Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Gog, Magog And Rumors Of War: Conflict In Ukraine Reaching 'Military Stage'

Russian leader Vladimir Putin on Tuesday (18 March) signed a treaty making Ukraine’s Crimea region part of Russia, shortly before the Russia-Ukraine confrontation claimed its first casualty.

He justified the step in a long speech to MPs which described the Black Sea peninsula - signed over by the USSR to Ukraine in 1954 - as quintessentially Russian in cultural and historical terms.
He said Kiev is now run by “neo-Nazis, anti-Semites, and Russophobes.”
He also framed the crisis in geopolitical terms, accusing Western powers of trying to stop him from creating a Eurasian Union by orchestrating “controlled” revolutions.

With Russia’s ratification of the Crimea bill to be completed by the end of next week, the annexation looks like a fait accompli.
“We understand what is happening, that these actions were directed against Russia and against integration in Eurasia … But everything has its limits. And in the case of Ukraine, our Western partners crossed the line, they were rude, irresponsible,” Putin said.

With Russia’s ratification of the Crimea bill to be completed by the end of next week, the annexation looks like a fait accompli.

But there are fears Putin will go further.
He also told MPs that ethnic Russians in the Ukrainian cities of Donetsk, Kharkiv, and Kiev are “still” appealing for his help and he described Kiev as the “mother of all Russian cities … ancient Russia, our common source.”
He has amassed military forces on Ukraine's north and eastern borders.

If he is going to absorb Crimea, he will also need to take control of the electricity and water infrastructure which feeds it and which is located on the Ukrainian mainland.
Shortly after Putin stopped talking, the Ukrainian PM, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, accused Russian forces of shooting dead a Ukrainian officer at a base in the Crimean capital of Simferopol.
He called for a meeting with UK and US defence chiefs and said the crisis has entered a “military stage.”

For his part, Ukraine’s former president, Viktor Yushchenko, told EUobserver in an interview in Brussels the same day: “He [Putin] is a maniac who is obsessed with the idea of recreating the Soviet Union and, sadly, he is not the only one like this in the Russian political establishment.”
The former commander-in-chief praised the Ukrainian army's restraint, but he noted that if it comes to war, then Russia has “underestimated” its opponent.
“Our army is technologically advanced, very professional, and highly educated. We have the same types of weapons the Russians have … and a very strong spirit," he said.
EU countries and the US also reacted to Tuesday’s developments with strong words.

Why is a world leader prepared to risk international opprobrium and, possibly, crippling economic sanctions for an obscure piece of land?

If Putin is to be believed, his campaign in Crimea, and potentially other parts of Ukraine, is to protect ethnic Russians from far-right elements in the new government in Kiev.
It sounds laudable, until you look at how he treats Russian people at home.
Russia has serious social problems - drug and alcohol abuse, HIV rates - but the state does almost nothing to help. Ethnic minorities are treated with disdain. Gay Russians are being forced underground. People close to Putin enjoy vast wealth, but 20 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.
So what is Putin’s real interest in Crimea - a sort of island, part desert, part mountains, half the size of Belgium, known to some Europeans for its WWII history and sweet wines?
What is his potential interest in agricultural south Ukraine? Or east Ukraine, home to former Soviet mining, coal, and steel industries, which need massive investment?
Putin has also spoken of Crimea’s historic links to Russia and Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.
But propaganda aside, perhaps the answer is more simple: oil and gas.
By annexing Ukrainian land on the Black Sea coast, Putin also annexes the rights to any hydrocarbons found in its maritime zones.
There are signs the Black Sea contains a lot of wealth.
Energy firms such as ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, Repsol, and Petrochina have begun to show real interest in working with Kiev to explore the area. Energy companies have already found interesting deposits in Russia’s Black Sea zone, near Novorossiysk, and in Romanian zones. Trans Euro Energy has even found commercially viable gas reserves under the Crimean mainland.

At the same time, reserves of cheaply-accessible gas in Siberia are running low.
But even if Putin never extracts a drop of gas from his new territories, the land grab will ensure that Gazprom, his energy champion, will be in charge of how, when, and by whom this might be done.
It will mean that no matter who rules Ukraine, it can never challenge Putin’s monopoly on energy exports from the region.
Oil and gas also shed light on Putin’s interest in the Crimean port of Sevastopol.
It is a good spot from which the Black Sea Fleet can set sail for the Mediterranean. But it is also a deep water port capable of servicing the kind of massive undersea drilling operation that is needed to explore Ukraine’s offshore fields.
On top of this, Crimea hosts three huge solar power plants.

The shopping list in east and south Ukraine is even longer. These regions are said to contain 45 trillion cubic metres of gas out of Ukraine’s estimated reserves of 49 trillion.
They also contain: export terminals in port of Odessa; military ship building yards in Nikolayev; an oil refinery; chemical plants; grain export silos; hydro-electric plants; two of the largest nuclear power stations in Europe; lots of magnesium, coal, and iron ore.
We can add that Putin would save $20 billion by building his South Stream gas pipeline overland through Crimea instead of under the Black Sea to Bulgaria.

According to some Kremlin insiders, the Crimea operation has been six years in the planning.

When the dust settles, even if people on both sides get killed and some of Putin’s friends end up on EU and US blacklists, he will have achieved his aims.
Then he can spend a few billion dollars more on a new charm offensive to reset relations with the West.

Ukraine warned on Tuesday its conflict with Russia had entered a "military stage" and authorised its troops to shoot in self-defence after both sides suffered their first casualites since pro-Kremlin forces seized Crimea nearly three weeks ago.
The dramatic escalation to the raging security crisis on the EU's eastern frontier came hours after President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty claiming Crimea as Russian territory after the Black Sea region overwhelmingly voted in favour of switching from Ukrainian to Kremlin rule.

"The conflict is shifting from a political to a military stage," Yatsenyuk said in remarks broadcast live across the culturally splintered nation of 46 million people.

"Russian soldiers have started shooting at Ukrainian military servicemen, and that is a war crime," Yatsenyuk said.
Ukraine's interim president Oleksandr Turchnynov later issued a statement placing responsiblity for "the blood of Ukrainian soldiers (on) the leadership of the Russian Federation and specifically President Putin."

But the Ukrainian defence ministry said in a statement the military base was attacked by people "dressed in the military uniforms of servicemen of the armed forces of the Russian Federation."
"For their self defence and protection of their lives, Ukrainian servicemen... deployed in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea are allowed to use arms," the defence ministry said.
Ukraine had previously forbidden its Crimean soldiers from opening fire -- in some cases forcing them to stand guard at their bases with empty rifles -- in order not to proke a Russian offensive that could spill into an all-out war.
The defence ministry statement identified the first Ukrainian victim as warrant officer S. V. Kakurin.

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