GeoPolitical Forecasts

Forecasts of international political events

Will Russia invade Ukraine?


I’ve been delaying making a forecast because there’s so much information, and so few reliable guidelines for interpreting it. Putin has been deliberately sending mixed signals: on one hand, he says he won’t invade east Ukraine, on the other, he emphasizes his legal grounds for invasion and he’s massing troops on the border. He seems to be trying to signal his intentions without having to pay the price of signaling his intentions. For example, if he announces that he’s going to invade Ukraine, the ruble will fall, Russian stocks will drop, and he’ll get endless phone calls from Western political leaders. If he states that he’s not going to invade Ukraine, he doesn’t have to deal with all that until the invasion actually happens, but Western governments will be aware of the troop movements and his statements about the illegitimacy of the current Ukrainian government, Yanukovych’s request for an invasion, and his claims of concern about the safety of Ukrainians who are ethnically Russian.

Putin wants Ukraine returned to the Russian sphere of influence. He’s willing to use military force to accomplish it, but he would rather negotiate. Since Yanukovych was forced out of power, he’s been very clear that he wants Yanukovych restored, but the US and EU have essentially ignored his statements and made offers that don’t restore Yanukovych or bring Ukraine back under Russian sway some other way. If he announces that he’s willing to use military force to get what he wants, he would have to deal with economic and political turmoil while the negotiations proceeded. I believe his current course of action is an effort to get the negotiations without the turmoil. I don’t believe he will get the response he wants, which means that he will invade.

In 2007, Putin made a speech at the Munich Conference on Security Policy[1] that could have been titled “Why I Fear and Distrust the West”. Nothing that has happened since has made him more trusting. In Ukraine, a Western-sponsored agreement that would have eased Yanukovych out of power was discarded within hours. Yanukovych fled and was stripped of the presidency in a way that clearly violated the Ukrainian consitution. From Russia’s point of view, it was a Western-backed coup.[2] Subsequent discussions between Russia and the West haven’t done anything to restore Russian trust.[3] Restoring Yanukovych would restore Russian influence in Ukraine without requiring Russia to rely on assurances from the West, and unlike other ways of doing this, Yanukovych has some claim to legitimacy.

On the Western side, there’s been no effort to address Russia’s concerns. None of the proposals that John Kerry has made that have been reported in the news media have done have made any concession to Putin’s objections to the current government in Ukraine. There have been no proposals for an alternative government that excluded Yanukovych but addressed Putin’s concerns. The current government wants to join NATO and prefers the European Union to Putin’s Eurasian Union. This is unacceptable to Russia.

For political reasons, I don’t believe Western negotiators can make proposals that address Putin’s concerns. While Yanukovych has some supporters in Ukraine, the opposition to him is sufficiently widespread and intense that I don’t think he could return to the presidency unless preceded by Russian tanks. The current government depends on Yanukovych’s opponents for support and can’t negotiate his return. The US and EU have very little choice but to support the current government in Ukraine. Domestic politics here in the US make it impossible for Obama to accept Yanukovych’s return and extremely difficult to make proposals that would be seen by Congress as rewarding Russian aggression. The EU and NATO represent a mix of countries with different domestic political situations, but in aggregate their hands are also somewhat tied in terms of the proposals they can make or support.

Being naive in military matters, I thought at one point that Putin’s biggest concern was the naval bases in Crimea and that he would be satisfied with control of Crimea. But military analysts say that the naval bases aren’t all that important.[4] So Putin is seemingly willing to use military force in Ukraine for political reasons, without being driven by concerns about military strategy.

Currently, Moscow is claiming that Kiev is unable to maintain civil order in Ukraine and talking about it’s “duty” to protect Russian citizens in neighboring countries. The West is not doing anything to meet Russia’s concerns about the government in Kiev. Putin doesn’t trust the West, blames it for the current crisis, and wants Ukraine back in its sphere of influence. And Russia is willing to use its military forces. So I think the odds are better than 50/50 that there will be Russian forces in eastern Ukraine in the next couple of weeks.


After writing the first draft of this, I checked for recent news of Ukraine, and discovered that The Daily Beast is reporting that Russia has special ops forces in Ukraine.[5]

4. /03/13/39bcc6a2-a9df-11e3-b61e-8051b8b52d06_story.html?tid=hpModule_949fa2b e-8691-11e2-9d71-f0feafdd1394

Putin and Western double standards

This is not an analysis of Russian foreign policy, or an attempt to argue for or against any actions that Putin has taken. It’s fairly clear that Putin doesn’t trust the US/EU/NATO, and this is a list of specific facts and interpretations of those facts that would lead him to distrust the West and accuse it of applying double standards. I’m not evaluating the truth of his claims, only trying to understand his viewpoint. If I can’t understand his viewpoint, I can’t make predictions about his actions. Understanding his viewpoint necessarily means being able to express it in a way that he would agree with. Obviously, this is my attempt to understand and express his viewpoint, not his expression of his viewpoint. I’m pretty sure that I don’t completely understand his viewpoint and am not likely to express it entirely correctly. If you see where I’ve made an error, or if I’ve left something out, feel free to let me know.

On 4 March, Putin named three examples of what he considers Western double standards: Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya[1]. I’ll start with those.

1. Afghanistan

The US-led military action in Afghanistan wasn’t authorized by the UN Security Council.[2] The UN Charter requires the US and other signatories to settle differences peacefully, except when they are defending themselves. A bombing campaign that culminates in the overthrow of a government is not part of the usual definition of self-defense. Under the US constitution, a treaty becomes the law of the land when the US ratifies it. A more limited definition of self-defense that excludes bombing and regime overthrow implies that the US broke both US and international law.

2. Iraq

I think Putin would agree with Kofi Annan’s summary of the legality of the Iraq invasion. Quoting Wikipedia, ‘Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the United Nations, said of the invasion, “I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN Charter. From our point of view, from the Charter point of view, it was illegal.”‘[3]

Russia supplied arms to Saddam Hussein and probably helped him get rid of his WMD after the First Iraq War.[4] If Iraq was not an ally, it was certainly an important relationship.

