament in Ukraine’s Crimea on Thursday and raised the Russian flag, alarming Kiev’s new rulers, who urged Moscow not to abuse its navy base rights on the peninsula by moving troops around.

“I am appealing to the military leadership of the Russian Black Sea fleet,” said Olexander Turchinov, acting president since the removal of Viktor Yanukovich last week. “Any military movements, the more so if they are with weapons, beyond the boundaries of this territory (the base) will be seen by us as military aggression

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry also summoned Russia’s acting envoy in Kiev for immediate consultations.

There were mixed signals from Moscow, which put fighter jets along its western borders on combat alert, but earlier said it would take part in discussions on an International Monetary Fund (IMF) financial package for Ukraine. Ukraine has said it needs $35 billion over the next two years to stave off bankruptcy.

The fear of military escalation prompted expressions of concern from the West, with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen urging Russia not to do anything that would “escalate tension or create misunderstanding”.

Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski called the seizure of government buildings in the Crimea a “very dangerous game”.

“This is a drastic step, and I’m warning those who did this and those who allowed them to do this, because this is how regional conflicts begin,” he told a news conference.

And this:

Viktor F. Yanukovych, the ousted president of Ukraine, declared on Thursday that he remained the lawful president of the country and appealed to Russia to “secure my personal safety from the actions of extremists.” Russian news agencies reported that he had already arrived in Russia, but officials did not immediately confirm that.

Mr. Yanukovych’s remarks were his first since he appeared in a video on Saturday night after fleeing Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, for eastern Ukraine. His defiance of the country’s new interim leaders only deepened the political turmoil in the country and threatened to draw Russia more deeply into the conflict.

Mr. Yanukovych, in a letter published by news agencies here, went on to suggest that largely Russian regions of Ukraine – including the east and Crimea – did not accept “the anarchy and outright lawlessness” that had gripped the country and said that orders by the new authorities to use the armed forces to impose order were unlawful. He clearly meant the response to pro-Russia demonstrations in Crimea, which took an ugly turn on Thursday morning when armed gunmen seized control of the regional Parliament in Simferopol.

“I, as the actual president, have not allowed the armed forces of Ukraine to interfere in the ongoing internal political events,” he said, contradicting early reports that he had ordered the military to intervene in Kiev, only to have his order rebuffed. “I continue to order this. In the case that anyone begins to give a similar order to the armed forces and power structures, those orders will be unlawful and criminal.”

Rumors that Mr. Yanukovych had arrived in Russia first surfaced on Wednesday night, with unnamed sources variously putting him at a hotel in Moscow — which denied it on Thursday — or in a government sanitarium outside the city. The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, said in a brief telephone interview that he was not able to speak on the matter now. On Wednesday night, he said he did not know if Mr. Yanukovych had arrived, but a senior member of the upper house of Parliament said he knew for a fact that it was not true.

And also, this:

Russia scrambled fighter jets to patrol its border and reportedly gave shelter to Ukraine’s fugitive president as pro-Russian gunmen stormed offices of Ukraine’s strategic region of Crimea, deepening the crisis for the new Ukrainian government even as it was being formed.

The moves pose an immediate challenge to Ukraine’s new authorities as they seek to set up an interim government for the country, whose population is divided in loyalties between Russia and the West. Ukraine’s new prime minister said the country’s future lies in the European Union but with friendly relations with Russia. Moscow, meanwhile, has launched a massive military exercise involving 150,000 troops and put fighter jets on patrol along the border.

A respected Russian news organization reported that the fugitive president, Viktor Yanukovych, who was driven out of Kiev by a three-month protest movement, was staying in a Kremlin sanatorium just outside Moscow.

And now for my fearless prediction: If push should actually come to shove in Ukraine and the Crimea, the United States–despite grave warnings from Secretary of State John Kerry–will do relatively little to interfere. Ukraine and the Crimea are in the Russian sphere of influence, the United States has relatively few diplomatic options available, we can safely assume that military options are completely off the table (no one is going to countenance war with Russia over this issue), and what’s more, the Russians know all of this. To be sure, there may be some substantial harm done to American interests by Russian aggression regarding this issue, and it certainly will do a lot to raise tensions in the region,  but Russia has a relatively free hand to do what it wants in the area (recall Russia’s invasion of Georgia, and the international non-response that followed), and relatively little will or can be done to restrain Russian actions in the immediate future.

Note that I am not saying that Russian actions won’t have consequences for the region at large, and I am (depressingly) not saying that a wider conflict of some sort might not take place as a consequence of what Russia is doing. But sometimes, an already bad situation has to get a whole lot worse before anyone decides to do anything about it, and that may be the case here.

Comments

Comments are closed.