PUTIN’S MISPLACED BET ON UKRAINE’S YANUKOVICH

The American Enterprise Institute on February 24, 2014, published an article on Ukraine by Leon Aron. History is likely to look back at the unfolding Ukrainian revolution as far more than a change of regime. Ukraine’s now certain exit from Russia’s “sphere of influence” presages nothing short of a Eurasian geopolitical realignment. Without Ukraine, Russia’s hegemony in the post-Soviet space, which is a key piece of the Putin Doctrine, is truncated beyond recognition. Absent Ukraine, Putin’s brainchild of the Eurasian Union as the framework and symbol of this hegemony loses much of its meaning. (And who knows, post-Maidan, if even Lukashenko of Belarus and Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan will risk joining.) Excerpts below:

Yet, it is way too early for the cymbals. What the Soviet Russian glasnost authors used to call “the road to the European home” is going to be long and winding and almost always uphill. Let us hope that in the next weeks and months, the key factors in the unfolding Ukrainian political drama – Ukraine’s domestic politics; Russia’s policy; and US-EU decision-making – do not become a geopolitical Bermuda triangle.

It is a relief to learn that former Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko, freed from jail, seems to have understood that her train has left the station. Perhaps instead, she may act as a senior statesperson, mediating between the opposition leaders, rather than running for president. The tension between the north-west (pro-European, Ukrainian speaking) and south-east (generally pro-Russian, Russian speaking) halves of Ukraine is another potential flashpoint. Yet, barring incitement from external forces, this danger seems exaggerated: the East has gone along with Ukrainian independence in the past, both in December 1991 and during the Orange Revolution in 2004, and is just as likely to follow Kiev’s lead now.

While the Ukrainian people have gotten rid of the thieving autocracy entirely on their own without an ounce of assistance from the US and EU, the latter two (as well as the IMF and World Bank) are likely to finally become proactive and search for ways to assist a new, pro-European Ukraine. A big loan conditioned on extensive domestic reform seems likely and would be a good start.

As for Russia…Putin’s bet on the now former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich (which precipitated today’s Ukrainian revolution) has proven to be a huge strategic error. Without a doubt, it has turned into Putin’s greatest political blunder of his effectively 14 years in power.

As a result, the paramount task of Russian domestic and foreign policy for months will be to mitigate, contain and, if possible, derail the Ukrainian revolution. The upswing in domestic retrenchment, repression, and anti-Western propaganda, widely expected once the Olympic spotlight is gone and now doubly probable, will be combined with efforts to mobilize Russian Ukrainians. The overwhelmingly ethnic Russian Crimea would be a good place to incite a secessionist campaign, possibly followed by the Russian-speaking industrial Donetsk.

Suddenly, the Kremlin, which beats and jails peaceful protesters, censors television, and turns every election into a farce, is touchingly anxious about the legitimacy of the Supreme Rada and the alleged human rights violations of “ethnic minorities” in Ukraine (aka Russians).

In the end, the geopolitical map of Eurasia, so drastically altered in the past few days, is not likely to revert back to the pre-February 21 configuration.

It was the Ukrainian people’s thirst for dignity in democratic citizenship, transparency, government accountability and true civil society.

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