Caution: Danger In Crimea, Not Kiev, Ahead

According to some Russian experts, the next flashpoint will be in Russian Crimea, an autonomous region in Ukraine that is suspected to be where former President Viktor Yanukovych fled.

“Over the weekend, a crowd tore down a Ukrainian national flag in the eastern Crimean town of Kerch, replacing it with the Russian tricolor. And only last week, the speaker of the Crimean parliament, Volodymyr Konstantynov, warned he did not rule out separating from Kiev if the situation in the country deteriorated further,” writes Yaroslav Lukov of BBC News.

On Monday, Russia questioned the legitimacy, of the new government by alleging it gained power through an “armed mutiny” and that their real goal was to put down Russian-speaking regions through “terrorist actions.”

Andrei Malgin of the Moscow Times sees the signals being sent by Russia as a means to justify supporting the separatist movement in Crimea “just as he did with South Ossetia” in 2008 and he “does not even need to send troops to Crimea; they are already there, in accordance with a bilateral agreement with Ukraine.”

He adds that former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko but  impeached President Viktor Yanukovych extended it.

“His goal in supporting separatists is not to annex additional territory to this already vast and difficult-to-manage country, but to ensure that any republic breaking away from the Soviet empire becomes burdened with internal unrest and conflict. This would explain Moscow’s actions in the self-proclaimed Transdnestr republic, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and it is why Putin might seek to foster instability in Crimea.

“There is little doubt that Putin will aggressively play the Crimean card now and that Moscow will encourage and provide ample funding to all Ukrainian separatist movements,” argues Malgin.

The European Union, which has been criticized for acting too slowly, pledged support for Ukraine. In particular, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said during a press conference that  Western financial institutions were identifying means to assist Ukraine’s economy.

Ukraine, however, is facing challenges beyond repairing its damaged economy, says The New Yorker’s Masha Lipman. Except for a shared loathing for their ousted leader, the road forward is paved with uncertainty, including the role to be played in the next election by Yulia Tymoshenko, Ukraine’s former Prime Minister who has just been released from jail.

“The fear of a direct Russian intervention is often heard these days; the concern may not be justified, but Russia does have economic and political leverage over Ukraine. A discount on the price of gas that Putin granted to Yanukovych can be easily revised, and Russia’s backing of Ukraine’s southeastern regions can increase Putin’s bargaining power vis-à-vis the government in Kiev.

“Many Ukrainians should be celebrating their hard-won victory over a corrupt, degraded, brutal government. They are duly proud of their resilience and self-sacrifice.  But moving toward normalcy, democracy, and prosperity will require the art of statesmanship, and it’s far from clear whether Ukraine can muster the skills this would require,” Lipman concedes.


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