Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Pace Quickens and Desperation Appears on the Increase

With due respect to the more than 100 people who have been killed of the past seventy-two hours, the events in Ukraine have taken on the quality of a gangster film at the point where the gangster is on the run and tension builds as his options narrowing rapidly and his desperation increases.  It will not be over until its over, but there are a few points that deserve note as we prepare for tomorrow.  

Today’s extraordinary session of parliament was a landmark.  In effect, as of today, Ukraine once again has something resembling a functioning parliament for the first time since 2010, even if nearly half its deputies were absent.  The question is how Yanukovych and other sectors of government will react to this?  Right now I place odds on the fact he will try to ignore them, and hopes that the army will finally see things his way.  As I write, the deputy chief of staff has resigned upset at Yanukovych’s efforts to draw the military into the conflict.  I applaud him for showing junior officers that they have an alternative to following illegal orders. (Incidentally, it is also worth noting that many of the officers have, thanks to the Partner for Peace program which emphasizes things like proper relations between the military and the civilian authorities and not following illegal orders.)  So we shall see how they stand up to increasing pressure from Yanukovych, right now based on experience so far just as I would put odds on Yanukovych trying to get the army to attack the protestors, I would put odds on the military finding ways to avoid doing so.

If the big question remains whether Yanukovych can draw the army into the conflict, there are two things to look for to judge where he stands or thinks he stands.  The first is who shows up to parliament tomorrow.  It was in the interest of Yankovych loyalists in the Party of Regions and Communists not to show up today in the hopes that they could prevent a quorum from being reached.  They failed, but if they come running back in large numbers tomorrow and try to reassert their authority, or to be more precise return toe parliament to irrelevance, then we know that Yanukovych still thinks he can shape events in the realm of conventional politics, which is not to suggest he would stop with that.  If the PR and Communist deputies are back, it will also mean that the rumors about large numbers of deputies leaving the country are false.  If, on the other hand, they do not return, it suggests that Yanukovych has lost his hold on them, and that in the way of criminals they are now busy saving their own skin.  Given multiple reports from everyday people that people in Mercedes are at Kiev's secondary airport, I think the latter is more likely than the former.

Second, if snipers return to attacking the protestors,  but nothing more drastic ensues, it likely means that Yanukovych is again trying to buy time and/or provoke the protestors into some kind of violence that he can claim represents terrorism, but has otherwise run out of ideas other than using terror himself, which, as we see, has not deterred the protestors. Regarding the snipers, one more point seems worth noting.  The mayhem caused by them has been terrible, but the cost of human lives today is nowhere what it would be the internal forces deployed a machine gun or two.  Some of my fellow experts disagree with me on this, but I see this as a sign that even among the ostensibly loyal internal forces there is a reluctance to use lethal force in the scale that could resolve the Maidan situation quickly. 

Beyond that we shall see.

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