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Ear to the Ground

Sizing Up Putin’s Plans in Ukraine

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Posted on Mar 5, 2014

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As certain Western news outlets get completely exercised about the possibility of a Cold War redux, less flashy but more measured voices, such as that of Russian analyst Ruslan Pukhov, offer some important points to consider about what Russian President Vladimir Putin is up to in Ukraine.

In an op-ed from Tuesday’s New York Times, Pukhov advances the idea that Putin, rather than pushing for total Crimean secession from the Ukrainian union, could actually be keeping his aims in the region within more workable bounds in terms of both feasibility and the potential for push back from the U.S. and some EU member nations:

At present, Mr. Putin is seeking to strong-arm the new, weak and unstable government in Kiev into agreeing to full autonomy for Crimea rather than risk a full scale invasion into Ukraine and a partition that chops off the country’s entire south and east. The intimidated government is likely to be compelled to accept this compromise. For its part, in exchange for major Ukrainian concessions, Russia is likely to recognize the new Ukrainian government, withdraw its support for Viktor F. Yanukovych and relinquish the threat of the use of force.

This strategy seems to be paying off already. The mere specter of a Russian intervention was enough for the new Ukrainian government to abandon its threat of reducing autonomy for the “rebellious” peninsula. The acting president, Oleksandr V. Turchynov, has also announced that he will veto the scandalous Feb. 24 law that canceled Russian’s status as an official language. The West is likely to accept any agreement that does not formally violate the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Their rhetoric notwithstanding, neither the United States nor the European Union has any desire for direct confrontation with Russia.

Also interesting in Pukhov’s read of Putin’s Ukrainian machinations is Yulia Tymoshenko’s role vis-a-vis her past and present relationship with the Kremlin. And it looks as though Viktor Yanukovych had better have his Plan B ready.

—Posted by Kasia Anderson

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