GeoPolitical Forecasts

Forecasts of international political events

Tag Archives: Russia

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