3. Libya

The UN resolution authorizing the enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya also authorized protection of civilians by any means except a “foreign occupation force”. The military coalition acting in Libya eventually put special operations troops in the country.[5]

In this case, I can quote Putin: “When the entire so-called civilized community falls upon a small country with all its might, destroys infrastructure created over generations — I don’t know, is that good or not?”[6] And on the killing of Gaddafi: “Drones, including American ones, delivered a strike on his motorcade. Then commandos, who were not supposed to be there, brought in so-called opposition and militants. And killed him without trial.”[7] (There are a number of other quotes along the same line from Putin in the articles cited.)

Libya was an important ally for Russia, possibly the most important of its allies in North Africa and the Middle East.[8]

4. NATO expansion

When West Germany was planning to reunite with East Germany, Gorbachev told US Secretary of State James Baker that “any extension of the zone of NATO would be unacceptable.”[9] The next day, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl told Gorbachev ‘”naturally NATO could not expand its territory” into East Germany.’ The West German FM told the Soviet FM “for us, it stands firm: NATO will not expand itself to the East.” Gorbachev made no deal with Baker and the West Germans could only speak for themselves. Nevertheless, Gorbachev understandably thought that they had an agreement not to allow NATO expansion. He later complained that he had been trapped.

From Putin’s speech at the 2007 Munich Conference on Security Policy:

I would like to quote the speech of NATO General Secretary Mr Woerner in Brussels on 17 May 1990. He said at the time that: “the fact that we are ready not to place a NATO army outside of German territory gives the Soviet Union a firm security guarantee”. Where are these guarantees?[10]

From a 2010 interview Putin gave Kammersant Daily (via RIA Novosti):

At time of the withdrawal from East Europe, the NATO secretary general promised the USSR it could be confident that NATO would not expand over its current boundaries.

And where is it? I asked them [NATO officials] about this. They have nothing to say. They deceived us in the rudest way.[11]

5. Kosovo

In 2008, Kosovo declared itself independent of Serbia. Serbia’s Constitutional Court ruled the declaration illegal and its National Assembly voted it null and void.[12] The Russian government called on the UN and NATO to take steps to prevent Kosovo independence, “including the annulling of the decisions of Pristina’s self-governing organs and the taking of tough administrative measures against them.”[13] Putin said that “Europe has double standards on territory issues and small states do not feel safe in the world arena.”[14] Serbia was a Russian ally and remains close. Whether or not Kosovo’s independence violates international law is a matter of controversy.

6. Georgia

Eduard Shevardnadze, who had been the Soviet Union’s Foreign Minister, was Georgia’s president until 2003. He gradually lost support and his political party split up.[15] After an election that many viewed as fraudulent, mass demonstrations forced Shevardnadze to resign. NGOs partially funded by foreign sources were important in organizing the demonstrations. When Saakashvili was voted in as president, Georgia turned away from Russia and became a Western ally, seeking NATO membership.

7. Ukraine

Ukraine in 2004 experienced an Orange Revolution similar to Georgia’s Rose Revolution. Election fraud, followed by demonstrations partially organized by groups trained and funded in part by Westerners, led to a new government oriented to the West, along with talk of joining NATO.[16]

8. Ukraine again (Maidan)

(In describing right wing groups and government actions, I’m limiting myself to the things I believe Russia objects to. I’m not giving a complete or accurate description of groups or government actions.)

One of the organizers of the Maidan is the Svoboda party. In the past, it’s leader has made anti-semitic statements, and has used derogatory terms for Russians. The party’s original name was “Social-National Party of Ukraine”, a reference to National Socialism. The party honors Stepan Bandera, who many Ukrainians view as a Nazi collaborator. The party has eliminated racist statements from its platform, but it still contains statements many would consider discriminatory against non-Ukrainians.[17]

Right Sector emerged as an important part of the later, more violent Maidan protests. During the protests its leaders encouraged the production of Molotov cocktails and bombs, and it claims to have an arsenal of weapons. It claims to reject the more racist beliefs of many Svoboda members, but it uses neo-Nazi imagery and rejects multiculturalism.[18]

Right Sector and Svoboda were among the nationalist groups that dominated the Maidan self-defense units. These were the units that provided security for the Kiev parliament after the police disappeared. Under the protection of these units, Ukraine’s parliament removed Yanukovych from the presidency without following the constitutionally mandated procedure for an impeachment, in a vote that lacked the constitutionally mandated super-majority needed to remove a president.[19] The parliament voted to repeal the law that allowed Russian to be declared an official language, although the acting president didn’t sign it and it didn’t become law. Five of Svoboda’s members are part of the current government in Kiev.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called the toppling of Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, in the capital Kiev an “anti-constitutional coup and a military seizure of power”.[20]

The Russian foreign minister said the interim government in Kiev was “not independent because it depends to a great extent on the radical nationalists who seized power by force of arms”.

Right Sector, the main radical group, was “calling the tune” in Kiev, he said, and using “terror and intimidation” as its methods.[21]


Quoting the Putin’s speech at the 2007 Munich Conference on Security Policy:

Along with this, what is happening in today’s world – and we just started to discuss this – is a tentative to introduce precisely this concept into international affairs, the concept of a unipolar world.

And with which results?

Unilateral and frequently illegitimate actions have not resolved any problems. Moreover, they have caused new human tragedies and created new centres of tension. Judge for yourselves: wars as well as local and regional conflicts have not diminished. Mr Teltschik mentioned this very gently. And no less people perish in these conflicts – even more are dying than before. Significantly more, significantly more!

We are seeing a greater and greater disdain for the basic principles of international law. And independent legal norms are, as a matter of fact, coming increasingly closer to one state’s legal system. One state and, of course, first and foremost the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way. This is visible in the economic, political, cultural and educational policies it imposes on other nations.[10]

In the 2010 interview with Kommersant Daily, Putin said his speech was still relevant.[11]

Update: This was edited on 8/3/14 to add more quotes from Putin and replace my summary of his views with quotes from his Munich speech.


