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Ukraine's new leaders push Crimea to the brink

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Threatening to take unspecified actions against Russia, Ukraine’s49-year-old new revolutionary President Oleksandr Turchynov pushed the Crimean crisis to the breaking point, demanding that Putin release Admiral Sergiy Gayduk or face the consequences. What the naïve Turchynov doesn’t get is that if he pushes things too far, he’ll wind up far worse than detained Ukraine military personnel. Despite all U.S. and European Union moral support, Oleksandr finds himself alone, defending Ukraine against a powerful Russian Army prepared, if needed, to retake Kiev and other Ukrainian territories. When Putin decided after the Sochi Games to annex Crime March 1, it was due to an anti-Russian takeover of Ukraine’s democratically elected government. Unlike the West that sides with Ukraine’s revolutionary regime, Putin views the revolution as a U.S. and EU-backed coup d’etat.

Russian paramilitary forces seized Ukraine’s main Sevastopol navy base, placing commander Gayduk in custody for “ordering Ukrainian military units . . . to open fire on peaceful civilians.” Losing both Ukrainian naval bases paralyzes Ukraine’s military that’s in no place to respond to Russia. “Unless Adm. Gayduk and all other hostages—both military and civilian ones—are released, the authorities will carry out an adequate response . . of a technical and technological nature,” said Turchynov, ratcheting up threats against Moscow. If Turchynov doesn’t button it and stop the threats he’s going to find himself silenced quickly. Ukraine has no answer for Russia’s military that hasn’t moved into Eastern Ukraine but could, with more provocation, move to seize Kiev. Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council chief Andiy Parubiy announced Ukraine’s end to Russian alliances.

Kiev’s belligerent tone toward Moscow is precisely why Putin decided to protect Russian interests annexing Crimea. Turchynov and his 39-year-old Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk walk on thin ice with more public displays of contempt for Putin. When the same immature response happened in 2008 with U.S.-backed Georgian President Mikheil Saashkavili, Putin seized 20% of Georgia, annexing Russian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkasia. More condemnations from Kiev could cause Putin to repeat what happened in Georgia. Withdrawing from the Kremlin-led Commonwealth of Independent States [CIS] already antagonizes Moscow, believing Ukraine has fallen into the U.S. and EU orbit. Putin views the Feb. 22 revolution as a CIA and EU-backed coup seizing control of Ukraine. Paubiy wants all Ukrainian serviceman now stationed in Crimea to return to Kiev.

Secretary of State John Kerry didn’t help Ukraine’s fortunes telling Putin to get over “losing the Cold War.” Whether true or not, the situation in Ukraine is already tense enough to antagonize Putin. While there’s some moral backing in the U.S. Congress, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has already ruled out any U.S. boots on the ground, on the sea or in the air. Turchynov has no military backing for pushing Putin into a military response. Russia’s Constitutional Court ruled unanimously that its treaty to annex Crimea was constitutional. Ruling the “treaty complies with the Russian constitution,” after Western nations, led by President Barack Obama, refused to recognize Crimea as part of Russia. Unlike the U.S. and EU, Russia rejects the Feb. 22 revolution that drove Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich from Kiev.

Ukraine’s newly minted leadership needs to find ways to mend fences with Moscow, not continue to push Putin into taking more draconic measures. Turchynov and Yatsenyuk need to hang onto what’s left of Ukraine before they lose it all. They’d be far better off taking their case to the U.N., giving the international body a way to reason with Moscow. What Turchynov and Arseniy don’t get is when they chose revolution over future elections, all bets were off when it came to Russian-controlled Crimea. Whining now after kicking out Ukraine’s duly elected government doesn’t play well in Moscow. Slapping economic sanctions and travel restrictions on Moscow also doesn’t go over well with the Kremlin. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron promised to discuss at the next G7 meeting banning Moscow from the wider G8 political group, a privilege Moscow earned in 1998.

Before Ukraine’s new leaders push Putin to seize other parts of Ukraine, Turchynov and Arseniy should refrain from more threats and public condemnation. No matter how much they abhor Putin’s moves, they made a calculated decision when they toppled Yanukovich Feb. 22. Now that they’re reeling from Putin response in Crimea, they can’t count on the U.S. or EU to intervene militarily to reclaim lost territory. Only by a calculated rapprochement with Moscow over time can Ukraine hope to convince Moscow that Crimea is best left with Ukraine. “We are not speaking about military actions in the eastern regions of Crimea,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the BBC. If Ukraine’s new leaders backed off the threats and showed some empathy for Putin’s position, there’s might be some hope of normalizing relations. More hot air only makes things worse.

About the Author

John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.

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