Sunday, March 1, 2015

Russia’s Slavic Anschluss

Russia’s support to eastern Ukrainian rebels with materiel, logistics and even “little green men” to invade and occupy territory represent an incremental invasion. For Russia this process is an ethnic linking with their “brothers” because of the population’s close ethnic, historical and linguistic commonalities. Rather importantly it’s also a psychological moral justification for invasion which made the series of ceasefires more complicated and difficult than if it was solely an economic issue. Consequently one could consider Putin’s aggressiveness in eastern Ukraine as a Slavic Anschluss.

Like Germany after WW II, there seems to be an increasing possibility that there will be two Ukraines. Divvying up Ukraine in western and eastern sections may be the politically face-saving deal between the West and Russia.  This negotiated collaboration would save Ukraine from itself and spare the additional human loss of life and expense of war.

Eastern Ukraine could be established as an autonomous or quasi-autonomous region, a cold peace arrangement that would result in stability. Putin would get his large territorial buffer and image as a savior of the Russian-speaking population.

Economically Ukraine is a sink hole exacerbated by the astonishing corruption by its government and private industry. According to Transparency International, Ukraine is currently ranked at 142 of 175 countries, below Nigeria ranked at 136, a country well-known for its irregular business practices.

Certainly back door channel negotiations are in progress to create a face-saving deal for everyone. Russia wants to avoid a full invasion because it must then admit to using its army since the pro-Russian militants don’t have the manpower or equipment to accomplish such a task. Additionally, a full invasion would result in occupation, a hazardous and exponentially more expensive undertaking.

On the other hand, the West has no military options in retaking eastern Ukraine. Even if they considered a military option, it would only risk riling Russia’s wrath who would double-down and defend their “brothers in arms.”

In sum, the deal for peace and stability may encourage the EU not to renew sanctions whose term expires in July.

On a final note, there’s also the issue of time sensitivity for Russia.  Although the US presidential elections are in 2016, the potential serious candidates for nomination will be short-listed and will certainly become vocally aggressive and rather non-diplomatic about Russia’s involvement in Ukraine. That’s although Putin still has a reasonable window to negotiate an enduring deal, any delay will add risk.

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