Thanks for the feedback, Mr. Putin!

One of the fixed pages for this blog it titled “I’m looking for feedback”, and I am indeed hoping to get feedback. Up to now, I’ve gotten no feedback except in the form of frequent visits to my “Yanukovych’s removal was unconstitutional” post. I think the feedback there is that if you make a factual, well researched post on a subject that people are interested in, you’ll get a lot of readers. Who knew?

However, yesterday I got my first direct feedback. I forecast that Putin would keep Crimea in an undefined state, separate from Ukraine but not legally independent. And within minutes, Vladimir Putin let me know that I was wrong! Russia is going to annex Crimea! OK! Thanks for the prompt feedback!

I’m not an expert in foreign relations. The point of making forecasts is to force myself to be specific and give myself few chances for weaseling. (“I was wrong, but I was really right because…”) In order to make a forecast, I have to do research and try to make sure that I understand the subject. If I’m going to avoid weaselly forecasts, I have to pay attention to the things I don’t know, instead of glossing over them. That’s actually hard to do, and making forecasts that are going to be wrong periodically helps keep me from being lazy.

By documenting my sources and committing myself to a specific forecast, I think it becomes easier for other people to spot errors in my information and criticize my logic. You can do that with a comment on this blog, or you can include a link back to one of my posts when you make a post on a blog or discussion forum. I’ll see the link back and be able to read your comments.

The big weakness in my Crimea forecast was that Putin isn’t telegraphing his moves. A critical part of my forecast was trying to figure out what Putin is thinking. I’m not Russian and I don’t see the world from a Russian viewpoint. Figuring out what a Russian viewpoint would be is part of the fun. If you’re reading from the Russian Federation (I see your page views!) then your input would be particularly valuable.

And of course, I will always value Vladimir Putin’s input. Volodya, call me!

Crimean forecast

Players, in order of influence.

1. Vladimir Putin
2. Kiev (the government in Kiev)
3. Ukraine’s population
4. Crimea’s population
5. US/EU
6. Simferopol (the government of autonomous Crimea)
7. Victor Yanukovych

The critical relationship is the one between Putin, Kiev, and Ukraine’s population. Putin is angry because he feels that relationship has been disrupted by interference from the West. Crimea’s future will be decided by negotiations between Putin and Kiev, but Kiev’s ability to negotiate is constrained by the amount of support it has among the population, specifically by the support it has in eastern and southern Ukraine. At the moment it doesn’t matter whether or not opposition to Kiev in eastern Ukraine is due to Russian propaganda or not. What matters is that the opposition exists and weakens Kiev. Without a good post-Yanukovych opinion survey of the country, it’s impossible to know how strong the opposition is. What is known is that there have been sizable protests against the Kievian government, so significant opposition does exist.[2] On the other hand, there’s nothing like a foreign invasion to unite the population of a country behind its government.

Everyone else is playing a supporting role. The US and EU have together offered loans that may exceed the $15 billion that Putin originally offered Yanukovych.[3] That gets them in the game, but it’s not clear how united they are. Former Soviet Bloc countries feel threatened by Russia’s moves, [4] but western Europe needs Russian gas, oil, and metals and Russian trade.[5] British PM David Cameron reportedly will not support trade sanctions against Russia or ban Russian involvement in British financial markets; London’s City needs Russian money. In order to provide a united front, the US and the EU may have to go with a least-common-denominator response that doesn’t hurt anyone’s economic interests, which would be a weak response.

The previous Simferopol government was voted out and a new government voted in as mystery soldiers guarded the Crimean parliament building. The soldier’s identities are a secret; everyone except Russia has figured out that they are Russian. Observers described the parliamentary session as irregular and possibly influenced by the presence of the soldiers.[6][7][8] In fairness, this somewhat mirrors the parliamentary proceedings at Kiev that occurred while the right-wing Maidan self-defense forces guarded the parliament building, along with the constitutional irregularity of the vote that removed Yanukovych. The difference is that Kiev could back out of its new relationship with the US/EU and return to the old status quo with Russia, while Putin would make it very difficult for Simferopol to back out of its new relationship with Russia.

There’s a story from the time of the Orange Revolution about a meeting between Kuchma, Yanukovych, a group of pro-Yanukovych supporters from Donetsk, and government security officials.[9] Over the course of the meeting it became obvious to everyone that Yanukovych was not going to be inaugurated as president, but Yanukovych was the last to accept this. Afterwards he publicly accused Kuchma of betrayal. Now Yanukovych is in the same position. He’s the only person in the room, metaphorically speaking, who hasn’t grasped that he’s never going to be president again. Even Putin, his protector, feels no sympathy for him and doesn’t see a political future for him.[10] Yanukovych’s role at this point is legitimizing the occupation of Crimea and a possible invasion of eastern Ukraine[11] while being largely ignored by his Russian hosts,[12] and once again complaining about being betrayed. To the Victor belong the spiels.

Policy Position

Greater Russian influence/greater Western influence

1. Putin
2. Yanukovych
3. Simferopol
4. Crimea’s population
6. Ukraine’s population
6. Kiev
7. US/EU

Putin wants Ukraine to be part of his Customs Union, and he doesn’t want NATO anywhere near his Crimean military bases. Yanukovych’s only hope for recovering the presidency, however delusional that hope is, is for Putin to force Ukraine to take him back. The Simferopol government was created to ensure Russian influence. A poll in February showed 41% of Crimeans favoring a union between Ukraine and Russia.[13] That was based on a small sample, but probably a larger percentage would favor the less extreme position of closer Russian ties, or the presence of a “protective” Russian force with Crimea’s status left undefined. Ukraine’s population is divided between patriotic Ukrainians who want closer Russian ties, and patriotic Ukrainians who want closer Western ties. Kiev has indicated that it wants to pursue EU membership. The US/EU wants everyone to have closer ties to the US/EU.

