CNN is reporting that Ukraine has called up its reserves. “The Ukrainian National Security Council ordered the mobilization as Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to dismiss warnings from world leaders to avoid military intervention in Crimea, a senior Ukrainian official, Andriy Parubiy, said. The news came as evidence mounted that pro-Russian forces were already in Crimea, an autonomous region of eastern Ukraine with strong loyalty to neighboring Russia.”
Senior Ukrainian leadership continues to express hope the crisis can be resolved diplomatically. Nevertheless the pucker factor is increasing. For Obama as for Putin, Murphy rides again.
The potential for disaster was underscored by a Reuters story which reported Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk as saying Russian military action “would be the beginning of war and the end of any relations between Ukraine and Russia.” That may be bluff. But feeding it is uncertainty about how far Russia may go. Mary Mycio at Slate argues that geographic necessity may simply compel Putin to grab more than the Crimea.
To see why, just open a map. That narrow strip of land tethering northern Crimea to the Ukrainian mainland, called the Perokop Isthmus, is the peninsula’s lifeline. What’s left out of most Western analyses of Putin’s brazen military intervention is the Crimea’s complete economic dependence on the mainland, which provides nearly all of its electricity and water and about 70 percent of its food….
Most of the Crimea is basically a desert, with less annual rainfall than Los Angeles. It is impossible to sustain its 2 million people—including agriculture and the substantial tourist industry—without Ukrainian water. Current supplies aren’t even enough. In Sevastopol, home of the Black Sea Fleet, households get water only on certain days. In fact, on Feb. 19, when snipers were shooting protesters on the streets of Kiev, Sevastopol applied for $34 million in Western aid (note the irony) to improve its water and sewer systems.
The Crimea’s dependence on Ukraine for nearly all of it electricity makes it equally vulnerable to nonviolent retaliation. One suggestion making the rounds of the Ukrainian Internet is that the mainland, with warning, shut off the power for 15 minutes. It may not normalize the situation, but it could give Moscow pause. Of course, Russia could retaliate by cutting off Ukrainian gas supplies, but that would mean cutting off much of Europe as well. Besides, Ukrainians proved this winter that they aren’t afraid of the cold, and spring is coming.
Which is to say Putin will need a resource and buffer zone if he wants to slice up his neighbor. This, plus the changing demography of Crimea, occasioned by the return of the Tatars, who are connected with international Islam, guarantees that Putin will be making a downpayment on a subscription to trouble. “Not only are they [the Tatars] extremely well organized, they are Muslims with friends. Representatives from Russia’s Tatarstan region are already supporting them. Turkey, which controlled the Crimea for much longer than Russia ever did and has close ties with the Crimean Tatars, is watching. So are Chechen rebels. The Crimea could explode into bloodshed.”
Do tell. But what could be worse than Jihadis in Central Europe? How about Nazis with nukes?
The New Yorker sighs with relief that there are no loose nukes floating around. But Ukranian Svoboda party MP Mikhail Golovko says that defect will soon be amended. “We’ll regain our status as a nuclear power and that’ll change the conversation. Ukraine has all the technological means needed to create a nuclear arsenal – which would take us about three to six months.”
If that wasn’t enough, there’s the China angle too. The Diplomat quotes a Washington Times report that former “Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych escaped protests in his country last week with a state visit to Beijing, where he received China’s pledge to protect Ukraine under its nuclear umbrella.”
“China pledges unconditionally not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against the nuclear-free Ukraine and China further pledges to provide Ukraine nuclear security guarantee when Ukraine encounters an invasion involving nuclear weapons or Ukraine is under threat of a nuclear invasion,” said a joint statement on the pact.
China’s official media, including Xinhua and Global Times, touted the deal with the headline “China Pledges Nuclear Umbrella to Protect Ukraine.”
Ukraine and China also agreed they would not allow “the establishment of any separatist, terrorist and extremist organizations or groups, and any of their acts, to harm each country’s sovereign rights, security and territorial integrity.”
The video announcing the strategic partnership is here. And there’s more. “Ukraine’s parliament called for international monitors to help protect its nuclear power plants on Sunday as tension mounted with Russia. Hryhoriy Nemyria, a member of parliament, said the assembly appealed to the signatories of a 1994 nuclear treaty that guaranteed Ukraine’s safety — including the United States, the United Kingdom and Russia.” Readers will probably recall that one of those nuclear facilities was called Chernobyl.
What the Budapest agreement signifies — what the Chinese angle implies — are all uncertain at this point. But it’s safe to say the potential for disaster if the Ukrainian crisis is mishandled is pretty high. The heat from the approaching fire is finally being felt through the high walls surrounding both Brussels and Washington. The elites are beginning to pay attention. For some it will be their first contact with reality. May it not be their last.
Everybody in the last thread was recalling the Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimea, but Tennyson’s cadences seem altogether inappropriate to the madness of the moment. Perhaps its better to recall another piece of verse connected with the region which occurred some 20 years later, during the Russo-Turkish War. The verse written for that occasion was called “Abdul Abulbul Amir” and it seems to fit the antics of Murphy so much better. The rendition below is by Frank Crummit.
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