03 March 2014

Powder Keg: Ukraine

I really hope I'm wrong, but listening to an interview by Ian Masters with Russian commentator Pavel Felgenhauer and looking at news reports in the last 48 hours or so, it appears to me that we may very well be on the cusp of a very serious deterioration in the balance of power that has reigned, with sometimes more sometimes less stability, between Russia and the West since 1992 or so. If the Russians actually intervene in the Eastern Oblasts of Ukraine, I think the pretense of a normalized relationship with the Great Russian Bear will evaporate instantly, and the future of Europe will change irrevocably. This could go either way... a slide into a new normal of tense relations, or a really, really bad collapse of a fragile metastable situation that will be all but impossible to restore. It's no exaggeration to say it all depends on Putin. He has acted pretty damn rashly in intervening in the Crimea and using the Russian media to stir up paranoia and hatred in Russia, with all kinds of historical allusions to WWII etc. But if he realizes that Western financial sanctions, which are a real possibility, would wreck the prosperity that is the currency with which he's bought the complacency and support of the Russian people, he may back off. However, there are signs that the man is more than a bit of a megalomaniac, and that he sees himself as a kind of neo-czar. Building empire costs dearly, both to the empire's people, and, even moreso, to those in the way. And the West will not want a head on confrontation. So we may be looking at a much, much worse overall international situation in the coming years. Again, I hope not.

For a well-informed, and perhaps slightly less alarmed viewpoint, see Josh Marshall's analysis from TPM here

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