Ukraine: Geopolitical Chess

Filed in International by on March 3, 2014

Some sentimentalists have been characterizing the Ukraine crisis as a popular revolution.  Not so fast.  This situation requires some careful analysis, not platitudes.  Hear that CNN and mainstream media?   Probably not.

I’m reading as much non-mainstream press as I can to wrap my head around this very complex situation and to try to understand our role therein.  I’m sharing some of the thinking of two journalists:  Pepe Escobar of Asian Times and Brendon O’neill of Spiked.

I think through them I’m better understanding what is really going on here. Escobar explains that some of the chess game going on here is the contract Russia has with Crimea, a semi-autonomous, self governing region tied to Ukraine.  That contract allows the Russian Black Sea fleet port services until 2042.  Guess where one of the destinations of that port is?  Syria.

NATO would love to get the Russian fleet outta there for Syria reasons as well as the balance of naval and supply power vis a vis Russia.  Escobar thinks the Obama administration has adopted the neo-con strategy regarding Ukraine, fearing their alliance drift toward Russia and away from Germany, France and the EU.

Escobar points out that the Budapest Agreement requires that U.S./Russia/Ukraine and Britain meet to resolve any issues troubling their relationship.  See any of that happening yet?  I don’t think so.

He points out Ukraine has had a major financial crisis developing; for example, its currency has devalued by 20% in 2014.  Any signs of an EU bailout?  Nope.  EU is pretty broke with their own money problems.    Ukraine needs $30 billion to get it through 2014, according to Escobar;  Russia has so far pledged half that, $15 billion.  But, now, with the regime change, who knows if that will come through. The U.S.?  1 billion.  EU, nothing so far.

Then there’s pipeline politics again.  Russia supplies a huge part of Europe.  Guess where major pipeline routes to Europe are?   Yup.   Ukraine.  And to make things even more complicated, Ukraine’s industry depends heavily on Russian markets.

O’Neill observes that what has happened in recent weeks is regime change, not revolution.  He equates the impotence of the protest movement there to our Occupy movement, hardly a game changer. Old parties have formed an interim government through Parliament after Yanukovich’s ouster.  Not new, revolutionary entities.

He also points out the pesky fact that Yanukovich was democratically elected in 2010 and as recently as 2012 his party received a major victory again with the Parliamentary elections.   He has evolved into an anti-democratic tyrant, no doubt.  But the regime change too is anti-democratic but vocally supported by the Obama and Merkel administrations.   In fact, both for months have verbally supported the opposition movement, comprised of a complex set of alliances which include groups Russia characterizes as Fascists and anti-semites.  Yes, and a health dose of radical Muslim groups as well.  Our diplomats visited the protestors, but apparently not Yanukovich to try to moderate him.   And our media, especially Fox and CNN pretty much in unison.   Complicated, isn’t it?

In these recent events, we have rightly accused Putin of meddling.  But how would you characterize our comportment in trying to move Ukraine toward the EU?  And our right wing’s call to renew the cold war?

Solutions?  Obama is rightly using the bully pulpit to try to back Putin down.  There are sanction options being explored, such as targeting Russian Kleptocrats who are directly fueling the Ukraine conflict to hit them in their wallets.  The G8 cancellation was a very good move along with cancellation of other trade meetings.  But direct talks, via the Budapest agreement are vitally needed.  Where is Kerry Going this week? Kiev, not Moscow.

The worst idea proposed by the crazies on the right?  Acceleration and renewal of missile defense sites, including with Poland?  That kind of confrontation is absurd.  We have many other both defense and offense options without that program.  We don’t need McCain and his little buddy from S. Carolina  out in the media confusing the issue and undermining President Obama’s diplomacy work to deescalate this tinder box.


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  1. Jason330 says:

    My take is probably too simplistic, but based on the very stark linguistic breakdown within the Ukraine, an optimal solution might be a peaceful dissolution into two new countries similar to the Czech Republic and Slovakia separation in 1993.

  2. Dave says:

    Nope, your view correctly articulates the complexity. It’s not black or white or good guys vs bad guys. And of course, most complex situations are resistant to simplistic solutions. Yet, because the Crimea seems to be majority Russian-centric (citizens and language) carving it off from the Ukraine is probably the least bloody solution. Crimea is a Russian client state, in all but name, anyway.

  3. kavips says:

    I’m just happy someone else in this state reads Escobar.

  4. rustydils says:

    Here is John Kerry Mocking Mitt Romney’s claim (a now proving to be correct claim), that Russia is a major Geo Political foe

  5. Tom McKenney says:

    Explain how is Russia a major geo political foe? Yes they are a player in Syria and in the Ukraine but, where do they exert major world influence? They are just the bully in the neighborhood.

  6. Delaware Libertarian says:

    I wouldn’t think America would care much about another Eastern European conflict, but Obama’s foreign policy baby is nuclear non-proliferation. Ukraine actually had the third most nuclear weapons in the world. Ukraine was one of the 12 countries that voluntarily gave up nuclear weapons: . In exchange for giving up its nuclear weapons, France, U.K, Russia, China (!), and the U.S. promised to protect Ukraine’s sovereignty.

    Of those 12 countries who gave up its nuclear weapons, two more countries, Iraq and Libya, already got invaded and was overthrown by rebels with significant help. You can bet that North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, India, and any other nuclear power or nuclear power wannabe is paying attention to Ukraine. Obama doesn’t want the lesson of Ukraine to be: give up your nuclear weapons and you’ll be defenseless against a foreign invader (with nuclear weapons!). If this is the lesson, you can kiss good-bye to trying to get North Korea and Iran to give up its nuclear weapons.

