Ukraine Crisis: A Ticket To Somewhere Unpleasant

HOT ON THE HEELS of a “referendum” in Crimea — showing 97% of voters wanted to become part of Russia, with Vladimir Putin seemingly ready to oblige — ominous portents continue to appear around the worsening crisis on Europe’s eastern flank; the United Kingdom warns of “a new Cold War” if Russia attempts to annexe the Crimean peninsula, while a state-sanctioned Russian TV network has made a thinly veiled nuclear threat against the West.

The problem with games of brinkmanship is that they can escalate beyond control, and whilst I still think the most likely outcome of events unfolding in Ukraine will be some kind of accommodation that de-escalates rocketing tensions between Russia and the West, those nominally in control of proceedings certainly aren’t showing signs of moving in that direction just yet.

Most readers will know that the hastily convened referendum in Crimea at the weekend — providing voters with a choice of either joining Russia or reverting to a more autonomous, 1992-era constitutional arrangement as a semi-independent province of Ukraine — resolved, with nearly 97% of the vote, to amalgamate with Russia.

“No change, quite literally, was not an option on offer.

In the days since, the West — led in this case by Britain and its Foreign minister, William Hague — has vowed not to recognise the referendum result.

Indeed, Hague has warned that Russia faces “a new Cold War” if it moves to formally annexe the Crimea, with the EU suggesting that Russia faces “a ‘far-reaching’ economic blockade.”

For good measure, the EU has drawn up a list of Russian MPs, government officials and business people who will be subjected to travel bans: a move likely to have absolutely no impact.

All of this comes as the interim government in Ukraine readies to call up 40,000 reserve troops in readiness for war with Russia, a prospective contest likely to prove futile for Ukraine to even participate in should it eventuate.

It comes as reports are circulating today in the European press that Moldova is the next ex-Soviet satellite on Putin’s radar as he apparently sets about implementing his plan to “recreate” the USSR and restore it to is allegedly rightful place as a world superpower, with Romania on the list after that.

And it comes as a Russian television journalist — hand-picked by Putin as a state-sanctioned mouthpiece for the Russian government — has suggested that Russia is capable of turning the USA “into radioactive ash,” in a news report featuring a large nuclear mushroom cloud as its backdrop.

Whilst the proposition might seem far-fetched, the fact a propaganda stooge has been the one to raise it certainly indicates Putin is in no mood to cool the temperature of rapidly worsening relations between his country and the West.

My sense remains that there will be some kind of accommodation of Russia; perhaps tolerating its “annexation” of the Crimea on the basis that its majority Russian population and historical status as part of Russia before 1954 make the change something the West can grudgingly live with.

Any move by Russia to repeat the Ukraine episode in Moldova — or beyond, for that matter — might be a different story.

On one level, the West (and the EU and NATO in particular) can do little to stop Crimea rejoining Russia without risking military conflict with Russia, the consequences of which could be dire: and by dire, the demonstration on Russian television I have mentioned is the kind of thing such a war could easily escalate into, and represents a scenario too terrible to contemplate.

Yet at some point — should he pursue territorial claims beyond the Crimean peninsula or, at the very least, those ex-Soviet countries that are not NATO member states — the West will have no choice but to intervene to stop Putin from re-establishing the Iron Curtain across Europe.

The whole neo-imperialist adventure that Putin seems to have embarked upon all adds up to a ticket to somewhere that is potentially very unpleasant indeed. It is to be hoped that some way of sabotaging the campaign bus can be found and enacted before it is able to continue much further along that destructive path.



Dangerous Game As Putin Readies To Invade Ukraine

THE BRINKMANSHIP that has been played out in recent months over the future and fate of Ukraine seems destined to come to a head, with news Russian President Vladimir Putin has sought parliamentary approval to send troop deployments from the Russian army into Ukraine; such a move would seem to cross a red line marked out by Western governments, and any armed conflict could easily spiral out of control.

This really is a very short post only this morning, although I will post on the subject again later in the day as need be; the situation in deeply divided, conflicted Ukraine — split between seeking its future with the West and the European Union, or being pulled back into Russian control and patronage — is charting a dangerous new course today as Russian President Vladimir Putin seeks to use force to “safeguard Russian interests:” a pursuit that could easily be a euphemism for God only knows what.

Clearly, we haven’t covered off on this issue in this column, although I have been following it closely; readers will know that I have periodically faced greater constraints than usual thus far this year on account of my business activities, and it has unfortunately not necessarily been possible to pay every issue I wish to discuss the attention it might deserve.

