WASHINGTON, February 26, 2014 — Matters of revolution are never easy or simple. There is the threat of international intervention, there is the threat of the military coming to the aid of their former leaders, and there is the threat of civil war. In addition, there are measures the recently victorious Opposition feel warrant inclusion in the Constitution.
This is what we are seeing in Ukraine today.
According to several news agencies, ousted President Yanukovych has fled to Crimea on the black sea. Crimea is an autonomous region within Ukraine which boasts a healthy Russian ethnic majority, leading one to believe that he may be there among friends to either escape or mount some kind of return to power. Crimea is well situated for a conflict, if everything plays out and Yanukovych is able to procure naval assistance from Russia, they could make trouble for the new Ukrainian government from their peninsular safe haven.
A stretch to consider, but Crimea could of course use this as an opportunity to invite Russia to help them declare total independence from Ukraine under the guise of protecting the ethnic majority.
While far-fetched, this play is certainly on the table. As this is written, protesters are clashing outside of Parliament in Crimea over the course of the country, taking pro-Russia and anti-Russia stances which could translate into pro-Yankukovych and pro-Opposition. Many want to recognize the new authorities in Kiev, others obviously not in favor of recognizing what many see as illegitimate government.
The clashes in Crimea come of course as the new government in Kiev warns of the rising threat of separatism which historically follows such political upheaval as Ukraine has seen. As we have seen with previous revolutions, civil wars, coups, and other political transformations, the time between the fall of the previous government and the establishment of a new one can be extremely unstable.
With Crimea unsure of its political destiny, and Yanukovych still at large, the entire region is in danger of increased instability. As a result, many will exploit this lawlessness, and as a result many will seek to protect against such aggression. The defense units that are forming in Kiev and around the country are testament to this. The military has thus far remained neutral, though should a civil war or political infighting erupt that institution could quickly dissipate and dissolve into factions of their own.
Just to make matters interesting, Vladimir Putin decided that it would be prudent to place troops on “alert drill” in Western Russia in order to respond to the political situation in Ukraine. Russian influence on the border of Ukraine may do one of two things. On one hand, it could give the Opposition and their opponents something to point to and agree that Russian intervention is the last thing that Ukraine needs when their government is unstable and vulnerable. The Ukrainian military cannot hold off the Russian military, and it is unclear if the Ukrainians are prepared for the guerrilla war they would need to fight to have any chances at victory.
On the other hand, it could embolden Yanukovych and his supporters and urge them to strike against the Opposition in an attempt to either retake the government or annex Crimea. Well over half the population in Crimea is Russian, along with nearly twenty percent of Ukrainians.
This is a move that any power would make should they be in the position Russia is in. As stated there is a significant Russian ethnic population in Crimea and Ukraine. In addition, no power wants a civil war on their borders, especially Russia who deals with such matters very harshly. The region is not exactly unstable, but Russia cannot afford to have a civil war raging on their border. Such events have a tendency to throw entire regions into chaos. It would not be surprising at all if a civil war erupts in Ukraine with Russian intervention, and Chechnya uses that opportunity to launch new offensives against Russian assets in their region.
Lastly, one should consider the manner and events surrounding this early victory for the Opposition and their allies in Parliament. Individuals in Ukraine banded together to peacefully protest what they believed to be an authoritarian, corrupt dictator. President Yanukovych reacted like a tyrant, and sent his police forces to disperse the crowd, it got violent and soon the Opposition protestors were facing automatic rifles and tactical police units.
Dozens were killed as a result. This is something that Ukrainians will never forget, and some have already taken measures to make sure that the Ukrainian people never have to face bullets with riot shield again. This has led to a push by The Ukrainian Gun Owners Association to rewrite their nations Constitution to allow for and protect the right of the population to keep and bear arms. If this measure passes it could herald a new shift in the balance of power in former Soviet nations, as wells as other Eastern European governments and their ability to restrict the right to bear arms.
There is much up in the air right now. How committed are the Russians to Yanukovych? How far is Crimea willing to go? How much momentum is there of the former governments supporters to attempt to reinstall the old regime? How serious are the people of the Ukraine about the right to bear arms? And what role will the Ukrainian military play in all of this? And finally, how much instability will Russia endure before interfering?
Essentially, there are four factors which bear watching in this situation. The Opposition (new) Parliament and how they will proceed with unifying the country. Crimea, the course they decide to take will have far reaching implications. Yanukovych, he could throw this entire situation into an uproar if he vows to fight to the end. And Russia, simply put much of this hinges on Russia.
This bears watching. It would be upsetting to see the Opposition victory so short lived in the case of Russian intervention on Yanukovych’s behalf, but it would also be interesting to see Crimea declare independence. It seems though now, everyone is waiting for one faction or another to make a move.