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Fracking To Free Ukraine
by James Dunnigan
March 5, 2014

February 22, 2014: Since late November 2013 Russian efforts to gain more control over the Ukrainian government have been running into growing popular opposition. Now the pro-Russian government has surrendered to the protestors and if Russia wants to turn this around they will have to move fast and in violation of international law. Over a hundred died, mostly in the last week, as the government ordered the soldiers and police to open fire and not enough of the Ukrainian security personnel would do so. If the Russians invaded the Ukrainian armed forces would probably resist in an organized fashion. In 2008 Russia had a hard time scrounging up enough troops to invade Georgia. But Ukraine has more ten times the population of Georgia and Russia still has a largely dysfunctional armed forces with fewer than 100,000 troops (paratroopers and special forces) that they can really rely on. Russian military staffs are quite good at calculating the “correlation of forces” for an operation and predicting the probability of success and that math does not look good when it comes to invading Ukraine. The Russians Stavka (general staff) famously warned against going into Afghanistan in 1979 on the grounds that the lack of roads and railroads there prevented Russia from putting enough troops (the “correlation of forces”) into Afghanistan to quickly crush opposition. Russian political leaders ignored this and less than a decade later withdrew from Afghanistan because the general staff had been right.

Russia is still angry over losing Ukraine in 1991 and is using the fact that 17 percent of Ukrainians (mainly in the southeast) are ethnic Russians and another five percent are various minorities (mainly Turkic Tatars) to create a pro-Russian political block in Ukraine. Southeastern Ukraine is where most of the industry and Soviet era economic development was. Since the 1990s Russia has been using economic pressure and ethnic animosities to gain more influence over Ukrainian politics. The basic problem for Russia in Ukraine is the feeling among most Ukrainians that economic salvation will come from the West, not Russia. Consider that when the Cold War ended in 1991 Ukraine and neighboring (both, until then, subjects of Russia) had the same (low) per-capita GDP. Since then Ukrainian per-capita GDP has declined 22 percent while Poland, which quickly developed economic and political ties with the West after 1990, has soared to the point where Polish per capita GDP is three times that of Ukraine. Put simply, most Ukrainians see links to the West as the key to economic growth and protection from Russian domination. The question now is how far Russia will go to deal with its Ukraine problem. Many Russians are all for putting the old Tsarist/Soviet Empire back together. Until now it was accepted that Russia could do this using economic and political pressure. That has backfired in Ukraine and there was a massive uprising against the pro-Russian Ukrainian government. This was because that government got elected by promising to form alliances with the West but instead accepted a more favorable deal, for the politicians, from Russia. The unrest that began last November did not bother the Russians at first because Russia has dealt with rebellious Ukrainians before. After the two World Wars Russia had to spend years crushing rebel movements. After World War II the fighting in the Ukraine lasted into the 1950s. What gives Russians pause is the fact that despite all these defeats the Ukrainians are still willing to fight and this time around you cannot keep the barbaric tactics used to suppress the rebellion out of the news. While many Russians want their empire back they don’t want the ruthless terror of the Soviet era police state back. Stalinism has gone out of style, but that sort of ruthlessness appears to some Russian leaders as the only thing that will work right now. These hard liners point out that Western Europe and America are unlikely to intervene but will instead just call Russia all manner of nasty names. What the West can do is impose sanctions, which will hurt the Russian economy and the popularity of the current Russian government. Such sanctions are possible largely because of the development of fracking in the United States, which has enormously increased oil and gas production in North America and made Russian oil and gas less of a necessity to the West. It comes down to how much empire can Russia afford. Not much, especially when you own general staff tells you that there are not enough reliable troops to successfully invade Ukraine.

Since November there have been massive and persistent anti-Russian demonstrations all over the country, but particularly in areas where ethnic Ukrainians (77 percent of the population) were dominant. This put the pro-Russian government on the defensive. The largest demonstrations were in the Ukrainian capital (Kiev) and stalled government efforts to replace a popular economic deal with the EU (European Union) with a less favorable arrangement with Russia. This represents a major defeat for Russian efforts to keep Ukraine from getting closer to Europe. Most Russians feel Ukraine should be a part of Russia, while most Ukrainians disagree. Still, for economic reasons many ethnic Ukrainians in the east back stronger ties with Russia. Ukraine got free in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed and want closer economic and political ties with Europe. To that end Ukraine began 2013 by signing a $10 billion contract with a major oil company to develop shale gas fields in Ukraine. Within a decade this could eliminate the need to import natural gas from Russia. This would free Ukraine from Russian threats to halt gas shipments if Ukraine did not do as it was told. This sort of thing has gotten nasty in the past. In 2009 a natural gas price dispute between Russia and Ukraine led to a compromise, but one aftereffect was growing anti-Russian sentiment among most Ukrainians. Ukraine accused Russia of fraud and intimidation. The tensions between Russia and Ukraine grew worse until the 2013 crises was reached. The trigger was a trade deal with the EU deal Ukrainian president Yanukovych promised to negotiate when he came to power in 2010. But once the deal came close to signing Russia responded with overt and secret deals that persuaded Yanukovych to change his mind. This enraged most Ukrainians (including many Russian speakers) who saw this as another example of the dirty dealing from the Russians that they wanted to get away from. Yanukovych has lost a lot of support in the security forces and has been unable to shut down the protests, which persist and get larger. Yanukovych and his supporters were seen as corrupt and willing to sell out Ukraine for personal gain. No wonder the demonstrations were so large and persistent, even in the midst of the cold weather.

Senior Russian officials openly advocate sending Russian troops into Ukraine, as it did in Georgia in 2008, if Russia feels its interests are threatened. In particular Russia is concerned with the naval base it rents from Ukraine in the Crimea. Russia claims ownership of the port of Sevastopol (the home of the Black Sea fleet) on the Crimean peninsula in southern Ukraine. The Russians currently lease the land for the naval base and provide jobs for some 20,000 Ukrainians. Prominent Russians keep demanding that Sevastopol become a part of Russia. The Ukrainians have resisted this but regard Russia as a bully for their attitude towards Ukraine. Many senior Russians (including president Putin) openly claim that munch of Ukraine actually is Russian territory. This includes Crimea and much of eastern Ukraine (where most of the industry and Russian speaking population is). The Russians make the case that these areas were conquered by Russia after Russia took control of Ukraine and were only incorporated into Ukraine during the Soviet period for convenience, not to recognize what territory an independent Ukraine would have. Most of the Russian speaking Ukrainians want to remain part of Ukraine, but with a little more respect shown for ethnic minorities, like Russians and the Turkic Tatars in Crimea. The official Russian line is that Western agitators and agents are behind all the unrest in Ukraine. But the Russians have been saying that for over a century and still the Ukrainians resist.  

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