Is A Russian Annexation Now Inevitable?

Well: it doesn’t take a genius to observe the ballet now being orchestrated by the Kremlin to justify an invasion in Eastern Ukraine, does it? The parallels with Crimea are almost perfect. Along with the cynicism behind them. Bershidsky observes the brazenness with which the Russian government is now openly meddling in the region, with sinister masked men strutting around with impunity. In this war of nerves, Putin is obviously winning, and Kiev is badly behind the ball:

The anti-Kiev forces include heavily armed paramilitaries. Their unmarked uniforms are different from those worn by Russian occupying troops in Crimea last month, but the forces appear well-organized, and in numerous videos of the attacks they do not sound Ukrainian. In fact, they often freely admit that they are Russian. In one video, the man assuming command of local policemen in Gorlovka says he is a lieutenant colonel in the Russian army, and in Slavyansk, the commander of the group that seized the mayor’s office told a reporter for Echo Moskvy radio that he was an entrepreneur from a Moscow suburb.

Although Moscow has not openly admitted that Russians are taking part in inciting the eastern Ukraine protests, they clearly are, whether in an official capacity or as volunteers. And they haven’t been ordered to keep their mouths shut, or have been lax about following their orders.

Putin is huffing his own chauvinism, and you don’t unleash that force in Russia and maintain control over it for long. David Patrikarakos is on the scene in Sloviansk:

These people were entirely different to those I had met in Donetsk and Luhansk, the other Ukranian cities that have recently become sites of pro-Russian violence.

The armed men that form the “self-defense” units here are not just militia carrying bats; they are undoubtedly professionally trained, and though they wear no military insignias, they are clearly soldiers. They carry automatic weapons and wear full army fatigues. They are professional, organized, and ready to fight. …

We are now in a new, and dangerous, phase in this crisis. The previous trouble spots of Luhansk and Donetesk are major cities in Eastern Ukraine, with more organized pro-Russia factions. That the conflict is spreading to small, unimportant towns like Sloviansk is indicative that pro-Russia activism has taken root in the heartlands of the region.

Maria Snegovaya looks at polling contradicting the claim that these uprisings enjoy significant popular support:

According to a survey by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, a majority of Ukrainians—in all regions—condemn the deployment of Russian troops in Ukraine (93 percent of people in the west and center held this opinion, 73 percent in the South, and 68 percent in the East). A study by the International Republican Institute (IRI) found that Russian-speaking Ukrainians in all regions do not experience significant infringement of their rights and actively oppose Russia sending troops to Ukraine to protect them (67 percent in the south and 61 percent in east of Ukraine). Similarly, the majority of respondents in all regions believe the Crimean referendum was a threat to Ukraine’s integrity, support Ukraine’s independence, and the autonomous status of Crimea within Ukrainian borders; 64 percent of Ukrainians support a unitary Ukrainian state, and only 14 percent prefer federalization—a plan to give greater authority to the regions of Ukraine. (Russian media presents a very different picture.) …

Moreover, Putin has fostered pro-European sentiment across all of Ukraine. As a result of Russian aggression, the support for European integration rose by 10 percent to 52 percent from February to March 2014. (It remained constant at 40 percent throughout all of 2013.) Likewise, the number of people supporting participation in Russia’s Custom Union dramatically decreased.

Finally, Motyl points out that Russia’s meddling in Ukraine makes it a state sponsor of terrorism according to US law:

There is overwhelming evidence of Russia’s direct and indirect involvement in the violence that rocked several eastern Ukrainian cities on April 12–13. Russian intelligence agents and spetsnaz special forces are directly involved; the weapons and uniforms worn by the terrorists are of Russian origin (a point made by the US ambassador to Kyiv, Geoffrey Pyatt); and the assaults on government buildings in Slavyansk, Mariupol, Makiivka, Kharkiv, Yenakievo, Druzhkivka, Horlivka, Krasny Lyman, and Kramatorsk were clearly coordinated by Russian intelligence. …

Does the behavior of the pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine involve “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets”? Obviously. Does this violence involve “citizens or the territory of more than one country”? Yes, it does. The violence therefore qualifies as international terrorism, and its perpetrators are obviously “terrorist groups.” QED.

The latest Dish on eastern Ukraine here.