Archive for March 2014
Suppose Russian leadership is not simply committing a spectacular suicide, which I am beginning to suspect is the case, as more and more reports are coming in about a massive Russian force ready to pour into Ukraine and re-install Yanukovych as president.
If the Kremlin is following any strategy at all – consciously or unconsciously – its main idea is to keep raising stakes by threatening and destabilizing Ukraine until both Kiev government and the West are presented with the harsh choice of either formally ceding Crimea or Ukraine turning into Bosnia-1992. Its inability to foment sufficient unrest in Donbass region shows that this strategy is not necessarily workable. The critical moment, however, will come when – forced by the IMF – Yatsenyuk’s government starts introducing austerity measures, e.g. when it raises prices for utilities.
But Putin might be underestimating his unique ability to unite Ukrainians from all regions and all walks of life against a common enemy – himself.
Whether he will succeed in undermining the current government or not, I think Crimea will eventually leave Russia. Not because the referendum has been flawed – an honest poll would have probably yielded the same result, though with less totalitarian figures. Crimeans will call it a day when they realize that instead of joining the relatively prosperous and stable Russia of the late noughties, they are becoming citizens of a country that is a basket case and beginning to fall apart.
Operating in an economy dominated by poorly taxed small businesses, they don’t realize how very un-Russian they have become in the last 20 years. Money pumped in by the Kremlin will do more harm than good, since it will be most likely invested in giant projects with contractors bringing in immigrants from Central Asia rather than hiring locally. The influx of foreign labourers will cause the same kind of discontent as it does in Russia proper. Only the shock at the suddenness of the change will be greater. The arrival of Russian organized crime, particularly of North Caucasian origin, will only aggravate the situation.
By grabbing the peninsula, Russia has essentially acquired a time bomb. Not only Crimea will eventually leave, but it may as well undo Russia altogether by heralding a parade of sovereignties Putin has been dreading since he came to power.
I wish I could witness this conversation: Putin vs Mustafa Cemilev. The mastermind of KGB revival vs celebrated dissident who spent 15 years in Soviet prisons.
Crimean Tatars are in a dire situation and Ukraine is not able to help them. But Putin is also risking – an ethnic conflict in the region that may soon become Russia is something he can’t afford.
I think the bargain will revolve around the lands grabbed by Crimean Tatars after their return from Stalin’s deportation. PM Aksyonov represents those forces in Crimea that want to claim these lands back and clamp down on Tatar-controlled businesses.
Putin may offer two options.
1. Crimean Tatars guarantee that they don’t start an armed insurrection. In that case, Putin can safely incorporate Crimea into Russia, giving the Tatars full protection from local Slavic mafias and most importantly ensuring the preservation of status quo as per the land grabs. He may also suggest that Tatars (Volga+Crimean) will enjoy some special status as the second largest ethnic group in Russia.
2. Crimean Tatars reserve their right to armed struggle. In that case, it will be wise for Putin to keep Crimea as a quasi-independent state until the fight is over. That will allow him to put down the insurrection using his Crimean proxies, who will not have any qualms about Geneva convention. Of course, in this case the Tatars will lose most lands and many will become refugees.
Of course Turkey (and to some extent Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan) may also have a way of influencing Russia, but its options are limited.