Thursday, August 21, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Ukrainians Discuss How Best to Counter Russian Threat to Crimea

Paul Goble

Vienna, August 21 – Having watched Moscow’s moves in Georgia and listened to various Russians suggest that the Crimea, where Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is based, is or should be Moscow’s next target, Ukrainian politicians, diplomats, and foreign policy analysts are discussing the nature and dimensions of the Russian threat and what Kyiv should do to parry it.
In addition to Russian actions and threats, this issue has heated up in recent days because of calls by senior Ukrainian officials for Russia to begin preparing to move its fleet out of Sevastopol by or possibly even before 2017, statements that most Russian politicians have refused to take seriously and most military analysts say would be very difficult.
Today, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Volodomyr Ogryzko said that Moscow must begin thinking about moving both men and materiel from Sevastopol now because regardless of what some may think, Kyiv will honor its agreement with Moscow but “in any case after 2017, the Russian fleet will not be on our territory (
Ogryzko said that the Ukrainian government cannot understand why Russia has simply “refused” to discuss the situation or any plans to withdraw its forces and close the base. As a sovereign country, the minister said, Ukraine will meet its treaty obligations, but he underscored that Ukraine has “the right to make a choice” about any bases on its territory.
And if Ukraine makes the decision not to have such bases, the foreign minister continued, “no one, including Russia can influence our decision. … If in Moscow, they do not yet understand this, that governments live according to such rules throughout the world, then this is Russia’s problem” and not Ukraine’s.
But recent Russian behavior in Georgia and Moscow’s reactions to Kyiv’s positions on this and other issues has convinced many Ukrainians that Russia’s problem in this regard is becoming a problem for their country because of the danger that Moscow will try to destabilize its neighbor to ensure its continued control of Sevastopol or even seek to seize Crimea.
Those concerns have been exacerbated by three new developments: suggestions by some officials that Timoshenko should be charged with treason, a statement by a Crimean Tatar leader and Ukrainian parliamentarian that Moscow has many levers to use in Crimea, and an assessment by Ukrainian military analysts of what Moscow is already doing.
The first of these, charges that opposition leader Yuliya Timoshenko should be investigated for possible treason on behalf of Russia, has already been extensively discussed, with some analysts arguing that this scandal by itself represents an effort by Moscow to destabilize and discredit the Ukrainian government.
But the second and third deserve more attention. Today, Mustafa Dzhemilyev, who is both the leader of the Crimean Tatars and a deputy in the Ukrainian parliament, said that he is convinced that the large number of Crimeans who have dual citizenship with Russia by itself points to a possible South Ossetian scenario for that peninsula (
Moreover, he continued, unlike in South Ossetia, “there is no need [for Russia] to introduce forces [because] there is a sufficiently large and not badly armed contingent of the Russian Black Sea Fleet already there.” Consequently, Moscow could move even more quickly than in did in Georgia, he said.
“In order to preserve the territorial integrity of Ukraine,” the Crimean Tatar leader said, Kyiv should “close Russian consulates which are violating the law by handing out to citizens of Ukraine Russian passports.” Indeed, Ukrainian officials should force those “who have illegal dual citizenship to annul one of the passports.”
Moreover, Ukrainian officials must focus on the activities of pro-Russian organizations whose statements and activities are exacerbating interethnic tensions and creating the conditions for a Russian move. And Dzhemilyev said, Kyiv should insist that the Black Sea Fleet leave Sevastopol long before the 2017 date established by agreement.
The third event was the release, also today, of a report by the Kyiv Center for Research on the Army, Conversion and Disarmament, which argued that “Russia has created in the Crimea all the preconditions” for a military operation to keep control of Sevastopol, detach Crimea from Ukraine, and weaken the rest of the country as well (
“For the achievement of these goals, Russia doesn’t need a major military conflict with Ukraine,” the center’s analysts said. Instead, “it is sufficient to destabilize the situation in a single Crimean region” through the use of precisely targeted operations using “the forces of the Russian special services and particular units of the Black Sea Fleet.”
Moreover, they continued, Moscow will build on “to the maximum extent possible” the pro-Russian segments of the population and the pro-Russian social and political organizations that Moscow and its friends in Ukraine have been promoting ever since Ukraine gained its independence in 1991.
The center’s analysts suggested that the first stage of such a conflict might consist of “actions directed at the sharpening of relations between personnel of the Black Sea Fleet and representatives of Ukrainian authority in nearby areas,” possibly by means of “a provocation” taking the form of a supposed Ukrainian attack on the fleet.
After that happens, according to the center’s scenario, “the pro-Russian population will rise to the defense of the Russian personnel” and then there “will begin clashes with the law enforcement bodies of Ukraine.” That in turn will lead both countries to increase their military presence in Crimea, at which time Moscow will raise the issue of Ukraine’s right to Crimea.
Kyiv would then appeal to the West, the center said, but its analysts argued that Ukraine would not be any more successful in attracting anything more from Western countries than verbal support. And consequently, Russia could then “swallow” Crimea at its leisure, confident that Ukraine by itself would not be able to block its moves.
The center’s director added that he does not believe that Moscow is likely to follow such a scenario, but he added that “Russia has already created all the necessary conditions for its realization,” including official statements questioning Ukraine’s right to control Crimea, ramping up anti-Ukrainian feelings among Russians, and “also dominating Ukraine’s information space.”
Today also, Ukrainian media carried the assessments of five political analysts. Sergei Dzherdzh, the president of the Ukraine-NATO League, agreed that Russia could move in Crimea, but he suggested that “more sober” heads in Moscow were likely to act with restraint given Moscow’s experiences in Chechnya and Georgia (
Vadim Grechaninov, president of the Atlantic Council in Kyiv, said that Russia will launch “not a real war but an information one” and will seek to dominate Ukraine by creating “a fifth column,” a powerful pro-Russian lobby within the government, the leaders of the country’s political parties, and in the regions.
Political scientist Viktor Nebozheno said that Ukraine was entering a dangerous period because both Russian and Georgian “hawks” might seek to stage provocations in Sevastopol in order to achieve their goals elsewhere, a view echoed by the Ukrainian Diplomatic Academy’s Aleksandr Paliy, who said Russia has constantly been staging provocations in Ukraine.
But Vadim Karasev, a political scientist, said that Ukraine is in fact in a good position to counter any Russian moves of this kind. If it blocks the formation of “unrecognized formations” and “separatist groups” prepared to help Russia and if it adopts “a new regional policy” to ensure that Crimea develops, then Moscow will have a much harder time in pursuing its goals.
But “the main thing,” Karasev said, is for Ukraine “not to do anything stupid” that Moscow would then exploit.

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