Thursday, May 8, 2014
Putin beats hasty retreat from Ukraine leaving Russian mutants behind
The Guardian described his latest Ukraine maneuvers this way: “The Kremlin beat a tactical retreat over a regional referendum following days of soaring tension that have left dozens dead and fed fears of a civil war in Ukraine.”
It was difficult to imagine how risking tougher sanctions, which could sink the Russian economy, would be worth risking even for a gambler.
Putin, who reportedly was never advanced on active duty with the KGB because he was too willing to take risks, made a new bet Wednesday that in a horse race mounted to win, place or show.
Putin might even up the stakes, trying for a trifecta.
While in the Pentagon and at NATO headquarters in Brussels a key part of the Russian president’s new positions on Ukraine was immediately rejected, analysts were trying to figure out what Putin is up to. His promise to remove troops from the Ukraine was seen as another feint.
Why he would ask his Russian rebel friends to hold off on their proposed weekend referendum on separating from the Ukraine was harder to figure.
A poll taken for Associated Press might help explain it.
A new poll by the Pew Research Center found that 77 percent of people nationwide want Ukraine to maintain its current borders. The number was slightly lower, 70 percent, in the east, Associated Press reported. Among people who say Russian is their first language 58 percent want Ukraine to remain together with its present frontiers. Earlier polls, most confined to regions, have reported similarly.
Leaders of rebel groups in eastern oblasts, as the districts are called, appeared confused by Putin’s gesture to the West and said they would meet to discuss it.
The Russian-backed rebels later said millions of ballots had been printed for the referendum and it would go ahead Sunday, the BBC reported.
Putin's long-term goal with the rebels could be to gain them a seat at the next round of talks.
The biggest move Putin made was to hedge his bet on the May 25 national elections. He said they might be a positive step in sorting out the country’s problems.
That left him plenty of room to better define his position after the vote.
Mathieu Boulege, a French expert on the Ukraine, told France 24 that mistakes by Kiev meant Putin was holding a good hand.
He said the Ukrainian parliament, the Rada, should have gone ahead with a proposal for referendum on whether the country should stay united as is.
“We are going to watch the death of a country on live television. I realize I am pessimistic, but I think that between six months to two years from now, Ukraine, as we know it today, will no longer exist.”
However, Boulege does not think it is a win-win situation for Putin.
“Moscow does not want to take over eastern Ukraine. They need Ukraine to keep its territorial integrity and to serve as a buffer zone like Transnistria [a Moldovan territory that is under de facto Russian control] and the enclave of Kaliningrad [Russian territory wedged between Poland and Lithuania]. These are the kind of territorial extensions that provide stability to regional blocks – the good old logic of the Cold War.”