Streetwise Professor

February 26, 2014

Autocracy, Orthodoxy, and Nationality: Putin Channels Nicholas I

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 10:39 am

The situation in Ukraine continues to be fraught.  The Rada is quite predictably having difficulties forming a government, even though every moment without one delays the country’s ability to deal with a looming economic crisis.  Many in the Euromaidan movement are deeply suspicious that what will emerge from the legislative haggling will be a case of Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss.  Pro-Ukrainian Tatars scuffled and then routed a group of pro-Russian demonstrators in front of the Crimean parliament.

In other words, the typical chaos of a revolution.

Though Putin remains silent, other Russian rhetoric is vituperative and hysterical.  Most notably, the Foreign Ministry-you know, the entity that is supposed to be where suave diplomats craft high sounding language-more resembles  an agitprop outlet.  You really have to read the whole thing to get the full effect.

One thing jumped out at me:

We are deeply concerned about the actions in the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada in terms of their legitimacy. Actually referring to the “revolutionary appropriateness” only, they are stamping “decisions” and “laws”, including those aimed at deprivation of humanitarian rights of Russians and other national minorities living in Ukraine.

There are calls to prohibition the Russian language almost fully, lustration, liquidation of parties and organisations, closing of undesirable mass media, removal of restrictions for propaganda of Nao-Nazi ideology.

The course is to suppress those, who do not agree to this, in different Ukrainian regions by dictatorship and even terrorist methods.

There are threats to Orthodox sanctities.

Note the assertion that Russians are a national minority group in Ukraine.  This lays the predicate for future Russian government intervention in the country, in a  sort of Sudetenland strategy.  Also note the invocation of “Orthodox sanctities.”

This is right out of the 1830s, the age of Nicholas I, who stood for Autocracy, Orthodoxy, and Nationality.  There it is, all in one MFA statement.

Nicholas I backed his words with bayonets and sabers, notably in Poland and Bessarabia.  Today Russia rattled sabers, putting troops amounting to about one-third of the Russian Army on alert in the western part of the country.  Notably, the troops included “airborne troops and long-range military transport aircraft,” the very units that would be used to intervene in Ukraine.

I don’t believe anything is imminent.  But nor do I believe Defense Minister Shoigu’s risible statement that the alert has nothing to do with Ukraine.  Using alerts and maneuvers is a time-tested way of sending signals about capabilities and intent.  That’s what is happening here.  It is a way of showing that there are forces to back up the Foreign Ministry’s words.

Given the chaos in Ukraine, Putin has many measures short of war that he can use to influence the situation.  Economic pressure: yesterday Russia invoked health fears relating to African swine flu to threaten an embargo on Ukrainian agricultural imports.  The Russians cast doubt on the ability of the Ukrainian government to maintain safety standards in light of the ongoing chaos.  Gas.  Bribery.  Fomenting civil strife in Crimea and other areas with large populations of Russian speakers.  Fomenting conflict within the Rada (never a difficult task: given the prevalence of fisticuffs there Klitschko should feel right at home).

I anticipate that Russia will engage in a full-spectrum campaign using all of these measures to achieve the long term project of bringing Ukraine to heel.  Military action is not imminent, but the creation of the predicate for intervention and the demonstration of the ability to undertake it is clearly intended to intimidate Ukraine, and to keep it from getting too close to the west and to deter it from acting too aggressively in response to other Russian provocations.

Remember that Russia did not roll into South Ossetia or Abkhazi precipitously.  That only followed a long campaign of active measures within these regions, blood curdling rhetoric directed at the Georgian government, political operations within Georgia, and a steady campaign of military measures short of war (e.g., shooting down Georgian drones, building military roads and railroads to the border of the disputed territories).

Anticipate similar pressures here.  Ukraine is in for a long battle against an implacable foe, one who is no doubt all the more determined to avenge the humiliation suffered at the very time he expected to bask in the glory of a successful Olympics.

