Monday, 2 June 2014

The developing situation in Ukraine

A number of months on and after any number of possible pretexts, the predicted Russian intervention in eastern and southern Ukraine has not yet materialised. 

The most notorious blood-letting took place in Odessa, where thugs from Pravy Sektor and nationalist football hooligan gangs torched the House of Trade Unions along with many of the people inside, accompanied by allegations that police colluded in the incident. Russia also expressed its opposition in strong terms as Ukrainian forces killed up to 50 members of pro-Russian forces who were occupying the airport in Donetsk.  Its military, however, still did not get involved.
 
While the Kremlin has waged a propaganda war against the new regime in Kiev, which has been returned in kind, there is clear reluctance to become embroiled in any sort of conflict in eastern Ukraine.  There are even grounds to argue that, since its actions in the Crimean peninsula, Moscow has acted with surprising restraint.

Of course, the government in Kiev continues to allege that Russia is taking an active role in organising the uprising in parts of the east and south.  However there has been little verifiable evidence to sustain that allegation.
 
Meanwhile Vladimir Putin has indicated that he is prepared to deal with Petro Poroshenko, the Roshen chocolate tycoon who won a presidential election the legitimacy of which Moscow contests.  A map of Ukraine which shows turn-out figures, universally low in the east and south, illustrates graphically why there are such concerns.

The new President has not made rapprochement with Russia easy.  The bombardment of Donetsk airport happened before he was even inaugurated.  He has also cosied up to former Georgian Prime Minister, Mikheil Saakahsvili, whom Moscow regards as responsible for the war in 2008, and looked to create a joint military brigade with Poland and Lithuania, an act which will be interpreted as a statement of intent to join Nato.

The situation in eastern Ukraine, observed from distance, now bears many of the characteristics of civil war.  Atrocities have occurred on both sides and that can only cause attitudes to become more polarised.
 
There is a heavy responsibility on the EU, the US and Russia to use diplomacy and work toward an agreed solution.  If they continue to play out their geo-political rivalries in Ukraine, blood will continue to be shed.

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