Will the anaconda strike again?

March 19, 2014

Ukraine is now a pile of dry straw, waiting for Vladimir Putin to decide whether he will douse it with gasoline and set it alight, or leave it dry and trembling in the wind.

Putin has Crimea and no one will fight him for it. In his speech on Tuesday, when he announced his decision to draw Crimea into the bosom of Mother Russia, he casually told the West not to worry, there will be no more land grabs — “no one needs a divided Ukraine,” he said.

Now many are invoking the Sudetenland crisis of 1938 — where the then-British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain earned transient glory and eternal obloquy for agreeing with Adolf Hitler that the region, existing along the Czech side of the Czech-German border with a large majority of German inhabitants, should be ceded to a then-resurgent Germany. Chamberlain’s concession seemed to avoid a war. On the agreement, signed under duress by the Czech President Edward Benes, troops occupied the German areas, and later, the rest of Czech territory.

History repeats itself, say the doomsayers; the first time as tragedy, the second as… another tragedy. The Russian army, deployed along the Ukraine border last week, could cross it in a few hours. Europe would again be in flames.

Do not, however, think of the Ukrainians as a brave people united against the Russian menace. Many proved to be brave in forcing the resignation last month of the corrupt president Victor Yanukovich, but they are not united.

Like an anaconda, Putin can coil himself back into the Kremlin and digest the meal he has made of Crimea, his narrow eyes flicking over the stricken country to his west, waiting for splits, conflict and, perhaps, another cause for intervention.

One such cause may be more pleas from the Russians in East Ukraine for union with the motherland. A poll has shown, to the horror of the Ukrainian government, large majorities of up to 70 percent in areas such as Odessa in the south and Kharkov, Lugansk and others in the east who support following Crimea’s example and seceding.

The resentment that Russians and Russian-speakers have long felt about their estrangement from their country coupled with the rejoicing they saw on television as Crimea voted overwhelmingly for secession has been an intoxicating mixture. The majorities in the polls are evidence of its effect.

Many may believe the propaganda on Russian media that says the new government in Kiev is composed of fascists who hate Russians and will soon move against them. This is largely nonsense, but what small truth there is in it may grow.

The Nationalist far right, which hates Russia, will grow in esteem as the loss of Crimea sinks in and as refugees from Crimea put pressure on meager social provisions. The far right Svoboda (Freedom) party, once a tiny electoral force, has been given a clutch of ministerial and senior administrative posts — including Oleg Makhnitski as prosecutor general, a job with wide powers within the justice system.

One of the most important features of the new government in Kiev is the closeness of the main ministers to the oligarchs. “Never,” said an insider speaking on grounds of anonymity, “have the oligarchs been so politically powerful.”

Many of these oligarchs are close to Yulia Tymoshenko — Ukraine’s former prime minister who was jailed by Yanukovich. Tymoshenko has returned to Ukraine and is expected to run in the presidential election on May 15 with the advantage of having many members of her Fatherland Party in the cabinet, including the current Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk.

The appointment of two oligarchs to governorship posts in the east — Sergei Taruta in Donetsk and Ihor Kolomoysky in Dnipropetrovsk — both allies of Tymoshenko, adds to the sense that this is a government of the wealthy, by the wealthy, perhaps for the wealthy. For those who revolted against the rampant corruption of the Yanukovich presidency, such a government replacing his is hardly what they came to the streets for. Though Tymoshenko gained sympathy and admiration at home and abroad for her courage and defiance in jail, few forget that she, too, earned a reputation for corruption, less flagrant than that of Yanukovich, but steadily self-enriching nonetheless.

There is much for the anaconda to enjoy as he watches the country struggle for stability. The Yale historian Timothy Snyder noted at a seminar in London this week that there are many constituencies in Europe that oppose sanctions that endanger energy supplies or diminish financial flows to and from Russia. Russia “can take much more pain than Europe — because domestic politics don’t count,” he said.

Stefan Fule, the EU’s Commissioner for Enlargement, said earlier this week that the EU would be “obliged to accept” Ukraine in due course. This is a more explicit commitment than any yet made, but one that may be controversial among the more risk-averse of the EU’s 28 member states.

