Thursday, November 25, 2004

Russian riot police in Ukraine? Please, no

There are rumors that Russian special purposes units have been flown into Ukraine and, dressed in Ukrainian uniform, are ready to take action. It’s so hard to believe that I suspect it's just a hoax coming from whoever wants to inflame anti-Russian sentiment in Ukraine. But if true, the stealth deployment would seem extraordinarily stupid. First, it would alienate even the most pro-Russian Ukrainians; second, it would once again cast the whole of Russia into a very unfavorable light. The Russians are already the most vilified and slandered nation in the whole civilized world – perhaps they can suffer another clod of mud, this time courtesy of Putin, but their patience has limits, too.

Putin should have been talking to Yuschenko since the election’s first round to negotiate the price of Russia's support for him – or non-support for his opponent. Personally, Yuschenko seems a reasonable, reserved man, a cold-headed ex-bureaucrat. Not so some of the people around him. For one, there's the witch-in-chief, Graft Queen Yulia Timoshenko; besides, a few angry Western Ukrainian politicos and, the most alarming, at least one Crimean Tatar activist. Resolved to deny autonomy to the majority Russophone Crimea, Kyiv has long been pitting the Tatar minority against the rest of the peninsula's residents; too bead of this were to continue under the new regime. Again, if rumors of Russian paramilitaries are true, the anti-ethnic-Russian sentiment will only intensify.

But let's face it, regardless of the falsifications, it's obvious that Donetsk, Luhansk and the Crimea prefer Yanukovich and reject Yuschenko by a huge margin. The reverse is true in the (less populous) West. A natural response to the geographical polarization would be constitutional reform and federalization. Yes, whoever has the upper hand in Kyiv will be bound to fear that some members of the federation -- the East, the South and the Crimea -- may secede and/or join Russia. (Not that Russia needs them except for the Crimea.) We know now that democracy (though of a primitive variety) is alive and well in Ukraine -- which is very good news for the dispirited Russian dissenters of all colors -- but this town square democracy has to evolve; let’s hope it evolves into federalism.

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