Sergei Markov, a columnist for the Moscow Times, predicted war in Ukraine if that government refuses to accede to the Kremlin's demands. While Putin is continuing to escalate the tensions in Ukraine, it is important to look at the other side's writings for clues about Putin's next moves. He writes:
There is a political solution to this crisis. First, create a coalition government in Kiev composed of all parties, including those from the east and south of the country. The current government is dominated by anti-Russian extremists from western Ukraine.
Second, Ukraine needs to draft a democratic constitution that has guarantees for Ukraine's Russian-speaking population that would grant official status to the Russian language and establish the principle of federalism.
Third, presidential and parliamentary elections must be held soon. Independent election observers must play an active role in ensuring that the elections are free and fair. There is a real danger that they will be manipulated by the neo-Nazi militants who de facto seized power in a coup.
These three proposals are reasonable. But it is ironic that Markov demands that the other side have free and fair elections while ignoring the obvious attempt to rig the Crimean election of secession by moving it up to March 16th and by not even putting a space on it for a "no" vote. If the Crimean people wish to secede from Ukraine, fine. But it must be done under the same circumstances that Markov demands for Ukraine.
And the statement about the current government being "dominated by anti-Russian extremists" is open for debate. The Euromaidan uprising enjoyed widespread popular support in the western half of Ukraine across all party lines, not just the far right. Some elements even would have broken from Ukraine to form their own country had not Yanukovich fallen. Ukraine has stated that they are open to talks with Russia. How they deal with Russia will determine the level of control that the far right has over the government. It is therefore only reasonable for the two parties to arrange the talks.
But here is the kicker:
If these democratic and peaceful solutions to the crisis in Ukraine are rejected by the opposition forces that have seized power in Kiev, I am afraid that Russia will have no other choice but to revert to military means. If the junta leaders want to avoid war, they need to adopt Moscow's peaceful and democratic proposals and adhere to them.
Will there be war in Ukraine? I am afraid so. After all, the extremists who seized power in Kiev want to see a bloodbath. Only fear for their own lives might stop them from inciting such a conflict. Russia is prepared to move its forces into southern and eastern Ukraine if repressive measures are used against the Russian-speaking population or if a military intervention occurs. Russia will not annex Crimea. It has enough territory already. At the same time, however, it will also not stand by passively while Russophobic and neo-Nazi gangs hold the people of Crimea, Kharkiv and Donetsk at their mercy.At the same time, Markov makes a distinction between a government that is pro-European and one that is anti-Russian. So here is one possible solution:
1. UN peacekeepers to be chosen from neutral countries; once they arrive, Russian troops return to their bases and return to historic levels.
2. International monitors to ensure rights of ethnic Russians.
3. Direct talks with Ukraine officials.
4. Talks to be mediated by neutral party or organization agreeable to both the West and Russia.
5. Ukraine to pursue economic ties, open borders, and free trade with EU; however, no military ties with either EU or NATO. Would not preclude further economic ties with Russia or other countries. Ukraine to be militarily neutral and not aligned with Russia or NATO.
6. Ukraine elections to be observed by Carter Center or other organization agreeable to Ukraine and Russia.
7. Crimea elections to be held in six months; vote to be on annexation to Russia, independence, or continuation of union with Ukraine; elections to be observed by international monitors agreed on by all parties. Ukraine to honor all defense agreements with Russia should Crimea continue to be part of Ukraine.
8. Russia and NATO to negotiate long-term agreement regarding limits of NATO expansion.
We are not convinced that Markov toes the Kremlin party line, however. The Moscow Times has some editorial independence in its opinion columns, with one one columnist calling the Crimea occupation worse than a crime and another saying that Putin took a dangerous gamble even though the West won't put boots on the ground. Another argues that Putin's stance will have negative long-term economic impacts. Russian political thought is much more diverse than popularly believed.
But if Putin succeeds in pulling away Crimea from Ukraine, the likelihood will be that there will be similar separatist movements in Ukraine that will gain force. These movements are already happening. Russia Today reports:
In Donetsk, the city that once used to be the stronghold of the ousted President Viktor Yanukovich, people are protesting against the new governor appointed by Kiev last Sunday.Although this piece is a propagandistic rant, it also contains important information about what Putin's strategy is shaping to be -- peel off Crimea and embolden similar movements in the rest of Eastern Ukraine's provinces until they peel away to Russia. Already, the groundwork has begun. If he can replicate it, the hope is that Obama will be seen as powerless and Putin the true statesman who stood up to Western encroachments.
The appointee is Ukrainian oligarch, billionaire Sergey Taruta, the owner of ISD, one of the biggest mining and smelting companies in the world, he also owns the Donetsk-based Metallurg Football Club.
The oligarch governor failed to come to Donetsk immediately after the appointment, so demonstrators have chosen a “people’s governor” of their own, the leader of the ‘National levy’ Pavel Gubarev advocating setting a referendum that might ask the citizens of Donetsk region about reunification with Russia. The ‘National levy’ also started collecting signatures to conduct referendum on allegiance of the region.
So will Putin go to war, like Markov claims? A Pentagon project, which has studied Putin's body language since 2004, claims to know the answer. RT, citing USA Today and the Atlantic:
Connors characterized Putin’s body language as a “highly restricted...head-to-tail spinal pattern similar to fish movement” in one 2004 report, according to her because he likely did not crawl as an infant.Based on this and based on Georgia, Putin will only go to war if he thinks that it will be an easy victory. The US has already drawn a red line when it comes to NATO members; Putin is unlikely to risk a full-scale confrontation with NATO which could result in mutually assured destruction through a nuclear holocaust. If he thinks that he can peel off Crimea without too much trouble, he will authorize the use of force. But if he cannot, then he won't. But the dilemma is, how will he save face in Russia if he is seen as backing down to the West?
“Putin’s bodily imbalance and self-image show him to be risk-averse — stuck in place and time — and extremely sensitive to criticism,” she wrote.
“Putin's physical problems "created a strong will that he survive and an impetus to balance and strengthen the body...When we are unable to do something, really hard work becomes the way,” she said a year later during an interview with The Atlantic.
"He is like that ice skater who had a club foot and became an Olympic skater," she said. "It is really poignant to watch him on tape. This is a deep, old, profound loss that he has learned to cope with, magnificently."
There are two risks here. The first is that a spark in the wrong place could start a war and spiral out of his control. The second is that Ukraine is not Georgia. A great portion of their people, even in the East, have shown a willingness to fight for their independence and sovereignty. A rapid war might seem like an easy victory to begin with, but then turn into a quagmire similar to Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.