GeoPolitical Forecasts

Forecasts of international political events

Tag Archives: Maidan

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

I was wrong about Yanukovych

If Yanukovych wanted to have any chance of staying on as president, he would have had to follow Friday’s agreement by shoring up his support in parliament and ensuring that he had the government security forces behind him. He would have had to maintain communication with the opposition leaders to ensure that they remained committed to the agreement and to show that he was following through on his commitments. There’s no guarantee that he would have succeeded in these things, but they were necessary for him to have a chance at continuing.

Instead he left Kiev and went to Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city and a center of support for his presidency. In his absence, there have been enough defections from his party in parliament that the opposition is effectively in control. Parliament has freed Tymoshenko from prison, allowing her to replace Yatseniuk, a capable but less charismatic politician, as the direct leader of her party, the largest party in the opposition. With Yanukovych absent and without a prime minister, the effective head of government is the speaker of the parliament. Parliament has just replaced the pro-Yanukovych speaker with an ally of Tymoshenko.

Yanukovych can’t maintain power without the support of the security forces. The anti-riot police are exhausted after their unsuccessful attempts to seize Independence Square from the Maidan protesters. Their failure and Yanukovych’s absence has probably left them demoralized. Their top commander has gone before parliament and announced that they will not oppose the “people”, meaning the protesters. The Interior Minister, who controls the anti-riot police, has been replaced with an opposition figure. The police in general have disappeared from Kiev. Parliament is being guarded by Maidan self-defense groups, who are also guarding the presidential offices and residence to prevent looting. In other words, civil order is now being guaranteed by the protesters rather than the police, and the protesters seem to be well disciplined and effective. (A BBC producer tweeted that a protester guarding the president’s residence warned him not to step on the grass. The Maidan self-defense forces are on the job!)

If Yanukovych is to recover power at this point, it would have to be through a military counter-coup. But the head of the paratroopers and the head of military intelligence have both joined the head of the anti-riot police in pledging not to oppose the “people”, and the willingness of the military to act against the protesters was always in doubt anyway.

Yanukovych needed the the opposition leaders who signed the agreement with him to remain committed to the agreement and to sell it to the protesters. But Yanukovych’s inaction has lead Yatseniuk to call for his resignation and Klitschko to call for elections by May 25. As the opposition gains power, the agreement that gave Yanukovych whatever chance he had of hanging on to power a little longer has been discarded.

Opposition to the Maidan protesters is strongest in the east and south of Ukraine, where the protesters are viewed as “fascists”, among other things. But in Kharkiv, where pro-Yanukovych politicians are gathering to support the president, news reports have anti-government protesters gathering in the thousands, with pro-government protesters numbering in the hundreds. The police, who recently were beating anti-government protesters, are now protecting them from the pro-government protesters. Even the Crimea, essentially a Russian enclave within Ukraine, is divided between pro-Maidan Tartars and separatist pro-Russian groups.


As I was writing this, BBC reported that “Ukraine’s parliament has voted to dismiss President Viktor Yanukovych and set elections for 25 May.” The Ukrainian constitution requires a presidential impeachment process that starts with parliament creating an ad hoc commission to investigate charges. The commissions recommendations have to be accepted by two thirds of the parliament and reviewed by the Constitutional Court. Then and only then can the president be removed by a three-fourths majority in the parliament. Since this procedure hasn’t been followed, Yanudovych’s removal is unconstitutional.

ICTV has broadcast a message from Yanukovych calling events in Kiev “vandalism, banditry and a coup.” There have been no reports of vandalism or banditry, but a democratically elected president is being removed without following constitutionally mandated procedures. That probably counts as a coup. During the three months of the crisis, I don’t recall any opinion surveys that showed a majority in favor of removing Yanukovych. A large part of the population will view his removal with horror. In spite of their rhetoric, the Maidan protesters are not “the people”. The Ukrainian people are badly divided and the new government will have its work cut out for it establishing its legitimacy and persuading the population that it represents all of Ukraine and not just an anti-Yanukovych faction that has seized control of the capital.

EU/US sanctions

Will either the EU or the US impose more sanctions on members of Ukraine’s government before 10 May?

The forces opposed to each other in Ukraine are about evenly matched, and neither side can win. The Maidan protesters seem to be unwilling to give up their demand that Yanukovych step down, and Yanukovych is willing to talk about new elections, but seems unwilling to commit himself to them. There doesn’t seem to be much possibility of an agreement that would end the crisis.

Over the course of roughly three months, Yanukovych has displayed a pattern of alternating half-hearted attempts to negotiate with half-hearted attempts to suppress the protests with force. The negotiation attempts have failed, and the unsuccessful suppression attempts have gained the protesters new supporters, made them more intransigent, and prolonged the crisis.

The actual leaders of the protesters are more operational organizers than strategic planners. They’ve organized self-protection groups, food supplies, medical care, and the other things necessary for the protests to continue day to day. But their strategy is to continue the protests until Yanukovych steps down. The politicians who are capable of forming alliances with other parts of Ukrainian society and understanding what compromises have to be made to reach their goals are not in control. The Maidan acts and the leaders of the political opposition have to make the best of it, effectively undercutting any strategic behavior on their part.

Unless Yanukovych suddenly develops the ability to make painful commitments and carry them out, or the Maidan protesters suddenly acquire a leadership capable of strategic thinking and making compromises, the crisis is going to continue for a while. There will be new episodes of violence and the EU and/or the US will impose more sanctions.

While I was writing this, the New York Times reported that Yanukovych and the political opposition leaders have reached an agreement that includes a return to the 2004 constitution and early elections in December. A council representing the Maidan protesters voted 34-2 in favor of the agreement. Yanukovych may follow through with the agreement if he believes that he can rebuild his support by December and win an election. Reversion to the 2004 constitution reverses the changes made during Yanukovych’s presidency that gave him more power. Having acquired the extra power during the course of one presidency, he may believe that he can re-acquire the power during a second presidency.

On the other hand, the members of the Maidan council that voted for the agreement, along with the opposition leaders, are going to have to persuade the protesters to accept the agreement. That’s going to be difficult. Furthermore, Russia has refused to sign off on the agreement and appears to be opposed to it. Ukraine desperately needs a multi-billion dollar loan and Yanukovych is unwilling to meet the IMF’s terms, which leaves Russia as the only possible lender. That gives Putin a lot of leverage if he wants to undermine the agreement.

Until both sides have fully committed themselves to the agreement, I’m expecting the crisis to continue and forecasting more sanctions. But I’m happy to say that I’m making that forecast with less confidence.