Importance of the outcome to the players

1. Crimea’s population
2. Putin
3. Simferopol
4. Kiev
5. Ukraine’s population
6. US/EU
7. Yanukovych

I think its obvious that the question of Crimea’s ties to Russia and the West matters more to Crimeans than to anyone else. As the person who created the crisis, Putin has as much at stake as any other single individual. In fact, you could make the argument that he should be in the top spot. (But I think the outcome’s effect on many Crimeans outweighs its effect on a single Putin.) You can view Simferopol as a government created in response to voter demand for closer Russian ties, or as a government created to provide political cover for Russia’s takeover of the Crimea, but either way Simferopol has a lot at stake in close ties to Russia. Kiev’s ability to negotiate with Putin and their success or failure in maintaining Ukraine’s borders will have a big effect on how they are viewed by the Ukrainian population. The Ukrainian population in turn will be affected the direction Kiev goes in order to resolve the crisis. Everyone in the first to fifth slot would be willing to fight over the crisis if they had to. The US/EU would not be willing. I think Yanukovych would be happy to see a war that restored him to power, but I don’t think he cares as much about who exerts influence in Ukraine as he does about the lost cause of Yanukovychian ascendancy.


1. Putin
2. Simferopol
3. Crimea’s population
4. Kiev
5. Ukraine’s population
6. US/EU
7. Yanukovych

It doesn’t seem to be Putin’s style to use phrases like “red line”, but he’s been strongly signaling his unhappiness with US/EU actions in Ukraine, and the signals have gotten stronger in the days since the invasion of Crimea. From Putin’s point of view, this is the last in a long series of interference in other governments, broken promises, and violations of international law by the West. George H. W. Bush promised Russian that we wouldn’t expand NATO into the former Soviet area, and Clinton ignored that promise and NATO expanded to Russia’s borders. Prior to 2003, Russia had an ally in Georgia. The Rose Revolution put paid to that, mostly due to the collapse of support for Shevardnadze, but partly due to organizing by NGOs that received some of their funding from the west.[14] The Orange Revolution the next year in the Ukraine deprived Putin’s favored candidate of the presidency, again with some support from the West.[15] Prior to 2011, Russia had an ally in Libya. It abstained from vetoing a UN Security Council resolution establishing a no-fly zone in Libya because it was promised that NATO wouldn’t go beyond its mandate.[16] There was mission creep and NATO ended up doing more than enforcing a no-fly zone. The end result is that Russia no longer has an ally in Libya. Since Putin became president in Russia, the West has redrawn Serbia’s borders to create the independent country of Kosovo.[17] Serbia had been a Russian ally, although it is now headed toward membership in the EU.

In this case, Russia has the military resources to prevent growing US/NATO influence in the Crimea where Russia has crucial military bases. It also supplies desperately needed gas and trade for the rest of Ukraine. He’s going to do whatever is necessary to prevent further threat to Russia’s interests, and he doesn’t trust us. Of all the players, he’s the least flexible. He doesn’t need an independent Crimea or a more autonomous one, but he does need one that is free of US/NATO influence.

The Simferopol government was created to create political cover for Russia’s military occupation of Crimea. More long term, it was created to maintain Russia’s political influence in Crimea and prevent an increase of Western influence. Crimea’s population includes many people who are resolved to strengthen ties with Russia, although this resolve probably isn’t as strong overall as the Simferopol government’s resolve. Kiev is determined to reestablish control over Crimea, but it has a lot of other problems to deal with and limited resources. Ukraine’s population mostly resents the Russian invasion, but they’re willing to allow a substantial amount of Russian influence. The US and EU are limited to providing financial support for Ukraine and sanctions against Russia. As I mentioned above, its going to be hard for the US and EU to unite behind sanctions. Financial support will be more sustainable and have more effect, but that means that US/EU has to accept whatever Kiev can negotiate. Yanukovych will take whatever he can get.


Overall, it’s clear that the Crimean crisis is going to be resolved when Putin thinks it’s resolved. He has the most influence of any player, the outcome is more important to him than almost anyone else, the players on his side of the policy divide are mostly located in Crimea while the players on the other side of the divide are mostly elsewhere, he’s more determined than anyone else to get what he wants, and the most determined players are on his side.

In contrast, the only player less likely to have an effect on the outcome of the crisis than the US/EU is Yanukovych. While they’re at the middle of the pack in terms of influence, Ukraine/Crimea isn’t as important to the US/EU as is it is to most of the other players, and their resolve is weak. Russia has military bases in Crimea and operational control. Anything that the US/NATO could counter with is far away, and they’re not willing to use military force anyway.

Since Putin’s goal is more Russian influence in Ukraine and less Western influence, the sudden outpouring of assistance for Ukraine from the US/EU is probably viewed as more Western interference that destabilizes the country. Stability for Putin would be the old status quo with a Russian-oriented government and no Western interference. The more US/EU influence grows in Ukraine, the greater the chances of Putin splitting Crimea off from Ukraine and setting up a client state. This was the strategy he pursued in Abkhazia and South Ossetia when Georgia turned away from Russia and towards the EU and NATO, and he had less at stake in those two areas than he does in Crimea. Giving up influence in Ukraine and tightening control in Crimea is probably not his ideal solution, but it sets up a strong barrier to further Western encroachment, much more clearly marked and defended than the older more porous barrier at the border between the EU and Ukraine. Even with the Ukrainians and Tartars, Crimea as a separate political unit is going to be less susceptible to Western influence than Ukraine intact with the old provinces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

But splitting Crimea off from Ukraine doesn’t mean the end of Russian influence in Ukraine. Even with the resentment the move would create, Ukraine still needs Russian gas and Russian trade. Being at odds with Russia means that Ukraine will pay substantially more for gas, and a large part of eastern Ukraine’s economy depends on Russian trade. The oligarchs aren’t going to be happy at the loss of revenue, and eastern voters aren’t going to be happy about the loss of jobs. The economic harm that Western sanctions would do to Russia are minor compared to the economic harm that Russian sanctions would do to Ukraine. Sanctions themselves probably aren’t necessary. Just raising the price of gas and creating bureaucratic barriers to trade would cause a lot of pain. And language and cultural ties between Russia and Ukraine make it easy for Russia to create news reports that influence many Ukrainians’ thinking. Just as western Ukraine will always be open to Western influence, eastern Ukraine will always be open to Russian influence.

