Ukraine Drops Out of Western News Headlines Even As Civil War Threatens
Showing its usual Attention Deficit Disorder, much of the US press has dropped Ukraine from its headlines — the same goes to a lesser degree for the Western European press. The Oscars pretty much trumped the crisis in “the former Soviet space” which is arguably the greatest threat to international order since the end of the Cold War. Meanwhile Russian military and “activists” in Crimea are attacking and threatening remaining Ukrainian military posts there and eastern Ukraine may be slipping into civil war.
RT.com, essentially an official Russian government news service, reports that “seven to eight masked men” armed with bats and handguns attacked three participants in a pro-Russian rally in Kharkiv/Kharkov (Ukrainian and Russian spellings). One of the rally participants was wounded by a shot in the back. StopFake.org, a website run by Ukrainian journalists devoted to countering putative Russian disinformation, has not debunked this particular story, suggesting it could well be true.
RT.com also reports that Ukrainian authorities expelled from their country seven Russian journalists for “biased reporting” and that some border crossings in eastern Ukraine were blocked by Ukrainian troops / guards.
The official Ukrainian news service Ukrinform states that “unknown men” seized the control tower of the Simferopol International Airport in Crimea and that flights are “delayed”. Negotiations are underway for “freeing” the tower.
StopFake.org has on its front page a story blaming Russian ultra-nationalists for disorders in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Pavel Gubarev, the leader of the pro-Russian demonstrators who temporarily seized control of the Donetsk provincial administration headquarters, StopFake avers (and I have no reason to doubt this), is or was a member of the nationalist Russian national unity party
The Ukrainian Lugansk a pro-Russian mob seized the headquarters of the broadcast company IRTA and appear to be holding journalists and “IRTA” executives hostage. Den’ also reports that pro-Russian “activists” disrupted a speech in Kharkiv by Vitalii Klichko, a leader of the Maidan movement that seized power in Kiev. Activists threw eggs at Klichko.
In Crimea a number of media outlets report increasing numbers of Ukrainian military personnel surrendering their weapons to Russian troops. Clearly the Ukrainians are doing everything possible not to respond to Russian provocation with violence.
I’m out of time for the moment – have to prepare dinner for my kids. But this much is clear: if mass violence breaks out in Crimea or eastern Ukraine, the Russian government will bear the lion’s share of the responsibility. None of the “demonstrations” reported from the area, whether pro-Russian or pro-Ukrainian, seem to have more than a couple of hundred participants. The mass of the population, whatever their ethnic background (and many inhabitants have both Ukrainian and Russian family members), does not want a civil war. Russian troops and ununiformed activists are seeking confrontation.
I am beginning to think that the Putin administration really has big plans here — to create a “situation on the ground” in Crimea AND in east Ukraine that neither the US, the EU, nor the Kiev government can respond effectively to. Although NATO just sent 300 troops and a few fighter aircraft into Poland, and the US is loudly publicizing previously scheduled movements of naval units into the Black Sea and the Aegean, there is no viable military option on the table. Packages of financial aid and help with military training for the Kiev government have more meaning, but will not help with the immediate crisis. Declarations of the inviolability of Ukrainian sovereignty by outside governments will simply be ignored by Putin and Co.
In spite of the complexities of the situation’s historical origins, we are dealing here with a case of naked aggression by the Putin government.