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  1. More good news. Ukraine has just formed a new government with combination of old opposition (Yatzeniuk as PM) and Maidan activists. I’m assuming Yatseniuks’s role as PM means he will not run for President, leaving that to Klitcshko. While Yatseniuk was booed when it was announced, I’m not sure a better PM could be found. Overall it seems acceptable to the crowd. I suspect once the government is in working order and the Maidan protesters feel comfortable that root canal reform will be done, that they’ll gradually disperse, probably after the next parliamentary elections which I expect will be announced some time after the new Presidential is elected. Ukraine is still in a revolutionary situation and not very happy with current parliamentarians, but I think a Jacobin phase will be avoided. Don’t see Tyanbhok’s name anywhere – wonder where his ambitions lie, presidential candidate, or if he intends to wait for a move after the revolutionary phase is over – say in an early parliamentary election.

    US and EU seem to clearly support Ukraine promising loans in the short term until IMF ponies up more money after financial reforms are announced.

    Russia seems to have backed off on some of its provocations after the ruble collapsed on news of its military exercises. I’m sure Putin will continue to plot revenge as SWP indicated, but cautious optimism is that the danger in the short term is limited, which is the most vital right now.

    Media claims Yanukovych is now in Russia.

    Comment by Chris — February 26, 2014 @ 5:50 pm

  2. Tiahnybok has zero chance of being elected president. The last poll gave him only 3.8% in the first round.

    He has some of his people in the new cabinet – vice prime minister, chief prosecutor, and minister of culture I believe.

    I suspect he is nowhere to be seen because he wants to avoid possibly getting tainted by the austerity measures – Yatseniuk called this the “government of hell” and a political graveyard. Maybe he thinks that if he is not associated with the next few motnhs he may do better in May, or may lead his party to more success in the next parliamentary elections which will probably not be held in 2017 as currently scheduled but earlier.

    Comment by AP — February 26, 2014 @ 6:11 pm

  3. Chris has once again given an excellent update, and AP knows whereof he speaks – the Party of Regions has left everything in shambles, and now the “government of hell” can also be called “political kamikazes” in trying to straighten out the insane asylum.

    For what it’s worth, the new government was presented to Maidan, and here is the reaction on video, name by name:

    Overall, in general, the reaction was favorable.

    Note that this government is responsive to the people, or at least it is trying very, very hard to be responsive to the people.

    Comment by elmer — February 26, 2014 @ 7:18 pm

  4. Ukraine would never be going out of it’s way, as it is, to antagonize Russia to such an extent without encouragement and guarantees from Uncle Sam. Russia is offering billions in aid, the only country to do so, and they are taking every opportunity to spit in Russia’s face. Why couldn’t they follow the agreement of Feb. 21? Ultimately, this is just more senseless antagonism of Russia by the USA through it’s proxies. The Pentagon just can’t stop. They’re addicted to war. They absolutely intend to drag the world kicking and screaming into WW3 (depopulation being a major goal).

    Comment by zardoz — February 27, 2014 @ 5:13 am

  5. Zardoz, it might also be something to do with a few hundred years of being occupied by Russia.

    I am pretty certain that will put anyone off ever having anything to do with be ruled by them ever again.

    Comment by Andrew — February 27, 2014 @ 7:51 am

  6. > Economic pressure: yesterday Russia invoked health fears relating to African swine flu to threaten an embargo on Ukrainian agricultural imports.

    Russia has no right to do that! The United States has the exclusive international patent on economic harassment, be it a 50+ years of blockade/embargo of Cuba (a fellow WTA member!) (you can get 10 years in a slammer and a $500 000 fine for bringing a Cuban cigar into the country), punitive tariffs on Russian steel, blackmailing Far Eastern and Latin American countries into not buying Russian fighter planes and other military equipment, waging banana wars on EU, preventing Arabs from buying US companies, etc.

    Comment by vladislav — February 28, 2014 @ 4:56 am

  7. LOL, Vladislav, Russia does it all the time.

    Every time they have a dispute, they fake some reason to put a ban on that country’s exports, Moldova, Georgia, Finland, Ukraine, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, all have suffered or are suffering from these sorts of ridiculous trade bans.

    Comment by Andrew — February 28, 2014 @ 7:55 am

  8. > LOL, Vladislav, Russia does it all the time.

    Being an American, I am glad to see Russia trying to imitate the USA, albeit in a small way. 🙂

    Comment by vladislav — February 28, 2014 @ 5:33 pm

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