WASHINGTON, February 28, 2014 — From the Russian port city of Rostov-on-Don on the northeast tip of the Sea of Azov, ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych said that he would continue to fight for his country, and he would do so without Russian military assistance.
“I intend to continue the fight for the future of Ukraine against those who, with fear and with terror, are attempting to replace the power,” he said. “Nobody has overthrown me. I was compelled to leave Ukraine due to a direct threat to my life and my nearest and dearest.”
It would behoove Yanukovych to look up the definition of “overthrown.” By now his picture is probably next to the textual description. That he made his comments from the cozy protection of a Russian Federation port city and not his outlandishly appointed palace speaks volumes to his situation.
In addition to making outrageous and entertaining statements about his current situation, Yanukovych has promised that though he has sought protection from the Russian government, he will not seek military assistance.
But of all his comments, the most interesting and telling were those about Crimea: “The citizens of Crimea do not want to be subordinate to nationalists and bandits.”
Crimea is an autonomous republic in Ukraine, home of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Its population is mostly ethnic-Russian, and many there consider themselves to be more Russian than Ukrainian. Given that Yanukovych made his comments in Russian, not Ukrainian, there is probably more to his words than meets the ear.
Yanukovych will attempt to claw his way back to power any way he can. His clearest way to power is Crimea.
Yanukovych will seek to stoke the fire of anarchy and instability, while cultivating his supporters in Crimea. He will make it clear that Kiev has lost control of the situation, and that the only way to secure the future of Crimea is to break away and form their own country. Yanukovych will lead them in that fight, and when they declare independence they will be immediately recognized by Russia and her allies.
Things need to get worse in Crimea before it is ready to break from Ukraine. But someone is stirring the pot already. Reports of masked gunmen with military style weapons taking key government buildings, including airports at Sevastopol and Simferopol, are spreading like wildfire. No single group has claimed responsibility, though many believe the groups to be either military or former military by the way they move, their equipment, and their organization. Russia already has troops in Crimea, there under the treaty that grants them the naval base at Sevastopol.
These armed men will undermine the authority of Ukraine in Crimea, and they will also embolden the populace to join them and begin making their own demonstrations against Kiev. Russia maintains that Russian troops are not active in Crimea, but it is difficult to believe. They have the men in place and can interfere without invading. Given Russia’s support of Yanukovych, their involvement in these raids cannot be counted out.
It is entirely possible that members of the police forces and military of Ukraine loyal to Yanukovych have begun stirring up trouble in Crimea. With these groups running around and blatantly displaying the inability or even the unwillingness of Kiev to counter their attacks, the new government in Ukraine looks weak and feeble. Yanukovych is successfully painting the new government as inept and unable to lead, and these groups could be the tool he is using to sew that doubt and spread that chaos.
It is all speculation of course. It can’t be Russia or former Ukrainian government forces, right? Ukraine has strict gun control policies and one must have cause in order to obtain a license, so if it is not Russian authorities and it is not former Ukrainian government troops with automatic weapons, fatigues, and communication equipment, who is it?
Whoever it is, they are lending a hand to Yanukovych’s Crimean cause. Their continued presence in the region will only serve to completely undermine Kiev and will lead to a Crimean call for independence. Yanukovych will facilitate that, and in return for his service the people of Crimea will name him their president.
Stranger things have happened.