It was, of course, an offer from the EU to Ukraine to sign an association agreement (though far short of membership) that sparked the February revolution. The risk-averse would be quick to counsel caution about going even further with a Ukraine partnership and causing more trouble.

But trouble has arrived and the EU is deep in it. The democratic nations have a moral duty — to say nothing of a 2004 treaty signed by the UK and Russia — to guarantee the inviolability of Ukraine’s borders. Even if the anaconda was sincere in his offer to stop at Crimea, acquiescence to him would be a betrayal of the values that the EU proclaims.

War is still unthinkable, but now is the time to test how meaningful the soft power of sanctions, visa bans, asset freezes and isolation can be. What else is there?

PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a news conference at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow March 4, 2014. REUTERS/Alexei Nikolskiy/RIA Novosti/Kremlin


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This was a botched US-led coup meant to destabilize Putin, which elicited a highly predictable, and not unjustified response…not an early strategic move / planned attack by a Hitleresque Russian leader with sinister designs to conquer the world. That characterization is not true John Lloyd…and spreading that b.s. CIA propaganda puts the entire world in serious jeopardy. Have you read Mikhail Gorbachev’s assessment yet? However, the butterfly effects of this US-led coup flub will be highly unpredictable and could result in global chaos / land-grabs / global self-determination referendums, etc…etc… The smart thing for the West to do now is to shut up…let this monumental screw up go away quietly…tone down rhetoric… When the FSU broke up, many ethnic Russians were left stranded…no denying that…many are living in failed states like Ukraine, and believe life in Russia could hardly be worse…longing for homeland. This isn’t hard to understand. Because Russia is not the Soviet Union, and no longer poses a dangerous communist ideological threat to the West, but an economic competitor who wants to leverage the former Soviet empire to do its best to become a serious player in the global competition for economic rents, we should accept this inevitable ethnic reunion as, when, and if it unfolds. We should welcome Russia to the poker table and engage them economically…as Bill Clinton did with the Chinese when the war drums started beating after the downed US spy plane incident. What to do with Ukraine situation? Take the Bill Clinton road on this, to give ourselves the best shot at sustained world peace. I didn’t support Clinton, but hindsight has proven him wise indeed on that issue.

Posted by sarkozyrocks | Report as abusive

War is unthinkable, yes. But it was also unthinkable back in 1938, until Hitler pushed the limits of what Britain and France were willing to accept. If Putin tries to annex more of eastern Ukraine, that would also be pushing what the rest of the world is willing to accept.

Posted by delta5297 | Report as abusive

It should be “When” not “Will”. The world became different place on 17 March 2014 (annexation of Crimea by Russia). (NATO says: “Nothing special to watch, move on, move on!”)
First invasion and annexation in Europe since WW2.
Situation is much worse than in 1938. Germany in 1938 was only one of 4 European great powers or 6-7 world great powers. Modern industry but no significant mineral resources.
Todays Russia is different. Nuclear. Largest deposits of hydrocarbons in the world. Largest area. 2nd military in the world. Europe is energy dependent on Russia, and Russia dominates Europe.
And Europe is more divided, more sleepy, than it was even in 1938. Rich and fat citizens of EU do not understand that old order is gone. That security of their lifestyle (if not physical one) is at stake.
Americans think the same: it is not our war, not our national interest.
Just facts:
1.GDP of NATO countries is 33 trillion dollars, Russian is 2.1 trillion, 15 times less. In order to defend Ukraine, 6 months of harsh political, social and economic sanctions on Russia and Russians by entity 15 times stronger are more than enough. But nobody wants to foot the bill, as it would probably cause mild recession in US (2014&2016 elections stupid!) and UE (elections!).
2. China (9.5 trillion GDP) Russian ally stays neutral as it is on fast track to become developed country till 2030, no bumps welcomed.
3. Now lets move on 10 or 15 years. It is 2030. China is the largest economy in the world by large margin, equal roughly to NATO GDP. US military is equal to China+Russia alliance. Taiwan becomes 3rd special Chinese region and Singapore 4th. Japan, South Korea, Australia, ASEAN align with new hegemon, btw their economies are so dependent on China they have no real choice.
4. Central Asia and Persian Gulf (hydrocarbons) is Chinese sphere. And Europe is left for Russia.
5. US goes back to old good times of isolationism. This time it is a little harder as yuan is world reserve currency.