Looking at Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Russia ensured that it had strong bonds with the populations and effective control of the areas. People in both areas were offered Russian citizenship and many of them welcomed it. This gave Russia a clear indication of the support it would receive from people in the two areas. Russia subsidized the government of South Ossetia, controlled the security forces, and staffed the local governments with Russians or natives who had worked for the Russian government in similar positions.[18] Abkhazia exercises more autonomy, but Russia supplies a quarter of its budget, is funding a massive infrastructure buildup, and pays the pensions.[19]

In Transnistria, the economy is not self-sufficient and Russia subsidizes the government through a bizarre arrangement that saddles Moldova with Transnistria’s unpaid natural gas debts.[20] Russia also helps pay pensions and subsidizes other government services. It is probably subsidizing Transnistria’s army and KGB. Many of Transnistria’s people are Russian citizens and Russia fast-tracks citizenship applications.[21] Russia has never officially recognized Transnistria, but Russian troops keep Moldova from reasserting control.

Russia is issuing passports to members of the disbanded Berkut, the anti-riot police accused of shooting Maidan protesters.[21] It has made it easier for Crimeans to get Russian citizenship.[23] Russia has neutralized the Ukrainian military in Crimea, pinning it to its bases. Simferopol has announced that it is setting up its own law enforcement and security agencies.[24] It earlier reported that it was setting up its own defense ministry.[25] Russia has announced that the Crimean government is running a $1 billion deficit,[26] and indicated that it would be preparing a financial aid package to cover the deficit. And Russia is launching a new $3 billion bridge project to be built between Russia and Crimea.

At this point, its obvious that Crimean-created defense and security forces will be sponsored by Russia and effectively under its control. Creating new Russian citizens in Crimea strengthens Russia’s claim that it is protecting Russian citizens, and the rate at which people take up citizenship when it is offered gives Russia a gauge of how much support it has in Crimea. Putin has begun the process of making Crimea financially dependent on Russia, both for its operating budget and for infrastructure improvement. The new bridge not only will facilitate the movement of troops between Russian and Crimea, but it will also strengthen Crimea’s trade ties with Russia. So the pieces of an Abkhazian or Transnistrian style client state are already falling into place.

Putin could declare Crimea to be an independent state, as he’s done with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, or he could refuse to recognize its independence while ensuring that Ukraine can’t reclaim it, as he’s done with Transnistria and Moldova. Putin may have recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia not because their independence gave him any political advantage, but in retaliation for the West recognizing the independence of Kosovo.[18] In this case recognizing the independence of Crimea is probably more trouble than it’s worth. Formally recognizing Crimea would bring additional Western condemnation, and Crimea will be more dependent on Russia if its status is undefined.

At this point Ukraine can’t go back to a government headed by Yanukovych. Putin acknowledged this when he admitted that Yanukovych has no political future.[10] But he sees the protests that lead up to Yanukovych’s removal as part of a Western effort to destabilize and divide the country. In his own words, “I have told them a thousand times ‘Why are you splitting the country?'”[10] Putin has apparently decided that the 21 February pact that would have left Yanukovych in the presidency while reducing his powers is Russia’s minimum acceptable agreement; any less and he’s better off seizing control of Crimea. This is so important to Russia that Foreign Minister Lavrov announced at one point that he and US Secretary of State John Kerry had agreed that the pact should be enforced, forcing Kerry to deny that he had agreed to that.[27]

My forecast is that the US/EU will continue to offer financial help and other support for Kiev. Putin will see this as a reckless pursuit of influence in Ukraine and will refuse to negotiate a deal that doesn’t meet his minimal demands. He will solidify his control of Crimea, making it economically and militarily dependent of Russia. He will not declare Crimea independent of Ukraine, making Crimea even more dependent on Russia and allowing Putin to claim that he isn’t altering Ukraine’s borders.


Thai State of Emergency update

This article from the Economist gives a good summary of the situation in Bangkok. The protesters seem to have lost support withing Thailand’s “deep state”, most importantly the army. The protesters are confining themselves to a single park traditionally used for protests. The need for a SoE seems to be diminishing. However, the government is signaling that it may renew the SoE anyway.

Yingluck has until 14 March to respond to the NACC’s corruption charges. I believe that these are the criminal charges and not the impeachment charges. (News reports aren’t clear, but the procedure the NACC is following seems to be the one for criminal charges.) The criminal charges will take longer for the courts to process than impeachment proceedings. Impeachment proceedings can’t start until April, after the Senate elections on 31 March. So Yingluck will probably still be acting PM by expiration of the current SoE, which means no massive red shirt protests before the current SoE expires. Renewal seems to hinge on whether violence continues at the reduced anti-government protests. There’s nothing strongly indicating renewal or expiration, aside from the government’s statement that it may renew. I’m estimating that the odds of renewing the SoE are about 75%, but with less than average confidence.

A few comments on Ukraine

A few thoughts on analyses of the situation in Crimea that have been posted in the Monkey Cage:

Kimberly Marten criticized the analogy between Crimea and Abkhazia (an area that was part of Georgia but has maintained an independence supported by Russian troops) by making four points. First, Abkhazia started the post-Soviet era with a bloody civil war while Crimea entered it peacefully. Marten suggests the relative lack of resentments by the Crimeans would make a negotiated settlement easier. That may be true, but I think it misses the point of the analogy. The point is not to suggest that a negotiated settlement is impossible, but to make a claim about Russia’s intentions. Russia could have a negotiated settlement, but there’s a lot of resentment among ethnic Russian Crimeans over the fall of Yanukovych and the new Maidan-dominated government. If Putin wants to create a Crimean client state in the manner of Abkhazia, he has a lot of public sentiment opposed to Kiev and in support of stronger Russian ties to work with. And as the people making the Abkhazia analogy are pointing out, the actions he’s taken in Crimea are very similar to the actions he took in Abkhazia.

