The Kremlin between a rock and a hard place in Ukraine

It is sometimes said that the Kremlin’s goal in Ukraine is either the country’s decentralization or federalization. That, in my view, is incorrect. The Kremlin could care less about whether a regional legislature in western Ukraine is competitively elected, selects a regional governor independently of Kyiv, raises taxes independently, or spends money independently. Nor does the Kremlin care particularly about the treatment of ethnic Russians or Russophones in Ukraine (although, thanks in no small part to Russian state propaganda, a great many Russians are genuinely outraged by the fate of their “compatriots” at the hands of the “fascist junta” in Kyiv). For the Kremlin, decentralization, federalization, or language rights are means to an end, not ends in themselves. That end, I remain convinced, is keeping Ukraine out of the Western institutional order in general, out of the EU in particular, and out of NATO above all because of the perceived threat the alliance poses to Russian national security. Continue reading

Update on the crisis: A Ukrainian victory in Slavyansk but Kyiv still facing a major challenge in trying to secure Donetsk and Luhansk

The Ukrainian military delivered some welcome news to Kyiv today. Ukrainian forces have driven the separatists out of their stronghold in Slavyansk and have taken control of the city. They also appear to be on the verge of doing the same in Kramatorsk. In Slavyansk, the separatists abandoned a good deal of equipment and appear to have lost many fighters, and they lost additional assets, including armored vehicles, during the retreat.

That said, I very much doubt that Kyiv is on the verge of a decisive victory in the Donbas. Continue reading

Transnistria: A bridge too far for the Kremlin?

While the Kremlin’s long-term objective in Ukraine has been, and remains, the country’s integration into a Russian-dominated Eurasian Union, my guess is that its endgame in the current crisis is the establishment of a breakaway region in the east modeled on Transnistria in Moldova. Continue reading

What’s driving Russia’s “humanitarian intervention” in eastern Ukraine

The Interpreter magazine’s “Ukraine Liveblog” site has posted compelling evidence that what amounts to a Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine is underway. Many video clips are available on the Internet showing what appear to be unmarked Russian tanks, military fighting vehicles (BTRs), multiple rocket launchers (MRLS), artillery, and transport trucks moving deep into eastern Ukraine.

Continue reading

The annexation of Crimea as an historical turning point

I generally avoid unfalsifiable generalizations about historical epochs, but in this case I will indulge myself. I believe that Russia’s occupation and annexation of Crimea is going to prove as much of an inflection point in post-Cold War history as the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Continue reading