Ukraine Conflict Putin Strengthens His True Enemies

Although Russia has espoused moral justifications for its invasion of Crimea, President Vladimir Putin's move is all about geopolitics. His short-sighted logic, however, could bring Ukrainian nationalists to power -- and create a whole new set of problems.

The Russian invasion of Crimea has the potential to set off an explosive set of events within Ukraine.

The Russian invasion of Crimea has the potential to set off an explosive set of events within Ukraine.

A Commentary by  in Moscow

Whenever Russia pursues its own interest against the will of the international community, a dictum by Czar Alexander III springs to mind. Russia, he said, has only two allies: its army and its navy. If you can believe the Kremlin's propagandists, however, a new, unexpected ally has come to Moscow's defense: the Western press. According to the website "Sputnik and Pogrom," the Western media have "begun to support the Russian Federation's course of action in the Crimean crisis."

The statement has little basis in reality, but it has nevertheless been shared thousands of times on Russian social media networks. European reporters, it is said, have finally figured out that hardboiled neo-fascists and not freedom fighters were behind the takeover of Independence Square.

This has been the Russian propaganda line for months -- that the West is ignoring the hordes of neo-Nazis bullying valiant Ukrainian policemen. The role of the violent nationalists, however, has been widely covered in the international press, and it was police brutality -- and Yanukovych's attempts, supported by Moscow, to outlast the protests -- that actually radicalized Independence Square. When students were beaten down on the night of November 30, they had neither helmets, nor batons, nor firearms.

Russia's Ridiculous Justification

Russia's justifications for its Crimean military intervention are outrageous. Russia's UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, told the UN that masked irregular troops from Kiev had raided Crimea's ministry of the interior. Valentina Matviyenko -- the current Chairman of the Federal Council of the Russian Federation who quickly gave President Vladimir Putin a blank check for his march into Ukraine -- has mentioned that there were multiple dead during a raid.

But this attack never seems to have happened. Thus far, neither photographic evidence of the attack nor an official body count has been produced. On the contrary: The Crimean militia -- which is still overseen by the allegedly attacked ministry -- didn't want to confirm the attempted attack. Even the head of the Crimean parliament, Vladimir Konstantinov, has said that he doesn't have data about any victims.

There are indications Moscow is exaggerating the far-right's influence on Independence Square in order to give Russia an easy justification for the invasion and so it can sell it to the Russian public as a rescue mission. On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov seemed to acknowledge as much on Monday with his claim that the occupation of Crimea was about protecting Russians and human rights.

But the invasion is very clearly the product of geopolitical calculations: Moscow is regaining control of the Crimea and with it, its strategically important Black Sea port, Sevastopol.

New Government on the Ropes

To be sure, members of the Right Sector -- the Ukrainian right-wing militant group -- have in fact anointed themselves the new keepers of order and are intimidating officials, police officers and state attorneys. In such circumstances, the transitional government in Kiev needs as much help as it can get to prevent Ukraine from descending into anarchy.

But the Kremlin has scoffed at the new cabinet. Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev said it would be difficult to work with "people who stroll through Kiev in black masks with Klaschnikov assault rifles." That's ludicrous. The cabinet is headed by transitional President Alexander Turchinov and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, both veteran politicians. They are about as radical as the head of a German bank.

Thanks to Russia, the transitional government in Kiev already has its back against the wall. Former President Viktor Yanukovych and his confidants plundered the state, leaving behind a country on the verge of bankruptcy. Now Turchinov and Yatsenyuk have to forestall economic collapse while, at the same time, preparing for war.

The Kremlin has maneuvered them into a lose-lose situation. Ukraine needs reforms -- but their painful consequences will be blamed the transitional government. If Yatsenyuk and Turchinov send the Ukrainian army up against the vastly superior Russian military, a bloodbath looms. But if they submit to the Russians, the radical nationalists will accuse them of betraying the country.

All signs point to Russia annexing Crimea and possibly eastern parts of Ukraine, which will have dire consequences. n the long run, it will weaken moderate powers in Ukraine and could pave the way for the nationalists to take power. And if they do, revenge will be on their minds.

Discuss this issue with other readers!
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bole 03/03/2014
1. españa oficial en la Florida
USA is near bankruptcy and they are desperately looking for larger conflict in europe to soar their economy on european cost. Klicko is USA product although trained in Germany. Merkel does not see, or is a part of project. She is doing simultaneously to worlds conglomerates
t13ru999 03/03/2014
2. crysis
One can clearly see why Ukrainians rise againstYanukovych ... rampant corruption, Ukraine on the brink of financial collapse while its oligarchs living in mansions hoarding wealth. (yea it sounds familiar our oligarchs also live in mansions while there are poor people begging for food on the street) But lets get back to the Ukraine have anyone seriously thought about asking the Ukrainians what they wanto to do with their country? Instead of pushing our scenarios... Lets consider referendum in all Ukraine regions and ask them. I think that even Russia can agree to this. One of the biggest Yanukovych mistakes was that he thought he can decide for the rest of the nation lets just not reapeat that mistake. If Crimea would freely vote to join Russia so be it.
bole 03/03/2014
3. bole
Larger conflict is nor good for Ukraina and Russia, not for the rest of europe, because it should soar the energy prices and trade between west europe and Russia should be minimized. Germany sell about 300 mlrd eura of goods to Russia, that is about 15% of German export. Think about it! the war at european land is just good for USA
bole 03/03/2014
4. Russia ridikulous justification?
Well, how you could fill about street politics and change of legal government under force in your own backyard? What was agree sign out by Merkel, oposition and Janukovitcs? Agree is to honour not to fraud. Russia is 100% right. Federation of Ukraine is under way, there is no back. West wants that, not Russia.
ronald_thomas_west 03/03/2014
'Little basis in reality' is a quote from this Spiegel article that could be self descriptive. Insofar as the additional: "indications Moscow is exaggerating the far-right's influence" ... well, here are a few overlooked facts: “In [the 2011] commemoration of the 1918 Battle of Kruty, Svoboda, accompanied by a substantial number of so-called autonomous nationalists, organized a huge torchlight parade, rife with Nazi symbolism. “On April 28, 2011, Svoboda celebrated the 68th anniversary of the establishment of the Waffen-SS Galizien. Octogenarian Waffen-SS veterans were treated as heroes in a mass rally, organized by Svoboda and the “autonomous nationalists”" -quoting ‘The Return of the Ukrainian Far Right’ by Swedish academic Per Anders Rudling (2013) Neo-NAZI Svoboda party members in the new Ukraine administration: Oleksandr Sych – Vice Prime Minister Andriy Mokhnyk- Minister of Ecology Ihor Shvayka – Minister of Agriculture Ihor Tenyukh – Minister of Defence Oleh Maknitsky – Prosecutor General And a bit of looking on the internet (not even a serious research) comes up with Svoboda described as neo-nazi by none other than the World Jewish Congress. Come on Spiegel, you can do better than make oblique apologies for Merkel's support for the neo-fascist regime in Kiev
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