Secondly, she points out that Crimea is 58% ethnic Russian, a much larger figure than is the case in Abkhazia. That’s true, and the fear by Crimeans of an anti-Russian government in Kiev could replace post-civil-war hatred by Abkhazians as a base on which to build a client state.

Thirdly, she correctly says that Ukraine has a much bigger army than the Georgian army Russia faced in Abkhazia, with better leadership. Again, that’s true, but Russia has effectively neutralized the Ukrainian military in Crimea.

Fourthly, she says that the new Ukrainian government can remain calm, avoid violence against ethnic Russian Crimeans, and wait out the Russians. But a new pro-Russian government has been voted in by the Crimean parliament while Russian troops guard the building and Russia seems to have control of the peninsula. The Ukrainian government has limited opportunity to do anything at all in Crimea, and the Russians can wait them out.

And finally she argues that it not in Russia’s interest to have to deal with Crimea’s complex ethnic mix, which includes large minorities hostile to Russia. But the Russian population is a complex ethnic mix. And in Chechnya, Russia has found a way to manage a largely hostile population while maintaining Chechnya as a client state. If Russia decides that it wants to do that in Crimea, it can probably pull it off.

Kimberly Marten’s post in the Monkey Cage

My own take on the analogy between Crimea and Abkhazia is that it points out important similarities between the two. As the guaranteer of Abkhazian independence, Putin could have leaned on Abkhazia to negotiate a deal with Georgia that kept Abkhazia autonomous while preserving Georgia’s borders. This would have provided a basis for improved relations between Russia and Georgia. But Putin didn’t want improved relations with an independent Georgia. He wanted a client state and if he couldn’t have all of Georgia, he was willing to settle for Abkhazia. Similarly, he wants Ukraine firmly in Russia’s orbit. If he can’t have that, he’s willing to settle for Crimea.

As Marten points out, Putin will continue to have much more influence in Ukraine than he had in Georgia. Ukraine needs Russian gas and trade with Russia. Both are sufficiently important to Ukraine that a government would have trouble staying in power if either were to suddenly stop. While that means, as Marten points out, that Putin could restore Crimea to Ukraine and still retain influence, it also means that Putin could annex Crimea or turn it into an independent state, and still retain influence in Ukraine. Ukraine’s need for the gas and the trade are going to continue, regardless of what Putin does.

Maria Snegovaya makes the argument that Ukraine is less divided between east and west than the Kremlin would like us to believe. It’s not just the Kremlin. I’ve seen any number of maps published by western news media showing different parts of Ukraine colored to show which parts voted for Yanukovych and which voted for his opponent in the last election. There’s a clear east-west divide. Snegovaya makes the argument that becouse 20% of the Maidan protesters came from easter Ukraine, there more of a consensus than a divide among the Ukrainian population. This is rather like going to an anti-abortion rally at the Mall in Washington, DC, discovering that participants come from all over the country, and concluding that there’s more of a consensus than a divide in the US population on the issue. The Maidan is not a random sampling of the Ukrainian population. There’s a lot of self-selection bias. Understanding the makeup of the Maidan protesters is important in understanding the protests, but understanding the population at large requires surveying the population itself. Events in the eastern part of Ukraine the last few days indicate a lot of dissatisfaction with the new government in Kiev and the way it came to power.

All Ukrainians seem to share a desire for better government. For the Maidan, the biggest threat to good government was the entrenched powers and Yanukovych’s corruption and abuse of power. But many people in eastern Ukraine view Yanukovych’s overthrow as illegal, the Maidan as violent and anti-Russian, and the new government as controlled by the Maidan leaders. What for the Maidan are necessary reforms leading to good government are for other Ukrainians illegitimate acts that undermine the rule of law. How widespread or deep is this divide? Without good populations surveys, nobody knows. What we do know is that if we look at all the protests that have occurred in Ukraine, both anti-Yanukovych and anti-Maidan, the divide seems to be pretty deep.

Maria Snegovaya’s post in the Monkey Cage

Will IDPs in the CAR exceed one million?

The count of Internally Displaced People in the Central African Republic has dropped since the beginning of February.[1] For about a week after the selection of Samba-Panza as the new president, the previous rapid rise in the count of IDPs suddenly stopped. It rose again after 27 January, when Seleka leaders started leaving the capital. That apparently encouraged the anti-baleka to increase their attacks on Muslims, and the count of IDPs peaked at roughly 922,000 around 3 February, followed by a rapid but unfortunately brief drop to about 825,000 at roughly 10 February. I think this was due to two things: The French and African Union troops had better control of the capital, and those Muslims who could be driven out of their homes had been driven out. (Some neighborhoods organized to prevent violence.[3]) This was followed by a week with a slight increase in IDPs. For the week following 17 February there was another rapid drop in the count of IDPs that more or less coincided with French troops leaving the capital and moving out into other parts of the country.[4] At this point, many Muslims have left Christian-dominated areas and either gone to the country’s north-east, or left the country. Simply put, most of the people who were at risk of becoming IDPs have become IDPs and the count of people being driven from their homes is matched by the count of people returning home or leaving the country.

500 peacekeeping troops from the EU are expected to go to the CAR in March.[5] That’s a 7% increase in foreign peacekeeping troops. That’s not a lot, but it increases the odds of controlling the violence. At this point, I think there will be a long gradual drop in the count of IDPs. Some are likely to remain displaced for years. But with good luck, there should be no more increases.


Yanukovych’s removal was unconstitutional

Yanukovych was corrupt, thuggish, and possibly a murderer. I can’t imagine him being welcomed back into Ukraine except to face trial. However, it’s very clear that in removing him, the Ukrainian parliament failed to follow constitutionally mandated procedure. At the time, the Polish foreign minister Radislaw Sikorski declared his removal “legal”[1] and the term legal has been used by other commentators. On 21 February, I pointed out that the removal was actually unconstitutional.[2] A post on reddit the same day made the same point.[3] An article on the Radio Free Europe website pointed out the legal problems with the removal on 22 February.[4] And the Wikipedia article “President of Ukraine” has been amended to raise the same issue.[5]

At the time the parliament voted to remove Yanukovych, it had also recently voted to revert from the 1996 constitution to the 2004 constitution, but Yanukovych had not yet signed the act into law. This may leave some question about which constitution was in effect at the time of Yanukovych’s removal, but in this case it doesn’t matter. The two constitutions prescribe identical impeachment procedures.