    ” But the regime change too is anti-democratic”: Yanukovich was voted out democratically by parliament (similar to the impeachment process in the United States). This was not a coup even though there were a lot of protests. Yanukovich lost grip once his base party, the Party of Regions, began to desert him, after the Ukrainian special police started firing on protestors.

  7. delawarelefty says:

    Oh Rusty relax, Putin is simply invoking the Bush Doctrine to Russsian affairs. Many of the right wing love Putin’s leadership qualities.

  8. Camptown Lady says:

    Obama is rightly using the bully pulpit to try to back Putin down


    There is a leadership void in the West, and Putin clearly plans to take advantage of this opportunity.

    I believe that Putin intends to force a “compromise,” which will include dividing Ukraine in half. Western Ukraine will remain sovereign, the Russian-majority east will either be directly absorbed by Russia, or will become a vassal state.

    Remember, Europe likes having heat, and Putin would prefer to exert complete control over the gas pipelines. G-7 or not, the Europeans will always need Russian natural gas, and to a lesser extent, oil, timber, etc. Hence, they will vigorously protest but ultimately acquiesce. It’s the modern European way.

  9. Jason330 says:

    “leadership void” seems to mean an unwillingness to bomb shit without an accounting for the downstream costs, a valid pretext or plan for what to do after the bombing.

    I think we can all agree we are much better off right now with what teabags want to call a “leadership void.” Or perhaps not, if you think bombing people makes us look tough, and that is the real point.

  10. stan merriman says:

    My years of hand to hand combat with teabaggers like Camptown in Texas has taught me that they can’t deal with nuance, subtlety, complexity or critical thinking. Theirs is a reactive world wherein the only solution they propose is to blow up their adversary.

  11. Camptown Lady says:

    I never said anything about “bombing.” It’s too late to do anything.

    The weakness perceived by Putin has taken years to coalesce. To him, this presents a perfect opportunity; in geopolitics, the naive will always be abused.

    Instead of attacking me, try addressing my post.

  12. pandora says:

    Your point might matter to someone crazy, and short-sighted, enough to major in Russian International Relations. This isn’t about a leadership void.

  13. stan merriman says:

    Camptown, the bombing to which I refer is your persistent carpet bombing of President Obama, who is not here to defend himself. I’m back to ignoring you teabaggers.

  14. ben says:

    Just for the sake of clarification…. CL, you don’t think we should regress to the cave-man like mindset you attribute to Eastern Europe right? I dont happen to agree that “these people” “are like that”…. Or at least that there are jsut as many American Alpha-LolMales who think that chest-thumping and wiener-measuring contests are appropriate was to resolve problems. It isnt strength, it’s ignorance.
    Perhaps this has to do with “american men being emasculated”, but I was always taught that the way to handle a bully was NOT to be a bigger bully. Rather, you keep them from hurting people and isolate them from the group until they learn how to behave. Discretion and the better part of valor and all that.
    Russia can pound it’s chest all it wants. If the US decides to stop doing business with them, it’ll hurt. If they try and respond with violence to THAT….
    Well, Russia already came close to implosion the LAST time they got too interested in the Crimea….. and it was the rest of the world who put them in their place.

  15. Jason330 says:


    I don’t think it would take much regression to get to a mindset that Teabags are more comfortable with. They loved Bush and his macho-man act. That Obama won two elections by wide margins shows that the rest of the country wasn’t very impressed with that style – or the outcomes that style promises.

  16. Dave says:

    I fail to understand what our geopolitical interests are here. Crimea, connected to Ukraine by a narrow isthmus, was given to the Ukraine by Khrushchev and is populated primarily by ethnic Russian (Stalin having forcibly relocated the Tartars). Additionally, Russia has naval bases in Crimea. Whether Putin’s intent is to force a division the remainder of the Ukraine, remains to be seen and depends heavily on what the world let’s him get away with. Regardless, America is weary of Mission Accomplished carrier landings. Been there, done that.

  17. citydem says:

    Unlike Crimea- 60 % ethnic Russian – 26% Ukrainian, 12% Crimean Tartar Moslem- there are NO areas (oblasts) in Eastern Ukraine- that are ethnically majority- Russian-
    All of these areas are majority Ukrainian – even if use Russian as a first language- that does not make them any less supportive of a free, united Ukraine. Please note there have been no verified reports of Russian speakers having violence against them- this is Sudetenland redux. There were PLENTY of other institutions which Putin could have used – not Russian troops- and opens up the possibility of other countries who have large ethnic Russian speakers – eg Estonia, Lithuania, being protected by Mother Russia (armed invasion).

    Also FYI- some of the Ethnic Russians in Eastern Ukraine were resettled there after the mad made Famine – (read Soviet policy) in the 1930’s that starved to death millions of mostly Ukrainians – about 90 % of the total – Putin isn’t trying to re-create the Cold war- he was trying to create a Eurasian union- that’s dead now thanks to those stubborn Ukrainian – instead it is a 19th Century play on Russian nationalism- behind on this is Putin’s real concern- having no longer a compliant ruler in Ukraine – as corrupt/corrupting in Yanukowych – he must be concerned on the contagion of a fraternal Slavic state next door to his Russia. Ukraine was/is more liberal, open society/ and that example does give him pause on his own future down the road

  18. stan merriman says:

    I am very concerned that late 2013 statements from the Obama administration supportive of Ukraine’s potential exclusive affiliation with the EU, rather than the joint affiliation with Russia’s union as well, put Putin in a corner. Bears don’t like to be cornered and they lash out. Putin, have just saved our ass with his Syrian chemical weapons plan, perhaps felt the west and the U.S. did not appreciate his diplomacy deterring yet another U.S. bombing mission and his moderation is proposing a joint affiliation for Ukraine. Seeing this as a betrayal and interference from the U.S. he became aggressive. We now see the result with the current standoff.