Even so, I think everyone knows the drill in Ukraine: an uprising against a pro-Russian leader who sought to defy popular will and take his country back toward Russia rather than in the Western direction his people wished to head in has brought Ukraine to a virtual state of civil war: that President, Viktor Yanukovych, is currently being sheltered in Russia following his overthrow in a popular revolt, and Russia refuses to recognise the legitimacy of either the interim government nor the validity of new national elections that are in the process of being scheduled.

It has been postulated by many that Putin — for years harbouring a vision of a return to Russian prominence as a world power, even a superpower — may use the crisis in Ukraine as the platform from which to launch an audacious bid to subdue Ukraine and bring it back to the fold as part of his dream to recreate the Soviet Union.

World leaders and key figures in their governments — from US President Barack Obama, to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, to British Foreign Secretary William Hague — have, in the past few days, issued increasingly strident warnings to Putin that any invasion of Ukraine by Russia (“euphemistically phrased as a “failure to respect Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty,” and similar formulations) will elicit costs, consequences, and would amount to extremely dangerous military activism that could result in unforeseen consequences.

Obviously, it doesn’t take Einstein to deduce the chillingly clear message behind such utterances.

To date, Putin has failed to publicly acknowledge or respond to any of these warning shots across his bows; on the contrary — and in developments that come as no real surprise — he has simply gone about his business, plotting and scheming and preparing to do exactly as he likes.

I wanted to get a quick post in on the Ukraine situation (at a tick after 2am, Melbourne time) because things now seem to be moving more quickly; unfortunately — packed with penicillin and still only half-recovered from the nasty I was hit with this week, courtesy of my children’s day care disease disseminators — the option to sit up even later to follow developments simply isn’t open to me. For once in my life, I need sleep this week — even with the ominous events in the Black Sea that are unfolding going on.

As promised, I will revisit this issue later in the day if there’s anything exceptional to comment on, and from here on we’ll keep a closer eye on what transpires in Ukraine, and how Russia — and the Western powers increasingly ranged against it — respond to them.

In the meantime, readers may like to access this link from the online portal of Britain’s Telegraph newspaper, which is being updated in real time, every couple of minutes, with the latest developments in Ukraine — and with particular emphasis (for now at least) on the Russian President’s threat to send his military into the country to advance the Russian agenda.


Massacre: Syrian Diplomats Kicked Out Of Australia

In the wake of the disgusting massacre of at least 110 people in Syria, most of them women and children, it is pleasing to see Foreign minister Bob Carr move quickly to expel Syrian diplomats from Australia; this type of senseless slaughter cannot and will not be tolerated.

It’s quite a quick post this evening, despite the gravity of the situation that has unfolded; I am irretrievably bogged down in work tonight, and this post is basically my cigarette-and-cup-of-tea time.

The Syrian Chargé d’affaires, Mr Jawdat Ali, was this afternoon given 72 hours to leave Australia by Foreign minister Bob Carr; also expelled was another — unnamed — Syrian diplomat.

The move is in response to the brutal slaughter of scores of Syrian civilians in Houla; a move that has mostly caused worldwide outrage, but typically elicited a splitting of the blame by Syria’s chief ally, Russia.

We have briefly mentioned Russia in the past week or so, with its posturing over mooted military strikes in Iran by Israel and its allies, and its veiled threats of nuclear war if such actions in Iran (or similar actions in Syria) are undertaken by Russia’s strategic rivals.

It is heartening, therefore, to see swift action being taken, here and abroad, despite whatever bellicose rhetoric and threats the Russians see fit to employ.

Our own government has now expelled the peak Syrian diplomatic Corp in this country; somewhat encouragingly, new French President Francoise Hollande has taken the same action in France.

Other nations have similarly responded; meanwhile, the British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, is in Russia and pressing his hosts to intervene in the situation in Syria and to take action to stop the bloodshed.

Not least, no doubt, because the Russians are being so belligerent about anyone else going in and doing it.

Former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan — now an ambassador-at-large for the UN — is in Syria, desperately trying to salvage a peace process he was the architect of designed to stop the bloodshed in Syria and bring the troubled country to some semblance of peace.

I wish I had time to say more tonight, but I don’t; I will however include here a couple of links to coverage in the Australian and overseas press. We may return to this subject tomorrow or later in the week — it depends on how thorough the general media coverage is. At the minimum, however, I think it safe to say that the bloody episode is an outrage — a morally bankrupt, nihilistic outrage.

Clearly, this is not a political issue for analysis and debate; there may well be time for that, but I do think now is the time for strong responses for what can only be described as an unmitigated tragedy.

49 children and 34 women, many blown to bits or shot dead at point-blank range. For fuck’s sake…as brutal as it is, it’s a reminder that there are barbarians in the world; and that once there are people who no longer value life, there are people who no longer value anything.

And that should always be a sobering thought.

I hope the following links are of use/interest to those wishing to read further.