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The BBC has reported that Ukraine's acting president, Oleksander Turchynov, has admitted that the government in Kiev is unable to reassert control in the country's rebellious East - and that the government does not have full control over its securty services.

Ukraine's acting President Olexander Turchynov has admitted his forces are "helpless" to quell unrest driven by pro-Russian activists in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Mr Turchynov said the goal was now to prevent the unrest spreading.

[snip]

He admitted security personnel "tasked with the protection of citizens" were "helpless".

"More than that, some of these units either aid or co-operate with terrorist groups," he said.

Mr Turchynov added: "Our task is to stop the spread of the terrorist threat first of all in the Kharkiv and Odessa regions."

Follow me below the Boehner-coloured squiggly line of long-windedness for some thoughts on the matter.

Since the beginning of the unrest in Eastern Ukraine, I've been to some extent skeptical of claims by both sides regarding it: Ukraine's claims that it was all Russia's fault never held water: You can't occupy buildings like that and hold them for an extended period of time without at least some support from the local population (after all, they still need supplies - food, water, power, etc.).

Neither did I believe Russia's claims that they had nothing to do with it and that the uprising was due to the East's fear of western fascists (which Russia supposedly shared).

Certainly, extreme right-wing elements from the western part of the country have played an important role in the revolution which toppled Yanukovych, and certain Ukrainian nationalists' actions have not exactly served to improve relations with their compatriots in the East (particularly Russian-speakers; see the clip 'Pro-Russian family desperate for order' and pay attention to the clip the interviewee shows). But the dynamic of the Maidan protests does suggest that the revolution cut across political, linguistic, and ethnic boundaries. There's a good article on the matter by Professor Snyder.

Now, even to the extent Russian actions are motivated by genuine concern (if any) for Russian-speakers in Ukraine, it is misleading in the extreme to portray the conflict as a struggle against fascism, given that the pro-Russian protesters don't exactly seem to be paragons of cosmopolitanism and democracy, either, not to mention the fact that there seems to be a cute little right-wing international centred on Russia.

Even if Russian claims regarding the threat to Russian are taken as largely true, this seems to me to be largely a conflict between different visions of Ukraine' future when it comes to the internal aspects, and a clash of nationalisms on the international level: Over the past several Russian state ideology seems to be shifting to a rather nasty brand of reactionary nationalism.

So, what do I make of that Ukrainian mess, then?

First of all, sanctions imposed on Russia may test the theory of Putin's shift to reactionary nationalism: If sanctions begin to bite, and that ideology becomes the primary basis of the government's legitimacy, they should cause support for the president to strengthen or remain relatively stable.

I also think that, when it comes to the unrest in Ukraine it is difficult to judge the true extent of support for the rebels in the East. Their entrenchment, combined with the fact that the abducted Vice News reporter told the BBC that the forces largely seemed to be locals (and was unsure about the leadership cadre; his statement does make it clear that the rebels are not particularly nice people, to put it mildly) does suggest local support, which would explain the security services' reluctance to beat down the rebels (arresting a foreign thug is one thing; beating down old Oleg with whom you've got drunk in the gutter countless times is another).

Neither should Russia's claims about fascism be taken at face value; just as we lack evidence of popular support for the rebellion, we lack evidence needed to determine whether and to what extent the Western Ukrainian right-wing actually menaces its Eastern countrymen - and even if Russian claims about the threat are true, it's probably more appropriate to view the mess as a clash of nationalisms instead of a battle between fascism and all that is good and proper in the world.

But I am sure of one thing: The Ukrainian government's labelling of the rebels as terrorists does not exactly help with the prospects for a political settlement. Then again, this government does not seem to be capable of playing the political game well (to be fair, though, they've been dealt a terrible hand).

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