Thursday, February 20, 2014

Discerning Ground Truth In Ukraine

The confrontation in Kiev between government forces and protesters has turned deadly.  The difference in how Western media and Russian media portray this conflict has become a trope.  Russia sees right-wing coup plotters where the West sees neoliberal modernizers.  Open source reporting reveals interesting details.

The WaPo reports that a Polish diplomat tweeted a panicked mood in the office of Ukraine's head of state.  This is a notable revelation given Poland's close ties to Ukraine.  A stable country has no interest in revealing an ally's weakness unless said ally's regime is in mortal peril, in which case the diplomatic penalty for such a revelation is minimal.  The Ukraine's pro-West opposition has occupied government buildings, burned official documents, and captured Interior Ministry police.  Some protesters appear to be firing weapons at police.  That indicates a level of organization and commitment far beyond that of a peaceful protest movement.

The Financial Times reports on the possibility that the Ukrainian military will intervene to crush the protests.  That is premature despite the removal of a senior Ukrainian commander who expressed a reluctance to intervene.  The order of battle in Kiev appears to favor the Interior Ministry against the protesters.  Kiev would likely only commit its military if the protesters achieved some sort of breakout by repulsing the Interior Ministry in a decisive battle or seizing more government buildings.

The Washington Examiner reports that the US Secretary of Defense has not been able to contact his Ukrainian counterpart.  This is important in light of the FT's description of Ukraine's decades of NATO contact through unit training and officer education.  If Ukraine's national leadership were preparing a military response, the planning would preclude contact with other nations' counterparts to avoid tipping its hand.

American theory about insurgency holds that genuine grass-roots insurgencies begin among disaffected classes, typically in rural areas, and only spread to capitals after establishing bases of support in the countryside.  The opposition in Ukraine seems most active in Kiev for the moment.  Its success in confronting the pro-Moscow government has nothing to do with whether it can hold government buildings against the Interior Ministry.  It has succeeded in exposing severe disconnects in governance between the nativist western parts of Ukraine and the pro-Moscow Russian ethnic enclaves in the east.  It is unclear at this time whether the cities in western Ukraine that have expressed autonomous sentiments have backing from elements in the Ukrainian military.

The pro-Moscow regime in Kiev has a short window in which to rout the protesters.  If it does not rout the opposition, the risk of full civil war is high.  If the Ukrainian military is indeed so split that its commitment to support the Interior Ministry would precipitate a larger crisis, then no national institution could hold east and west Ukraine together . . . in the absence of foreign intervention.