The Obama Administration’s Own Goal In Ukraine


From the NYT:

DONETSK, Ukraine — Snap referendums conducted by secessionists in eastern Ukraine in hopes of legitimizing their cause drew large crowds on Sunday, and unfolded in a carnival-like atmosphere that was celebratory in some places and lethally violent in others.

In Donetsk, the capital of one of the two provinces where pro-Russian separatists have declared “people’s republics,” there were balloons and loudspeakers playing Soviet-era songs, and families came to vote with children in tow. But outside the provincial capitals, the voting took place in such a state of raw chaos that in one town a man was shot to death by pro-Ukrainian paramilitaries on a sidewalk outside a polling station. …

The referendums were roundly condemned from the outset, both in Kiev and internationally, as elections that could not possibly be free and fair, given the political turmoil enveloping the region. But while the results were unlikely to be accepted by anyone but the organizers and their Russian patrons as reflecting the democratic will of the majority, the turnout on Sunday appeared to at least demonstrate that the separatists had substantial popular support. …

“I am voting because I don’t want war,” said one participant, Roman Agrisov, a 40-year-old steelworker, as he stood in a line that was three people wide and a hundred yards long, snaking out the door of Middle School No. 32 in Donetsk.
He and some fellow voters said they thought the referendums would deter the authorities in Kiev from pressing military operations to reassert control in the region. Others were less sure whether it would tamp down the unrest or stoke it further, but said they were voting anyway to reject the interim government in Kiev, which they consider illegitimate. …

Galina Kuznetsov, an election volunteer overseeing this polling station, said in the morning that she was pleased with the way things were going because nobody was drunk. “You don’t see one person here with a bottle of beer,” she said. “Everybody is sober.”

But shortly after noon, a pro-Ukrainian volunteer militia backed by Ukrainian army troops who guarded nearby checkpoints swept in and broke up the voting in Krasnoarmiysk, though the organizers managed to carry off the cardboard boxes of ballots, presumably to count. …

The scene darkened, with the voting already forgotten and a group of local men taunting the militiamen, who took up positions in City Hall and made a show of cocking their Kalashnikov assault rifles. One man in the group who advanced on them, ignoring warning shots over his head, was shot and killed, and another was wounded.

The good news is that Slavs (or at least northern flatland Slavs) generally don’t hate other Slavs the way everybody in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, or Libya hates everybody else. While there has been lethal violence in Eastern Ukraine in the last couple of months, it has been more notable for scary scenes where the people involved manage to avoid killing each other. For example, here’s a Tianamen Square-style confrontation between unarmed civilians and a military armored vehicle sent by the new government in Kiev:

Keep in mind that the unarmed local civilians putting their bodies in front of the war machine are terrorists who hate our freedom. Also, you may recall that the overthrown elected president of Ukraine never sent in the Army like this to confront protesters. Well, stop recalling that — it just complicates the Narrative.

The danger is that, while Slavs are slow to fight, they are pretty good at having really big wars once they finally get going.

I can’t imagine that President Obama is terribly happy to spend 2014 worrying about some part of the globe of which he knows nothing. He was planning to spend his second term’s foreign policy on southeast Asia — the “pivot to Asia” — an area he is personally familiar with. But personnel is policy, and if Obama won’t sack the underlings who have been in charge of this region for him, he’ll get more of the same.