Ukrainian Government Moves to Reduce Role of Extreme Nationalists
It appears to me that Russia and Ukraine may be stepping back from their confrontation. The western press has not seen the real significance of the Ukrainian parliament’s firing of Ihor Tenyukh from the post of Defense Minister, and his replacement by Myhailo Koval, a general in the border service. This is not about Tenyukh’s incompetence in the face of Russian aggression. Tenyukh is a member of the Ukrainian nationalist party Svoboda, prominent in the Maidan movement, and strongly anti-Russian. He was one of four members of Svoboda to hold ministries in the eleven-person Ukrainian cabinet (I think I have “eleven” right), and his was the most important ministry held by that party. Koval, near as I can tell, is apolitical. Parliament’s vote to remove Tenyukh thus diminishes the role of extreme Ukrainian nationalists in the Kiev government, and one presumes Russia views it favorably.
On a more sinister note, the killing of the Far-Right Ukrainian nationalist leader Muzychko in a raid by Ukrainian police also points to a deliberate effort by the majority Batkivshchyna or “Fatherland” party to reduce the influence of the extreme nationalists. This seems to signal more readiness to negotiate with Russia, and perhaps to squelch activities of ultra-nationalists who could provoke violence in east Ukraine.
I have to walk back my prediction that Russia would go into east Ukraine. Sizable Russian forces are still moving up to the frontier, as reported by both NATO and Ukrainian sources, but Putin may decide not to go in. So far EU and US sanctions have mostly been slaps on the wrist (with the possible exception of excluding Russia from the G-8, making it the G-7), but a move into east Ukraine would provoke much more serious action.