Article 108 gives the ways in which a president can be removed from power.

Article 108. The President of Ukraine shall exercise his powers until the assumption of office by the newly elected President of Ukraine.

The authority of the President of Ukraine shall be subject to an early termination in cases of:

1) resignation;

2) inability to exercise presidential authority for health reasons;

3) removal from office by the procedure of impeachment;

4) his/her death.[7]

Yanukovych didn’t resign, he wasn’t ill, and he didn’t die. That leaves only impeachment. Here’s the article giving the procedure for impeachment.

Article 111. The President of Ukraine may be removed from the office by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine in compliance with a procedure of impeachment if he commits treason or other crime.

The issue of the removal of the President of Ukraine from the office in compliance with a procedure of impeachment shall be initiated by the majority of the constitutional membership of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.

The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine shall establish a special ad hoc investigating commission, composed of special prosecutor and special investigators to conduct an investigation.

The conclusions and proposals of the ad hoc investigating commission shall be considered at the meeting of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.

On the ground of evidence, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine shall, by at least two-thirds of its constitutional membership, adopt a decision to bring charges against the President of Ukraine.

The decision on the removal of the President of Ukraine from the office in compliance with the procedure of impeachment shall be adopted by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine by at least three-quarters of its constitutional membership upon a review of the case by the Constitutional Court of Ukraine, and receipt of its opinion on the observance of the constitutional procedure of investigation and consideration of the case of impeachment, and upon a receipt of the opinion of the Supreme Court of Ukraine to the effect that the acts, of which the President of Ukraine is accused, contain elements of treason or other crime.[7]

He can only be removed for “treason or other crime.” The reason given by parliament for removing him was that he was “constitutionally unable to carry out his duties.”[6] To the best of my knowledge, being constitutionally unable to carry out your duties as president is not listed anywhere in the Ukrainian penal code as a crime. It’s not really clear what the phrase means, except perhaps that the drafters of the removal act were in a hurry and hadn’t given much thought to their legal justifications.

The first step of the impeachment procedure is for a majority of parliament to initiate the impeachment. I think it’s fair to say that a majority of parliament initiated an impeachment, but that’s the only part of the procedure that was carried out.

The second step is to create an investigation commission with a prosecutor and investigators. This was not done.

The third step is to present the conclusions and proposals of the commission to the parliament, at which point two thirds of parliament must vote to bring charges against the president. This was not done.

In the fourth step, the Supreme Court must vet the charges and determine that the acts he’s being charged with are in fact treasonous or criminal. The Constitutional Court also reviews the impeachment procedure and ensures that it complies with the constitution. This was not done.

The fifth step is the actual vote to remove the president. Removal requires that at least three fourths of parliament’s “constitutional membership” to vote in favor of removal. “Constitutional membership” is defined in Article 76 of the constitution.

The constitutional membership of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine shall comprise 450 people‚Äôs deputies…[8]

Three fourths of 450 is 337.5. If you have one half of a people’s deputy, the other half must be near at hand, so that’s 338 votes needed to remove a president. 328 members of parliament voted for removal[6], ten votes shy of the three fourths super-majority needed to remove a president. Constitutionally speaking, the vote to remove him failed.

Again, I can’t see any way Yanukovych could be restored to power, and I don’t think it would be desirable. But the way he was removed was clearly unconstitutional. That gives Yanukovych grounds for claiming his removal was illegal and creates legitimacy problem for the government that follows him.

Update: I originally had the Constitutional Court doing the Supreme Court’s job. I edited the post on 9/3/14 to say that the Supreme Court rules on whether or not the charges against the president constitute a crime.


Will China seize Pag-asa Island in 2014?

Speculation about China seizing Pag-asa Island (called Zhongye Island by the Chinese) from the Philippines this year started in January with a post in the English-language China Daily Mail claiming that the Chinese were, in fact, planning to take the island.[1] Pag-asa Island is part of the Spratly Island group, located in an area where the seabed is believed to cover large gas and oil deposits.[2] Control of the Spratlys would give China control of the deposits.

In addition, the Spratlys are part of the “first island chain”, the chain of islands off China’s Pacific coast that China seeks to control. Control of the first island chain would make it much easier for China to defend against the US and make it easier to launch a pre-emptive strike.[1] Control of Pag-asa Island would effectively give China military control over not only the Spratlys but also a large part of the South China Sea.[3]

There doesn’t seem to be any doubt that China could seize Pag-asa Island if it chose to.[3] The title of an article in the New York Times summed up the conflict between China and the Philippines over their competing claims to the Spratlys as “A Game of Shark And Minnow.”[4] Nor is there any doubt about China’s ultimate goal of controlling the Spratlys. But I doubt that it would be worthwhile for China to gain control of Pag-asa Island at this time and in this way.

An article by Carl Thayer in The Diplomat lays out the problems a military seizure of Pag-asa Island would create for China.[3] China is a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a number of whom also have claims to parts of the Spratlys. The other members of ASEAN would immediately unite in opposition to China, something China has worked successfully to prevent so far. It would become an issue at the UN, although China would veto discussion by the Security Council. There would be a Spratly Islands arms race as surrounding countries beefed up their military facilities and increased their naval patrols. The level of military armament would increase to possibly include cruise missiles. On the whole, it would make international relations more complicated and increase military risks in the Spratlys.