Posted by Wantunbiasednew | Report as abusive

Please. Putin is no anaconda. More like a garden snake overplaying his hand and courting indigestion, turning Russia’s future from the community of nations. No one wants a bully in their neighborhood.

Anyone can play a successful game of “chicken” so long as they convincingly present a “nothing to lose” attitude. No one wants to take the responsibility of confronting a madman, but no one wants to live under one’s heel either.

At some point it becomes “Put up or shut up”. If this pot boils in the next three years the world is in deep do do.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

Please, every politician is a snake. Crimea voted to return to Russia, so the right thing is that they do – all that can be objected to is that an improper process was followed. Article smacks of US propaganda. The US invaded Iraq in contravention of UN laws. Get over it.

Posted by BidnisMan | Report as abusive

The snake imagery doesn’t draw out the same ill feelings in americans as it used to. If you want to elicit a sick feeling in your readers as a way of making them artificially feel a negative emotion while simulataneous reading your words, you need a new something, but snakes don’t do it anymore. Try salad references, or reading a book.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

All these calls for military action are being made by stupid children, apparently. Have you forgotten Russia’s nuclear arsenal, and it’s willingness to use them? I cannot believe all the naive Americans saying we should act militarily, or the insinuations such as this one:

“War is unthinkable, yes. But it was also unthinkable back in 1938, until Hitler pushed the limits of what Britain and France were willing to accept. If Putin tries to annex more of eastern Ukraine, that would also be pushing what the rest of the world is willing to accept.”

What do you think would happen if the USA tried to use military force to stop Russia, who has the means and the will to use nuclear weapons against an aggressive force from the west? I’ll tell you what happens, we would send in one of our mighty carrier groups, and Russia would use artillery to turn the entire force to “radioactive ashes” to borrow some Russian state tv rhetoric. Do you think the USA would then avenge its soldiers by committing suicide and launching a nuclear first strike on the Russian mainland? No, we would sit there and take it. Therefore we will do nothing about this, even if Russia chooses to invade all of the Ukraine, which I doubt would happen. We should adjust our own rhetoric to match our actual intentions and abilities, not puffing ourselves up to be something we are incapable of being.

Posted by Benny27 | Report as abusive


The snake is a well established (and still effective) metaphor for a “hidden agenda” advanced by stealth, guile and insincerity.

A salad or reading a book? This unrepentant but literate carnivore fails to perceive your point.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

Some odd assertions here.
“Never have the oligarchs been so politically powerful.”
What were they doing under the previous Yanukovych government?
One of the biggest of them all–Dmytro Firtash, is sitting in a jail in Austria awaiting extradition to the U.S. for his nefarious schemes. An arrest that goes to the heart of the global criminal empire emanating from the Kremlin and ensnaring John Lloyd’s dear London. And the interim government in Kyiv made a briliant move appointing the two other oligarchs–Taruta and Kolomoysky–to governorships as their participation has stabilized the region. The rent-a-mobs that have been bussed over from Russia to created colorful footage of “chaos” have been dealt with.
“The resentment that Russians and Russian-speakers have long felt about their estrangement from their country…”
Again, an odd line. The “Russians and Russian-speakers” have controlled Ukraine the last few years and their preferred political force the Party of Regions turned out to be a bunch of thieves who drove the country into the ditch financially, alienating every region.
I’m also curious about the source for Lloyd’s “70 percent support for secession’ in certain cities. Events on the ground have proven the opposite. Russian provocateurs have been met by decisive crowds supporting Ukrainian unity and territorial integrity.
And finally, that old goblin the Svoboda party which is trotted out to frighten the children.
The Ukrainian press reports their support is falling dramatically due to the fact they represent just one more facet of the despised old politics and they serve as stooges if not de facto agents of influence for Moscow. Everybody, except for naive western journalists, is onto their game.

Posted by bluepanther | Report as abusive