When most Americans even think about Ukraine, they tend to associate it with Hunter Biden’s shenanigans as in the latest allegations about influence peddling on behalf of a U.S. blacklisted oil oligarch Dmytro Firtash.
However, Ukraine may soon be back in the news on its own. Russia’s foreign minister has just warned that if a war breaks out there again, it could be the end of Ukraine. The U.S, European Command has designated that nation to be “potential imminent threat” because of an uptick of fighting in eastern, secessionist part of the country, the Donbas. This is a cause for concern.
There are always local reasons for sniping back and forth but an intensification of hostilities usually has its source in Moscow. What is the Kremlin up to? Since the invasion of 2014, Russia has fostered a secessionist war in the Donbas and instituted a permanent occupation regime on the Crimean Peninsula.
Crimea has been a focus of serious changes. Vladimir Putin strives to make it independent of Ukraine in terms of infrastructure, water, and population.
By presidential decree No. 201, which went into effect on March 21, no foreigner (or foreign-owned entity) may own land on the peninsula. That ban includes all denizens who refuse to acknowledge the legality of the Russian occupation and, hence, cling to their Ukrainian citizenship.
Additionally, the Russian government indulges in some demographic social engineering.
On the side of the negative outflow, within the year of the occupation the Kremlin “blessed” practically everyone with Russian citizenship. If you refused openly, you were deported. A crackdown on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, schools, and national activists resulted in a flood of nearly 50,000 emigrants, including the Crimean Tatars, mainly to the Ukrainian mainland.
On the side of the positive inflow, a beeline of loyal Russian subjects turned into a sizable cohort: over 200,000 moved to the Crimea aided by a hefty state subsidy. The new arrivals include military, police, and civilian officials (and their families) of the occupation regime.
Further, there are retirees from all over the Russian Federation seeking a more ambient climate for their autumn years. Next, more than a few of the secessionists from the Donbas have made the Crimea their home. Moreover, some Central Asians and Caucasians showed up mostly as migrant workers.
All this violates international law, but Putin does not care.
As far as the Donbas, there have been several immediate developments which should be seen in a broader context. First, Russia has beefed up its military presence along its border with Ukraine. This is a comprehensive effort to shift troops to an offensive posture along the entire western frontier from the Baltic to the Black Sea.
Second, concurrently with flexing its muscles in joint maneuvers with Belarus, Moscow has given the Donbas secessionists a green light to reignite a low intensity conflict.
All that military posturing serves to give the Kremlin an upper hand in its diplomatic negotiations within the so-called Normandy system. Russia squares off with Ukraine with France and Germany adjudicating.
The result of the Normandy system negotiations is that the Western Europeans tend to agree to Russia’s attempts to meddle in Ukraine’s internal affairs via the secessionist territories. Moscow uses its Donbas proxies to influence Ukrainian parliamentary business, for example. Germany and France largely sign off on that.
Meanwhile, confusion reigns in Kyiv. The government is perceived as weak; the parliament is divided. Military reforms have stalled; the Ukrainian armed forces struggle mightily to overcome their Soviet heritage with disappointing results.
On the sidelines, hardcore Ukrainian integral nationalists chafe at the bit. They hate both the Muscovites and their own government. In the western part of the country, where they call the shots politically and culturally, they have continued the program restoring the memory of their World War II heroes, including Stefan Bandera, to the national pantheon.
One can understand their anti-Communism. However, the Jewish community points out their anti-Semitism and the participation in the Holocaust. The Poles bring up the Ukrainian nationalist campaign of bloody ethnic cleansing which commenced in Volhynia in 1943.
Ukraine needs good press in the West so the American public would care what happens to it at the hands of the Russians. Ukraine needs Poland to help against Russia.
The situation in the Donbas is again volatile. Imperialism is a crime of opportunity. Washington should lean on Kyiv not to give Moscow one. It should also tell the Kremlin to back down. But we should not be pulling anyone’s chestnuts out of the fire.
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz is Professor of History at the Institute of World Politics, a graduate school of statecraft in Washington D.C.; expert on East-Central Europe's Three Seas region; author, among others, of "Intermarium: The Land Between The Baltic and Black Seas." Read Marek Jan Chodakiewicz's Reports — More Here.
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