Halt in the Wilderness is a new Yahoo information and discussion group devoted to issues relating to Russia, North-Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. At present many of the posts to the group concern the crisis in Ukraine and the Russian invasion of Crimea, but it is hoped to expand the content. Although the group is restricted, it welcomes applications for membership from those who have a serious interest in the subject matter and would like to engage in reasoned debate.
The real nature of Vladimir Putin’s attitude towards the new government in Ukraine became clear during his news conference today. Essentially what he appears to be saying is that since the Ukrainian authorities came to power as the result of a revolution, they have no legitimacy – and therefore Russia can do as it likes with what it perceives as a non-state. It can overrun Ukraine’s borders and violate its “non-existent” sovereignty with impunity.
Batkivshchyna leader Yulia Tymoshenko has made a direct video address to the Ukrainian people:
From the statement:
“…we are not alone in this confrontation with Russia. In 1994 Ukraine signed the Budapest Memorandum with the U.S., UK and Russia guaranteeing our security in exchange for giving up our nuclear arsenal. Russia today is flagrantly violating its obligations and invading our territory. But I’m confident that the United States and Great Britain will never violate this Memorandum and will do everything they can to ensure peace in Ukraine. Vladimir Putin knows that by declaring war on us, he is declaring war on the guarantors of our security – the U.S. and Great Britain. I don’t think that Russia will cross this line, because if it does it will lose.
“This should be the main reason for calm in our country.”
As Russia’s President Putin appears to be preparing to re-enact the Anschluss of March 1938, this time in Ukraine, it may be wondered whether what we are witnessing is a full-scale military aggression of a kind that has not been seen in Europe since 1968, or even since the Second World War, or merely an episode of tacky war drama culled from the cinema, designed for TV, and meant to impress a domestic audience back home in Russia. The preparations and build-up in Crimea certainly look convincing, but there’s a question as to how far they will go, and whether they will lead to a full-blooded invasion and occupation of Ukraine.
The Russian government must be well aware of the consequences that would be likely to follow: immediate and comprehensive economic sanctions by the West, an expansion of the Magnitsky List with asset freezes and visa bans on Russian officials, an embargo of Russian companies and banks, exclusion of Russia from the G8 and other international bodies, and a great deal more. It seems improbable, therefore, that Putin is really willing to risk finally destroying Russia’s already fragile and ailing economy and society by taking such a step – if, that is, he is a rational actor.
The explanation advanced by observers like chess master and human rights activist Garry Kasparov is that in the international and domestic public sphere alike, the rationality of Russia’s leaders only extends so far – at a certain point it veers off into demagogic muscle-flexing and posturing:
Putin doesn’t need to “win” in Crimea / Ukraine. Only to show power, look tough. This is what dictators do instead of having real elections.
— Garry Kasparov (@Kasparov63) March 2, 2014
Eugenia Tymoshenko is interviewed by the BBC’s Stephen Sackur on Hardtalk:
Yulia Tymoshenko’s speech on Maidan, February 22 2014.
Below are some fragments in English, mostly translated from Ukrainska Pravda’s report. The whole speech covers much more ground - when a complete transcript becomes available, I will hope to post it.
“You are heroes. You are the best that Ukraine has. Heroes do not die. You are the guarantee, the strength.
“Today you and I have a few important things to do. First – under no circumstances do you have the right to withdraw from Maidan until you have completed all that you planned to do in Ukraine.
“If anyone tells you that you have already done your job and can go home, and that everything will be made fine and dandy for you here – do not believe such claims, do not believe a word of it.
“Until you have completed the job to the end, to the last step, none of you has the right to leave. Because it is you who have changed everything, not the politicians, not the diplomats, not the world, none of them was able to do it.
“We have to do a few important things, one of which is to bring Yanukovych and all that trash that had gathered around him, to Maidan.
“When the snipers fired their bullets into the hearts of the young men who were slain, they fired them into the hearts of everyone. And if those who organized it and carried it out are not punished with the toughest and most severe justice, you and I will not be worth anything. If we let them escape responsibility, if we forgive anyone who fired a bullet into the hearts of our heroes – we will live in shame for ever.
“Those who perished will be our responsibility for each step we take next.
“I understand that that people have stopped trusting politicians.
“I will be the guarantee that you will know what is going on behind the scenes …. I do not only repent, I ask for your forgiveness for all politicians, no matter to which party they belong. I want to say on behalf of them all - the politicians were not worthy of you, of your blood. I want to do everything to see to it that you will see different politicians , officials, functionaries. And to make you part of building a new country.
“If the new parliament, the new government are formed without you – it would be unacceptable.
“I am going back to work. I will not let a single minute pass without making you feel happy in your country.”