China might be tempted to use military force in the Spratlys in spite of the problems it would cause if it had no other way of gaining control. China has used its military to gain territory in the recent past. China gained control of all of the Paracel Islands in 1974 after a naval battle with South Vietnam.[5] In 1988, a conflict with Vietnam near the Johnson South Reef in the Spratlys resulted in China occupying six reefs and atolls.[6]

But China is currently using a strategy of squeezing out the competition while staying under the threshold of force that would cause a reaction that harmed its interests. The Philippines has maintained a presence on Ayungin Shoal for the past fifteen years by running a naval vessel aground and stationing marines on the vessel.[4] The Chinese have responded by keeping two Coast Guard cutters on permanent patrol at the shoal, effectively preventing the Philippines from carrying out normal resupply. The Chinese allow fishing boats through, and the Philippines takes advantage of that to sneak in occasional luxuries like donuts, but the marines survive by catching their own fish. The boat is rusting and deteriorating, and eventually will no longer be safe. The Chinese can wait.

According to the New York Times,[4] the Philippines has built crude shelter on stilts over shallow water or sandbars at Rizal Reef, Patag and Panata. The troops stationed there have very little room to move inside their shelters and have nothing to do except fish. When there was bad weather at Riza Reef, the troops used to tie themselves to oil drums at night so they would float if the shelter collapsed. In 1994, a typhoon chased the usual Filipino naval patrols away from Mischief reef and the Chinese took advantage of their absence to build their own stilted shelter. They’ve gradually upgraded it to a more permanent structure.[7] China would almost certainly do something similar if bad weather collapsed the Filipino structures at the reefs and sandbars they control.

China has opened bidding for oil exploration in areas that were already leased by Vietnam for exploration and development.[8] It has chased a Philippine survey ship away from the Reed Bank, well within the Philippine’s Exclusive Economic Zone. It has sent fishing boats to Scarborough Shoal, also inside the Philippines EEZ.

China’s strategy has been referred to as “salami-slicing.” This is defined as “the slow accumulation of small actions, none of which is a casus belli, but which add up over time to a major strategic change.”[8] So far it’s working. China has slowly accumulated more and more control over the islands of the South China Sea, and done so without uniting the other countries with claims in the South China Sea against it, or threatening its other important international interests. There may come a time when China has gotten all it can get by “salami-slicing” and reverts to military force. But not this year.


Various quick forecasts

I’m going to start with an easy one. Egyptian General Sisi has been promoted to Field Marshal, an empty title given to Egyptian generals who are about to retire. The Supreme Council of the military has given its permission for Sisi to run for president. The recent cabinet reshuffle seems to have left him with fewer job titles, making it easier for him to resign from the interim government. And sources close to Sisi say that he is just waiting for the election law to be finalized before announcing. So I’m forecasting he will officially announce his candidacy before 1 May.

Turkey will not open new chapters of the aquis (the procedure for joining the EU) before 1 May. Cyprus is blocking the two chapters than Turkey wants to open, due to conflict between Cyprus (the government) and Turkey over the partition of Cyprus (the island). Talks between Turkish and Greek Cypriots are underway and could resolve the differences with Turkey, but not before 1 May.

There will be no breakthrough in the TPP talks before 1 May. Domestic politics in the US and Japan will ensure that neither will give ground on Japan’s agricultural tariffs in the immediate future.

Iran will install no new centrifuges before the end of the current agreement with the P5+1. With the exception of a few extreme hardliners and the people associated with Ahmadinejad, most of the hardliners in Tehran support pursuing negotiations.

On the other hand, Iran will not let the IAEA inspect the Parchin military base during the term of the current agreement. In fact, I don’t expect the IEAE to get access in Parchin at all unless it’s negotiated at the political level, i.e. as part of the P5+1 negotiations. Iran considers this to be outside the scope of the IEAE’s charter and won’t negotiate it during the technical negotiations with the IAEA. They’ve given the IAEA access before, the IAEA found no evidence of nuclear weapons research or testing, and Iran considers this to be more of a political issue than a compliance issue. The widely held view that the head of the IAEA is biased towards the US doesn’t improve the odds of an inspection.

Iran will not test a ballistic missile with a range of 2,500 kilometers or greater in the next six months. Iran has missiles that can reach its primary military targets, but there’s a low chance that they would actually strike their targets. Iran’s primary focus right now is developing missiles with reasonable accuracy and the ability to evade missile defenses. It is close to developing 2,500 km missiles , but that’s not a top priority right now.

Yanukovych will eventually be tried before the International Criminal Court, as Ukraine’s parliament has requested. Ukraine’s constitution spells out an impeachment process that involves the Constitutional Court, with is packed with Yanukovych’s people. If the new government replaces the judges, the new judges will be perceived as biased against Yanukovych. The ICC is the best bet for an impartial trial, something any new government will need to compensate for the fact that Yanukovych’s removal from office was unconstitutional. Yanukovych is being accused of mass murder, which is something the ICC handles. The surprisingly orderly nature of the revolution in Kiev means that a lot of evidence has been preserved.

The loan agreement between Russia and Ukraine is dead. Russia won’t be buying any more Ukrainian government bonds. The loan agreement was always a means to pull Ukraine into Putin’s proposed customs union. The new government is determined to pursue closer ties with the EU. Russia still has more leverage over Ukraine than any other country, due to trade ties and gas supplies. Ukraine desperately needs the money, but Putin gains no leverage by making the loans and loses no leverage if he doesn’t make them.

I’m still expecting the Thai government to renew the State of Emergency, but I’m less sure of it. The Thai courts have placed restrictions on the powers that the government can exercise under an SoE, which makes it less useful for the government. The government’s primary goal is to carry out by-elections in order to elect enough parliament members to make a quorum and form a new government. Even with the current SoE, the government hasn’t been able to do that, and the Election Commission has delayed new elections, possible beyond the limit of a renewed SoE. Still, the situation certainly justifies a SoE, and I think the government will want whatever powers the courts will allow it to exercise, and will renew the SoE.

If the corruption case against the Thai prime minister causes her to be removed from power, the UDD/red shirts will view it as a coup and will hit the streets in enough numbers to raise the level of crisis considerably, which would increase the odds of a renewed SoE.