Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sunset of Russian Influence in Ukraine?

Tuesday's Financial Times included a very short news item noting that the Russian government has decided to build a new base for its Black Sea fleet in the Abkhazian port of . 
It is difficult to know what to make of such announcements.  Eight years is far enough away that anything could happen.  Still, a timetable of eight years to build a huge military complex in ... certainly seems reasonable to suggest that Russia is seriously considering the prospect that it will be easier to evacuate Sevastopol than negotiate with Ukraine to continue using the Crimean seaport as the base for the Black Sea fleet after 2017.  

Undoubtedly, the announcement will spur anxiety in Crimea, where many jobs are dependent on the Russian base, and where nostalgia for the Soviet times is strongest.  That may indeed be what Russia wants, having already stirred up the waters by offering to grant Russian citizenship to Crimeans and create anxiety in Kyiv and Lviv, as well as among the professional worriers about resurgent Russia.  Yet, if this announcement is serious and building begins in ... then we will have to greet this as the Putin circle's first timid and grudging step towards recognizing the reality that they are gradually losing the ability to influence Ukrainian affairs, and further grounds to be skeptical of those who seem to that Russia under Putin is an inexorable force at least within the boundaries of the former Soviet Union.  Furthermore, we may want to consider if it is a coincidence that the announcement was made a week after the new Naftogaz-Gazprom agreement ended Ukraine's dependence on subsidized gas and Russia's good will. 

Still, the thought that Russia is even considering the possibility that   into into If work has begun on site, it only involves the most preliminary tasks, though that is unlikely at this time of year.  So time will only tell how serious this talk is.  Right now it is just as plausible that this is another game of cat and mouse with Georgia.  Yet, if this is more than bluster, Work surely hasn't yet begun on site, and time will only tell if it does.   As such it may simply be part of 

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