Ukraine and the ‘parade of sovereignties’

In any revolution, when Plan A fails, there’s usually no Plan B.

The West can only watch as the crisis in Ukraine escalates, writes Nekrassov [EPA]

So now we have Ukraine fragmenting in a big way, all as a result of the failure of Plan A, which was hastily drawn up by the Ukrainian opposition, with a bit of help from abroad, after it had seized power in February in Kiev. This was a result of what it called a “popular revolution” but what others saw as a “Western-backed coup“. And what we are learning now is that there was never a Plan B in case it all went horribly wrong, which it did. As a result, we now see Ukraine slide into even more anarchy, with a “parade of sovereignties“, as it is sometimes called, marching across the nation.

In case you’re confused, the term “parade of sovereignties” stands for ethnic majorities in different parts of the country getting all sorts of ideas and proclaiming their independence or autonomy, because the central authority becomes too weak or has no idea what it is doing. It happened in the former Soviet Union, in post-communist Russia and in former Yugoslavia.

As a result of this “parade”, Crimea has become a part of Russia and, more recently, this week actually, we’ve seen the birth of the so-called “people’s republic” in the overwhelmingly Russian-speaking Donetsk, in east Ukraine, where the pro-Russian protesters have seized government buildings and called on the Kremlin to send “peacekeepers” to the area, so that they can provide law and order until a referendum is held to decide the status of the new “entity”. And it’s pretty clear, considering that ethnic Russians are in the majority in Donetsk, what the result of the referendum would be.

That’s not to mention that a determination to hold similar referendums has been expressed by the pro-Russian demonstrators in Kharkov and Lugansk and, remarkably, in the port city of Odessa. (Strangely enough, but in Soviet times there were many jokes about Odessa going independent as it always had a rebellious streak about it.)

Ukraine fears ‘Crimea scenario’ in east

Now, did the people who are now running the show in Kiev, like the interim President Oleksander Turchinov and interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, anticipate that separatist feelings will run high across the east and south of the country when they hastily assembled a very shaky looking “governments of national unity” back in March, while making all the wrong sort of noises about Russia and ethnic Russians living in Ukraine?

They are now saying that they didn’t really mean it, the tough anti-Russian rhetoric and some pretty hostile attitudes expressed towards ethnic Russians, and that what is going on now is an attempt by Russia to “dismember” Ukraine, as Turchinov put it this week. Yatsenyuk followed suit and accused Russia of attempting to destabilise the situation and then send its troops across the border.

On the basis of these two statements alone, we can safely presume that there was never a Plan B in existence when the opposition seized power, and that the people behind the interim regime never expected such a dramatic response to their actions in the east and south of the country, not to mention in Crimea, which is now, basically, a foreign land. So the plan now, if it can be called a plan, is to watch events as they unravel and hope for the best. It is a weak plan by any standards, and some might even say that it’s not even a plan.

But here’s the weird bit. Russian President Vladimir Putin is not at all happy with the latest developments in the east of Ukraine as well. He has no interest in getting involved in the crisis on the “mainland”, as it creates lots of headaches for him and his generals. It’s one thing pulling off a spectacular “welcome home” operation in Crimea, where up to now practically no violence was registered, apart for the tragic death of two Ukrainian servicemen, but it’s a totally different story sending troops to the east of the country. Even though Putin, in that famous press conference in March, did not exclude, in principle, the use of force if the need arose to protect ethnic Russians in Ukraine, but it’s one thing saying it in a fit of bravado and it’s a different matter when it comes to giving the order to do it.

The feeling in the Kremlin at the moment is that Russia got away lightly over taking control of Crimea, but no one is prepared to bet that the West may raise the stakes substantially if Russia occupies the eastern part of Ukraine. No one is talking in terms of a military response, oh no, but purely in terms of tough economic sanctions. Even though, as the events in the past couple of month have shown, it’s very difficult to see what the West can actually do if Russia “takes the plunge”, so to speak, and moves into “mainland” Ukraine. It’s the nukes, you see, that make all the difference, even though this may sound crude and very undiplomatic like.

The worst case scenario would be if the interim regime in Kiev decides to use forces against pro-Russian demonstrators in Donetsk, Kharkov and Lugansk, triggering the sort of crisis that had toppled Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich in February. Under such a scenario, President Putin may have no choice but to send troops in. It is not something that he wants to do, but he may find himself unable not to do it. Because, let’s face it, domestically, Putin is now under pressure himself, having gone all the way in Crimea. He does not really have that much space for manoeuvre in his own country, where the popular mood seems to be shifting towards seeing the ethnic Russians in the east and south of Ukraine follow the example of the Crimeans.

The West can only watch as the crisis in Ukraine escalates. De-escalation is something that seems to be the last thing on the minds of the opposing sides in the country. And all because there was never a Plan B for the aftermath of that dramatic change of political scenery in Kiev in February.

Alexander Nekrassov is a former presidential and government adviser.