Monday, March 17, 2014

Russia's Foreign Ministry called on Ukraine's parliament to set up a constitutional assembly to draft a new constitution to make the country more federal, Voice of Russia and RIA Novosti reported March 17. See Stratfor.
Crimea was an "autonomous" region in the Ukraine, which meant it had a regional parliament (Duma). The eastern Ukrainian regions are merely administrative provinces (Oblasts) which have a chief executive appointed by the President of the Ukraine and a Rada (Polish for "council").
It was possible to arrange for a reasonable amount of legal window-dressing for the Russian annexation of Crimea because there was a Crimean Duma which could purport to speak for the Crimean people, call a for referendum etc. (The fact that (i) members of the Crimean Duma who did not favor joining Russia were intimidated and (ii) an autonomous Oblast cannot lawfully secede under the Ukrainian constitution and (iii) the referendum was held under military occupation by an interested party will, of course, be put to one side for the moment).
If the Ukraine adopts a federal structure, each region will become an autonomous Oblast with a local Duma. That, of course, leads to a repeat of the opportunity to arrange for the same type of legal window-dressing for the Russian annexation of the eastern Ukraine: various autonomous eastern Ukrainian Oblasts elect their new Dumas, the new Dumas call for a referendum on independence, the Oblast declares itself independent and then asks to be annexed by Russia, which Russia graciously grants.
However, it should be noted that Putin did not trust to the outcome of a free and fair referendum even in the Crimea, the region of the Ukraine with the largest percentage of Russian “compatriots” (to use Putin’s fuzzy word), hence – occupation first – referendum second. Unless Putin strikes a deal with the Ukrainian Oligarchs who control the eastern Ukraine, expect Russian troops (without insignias) and various “militias” to show up in the eastern Ukraine before any voting.
If the Europeans and the Administration want to find a way to let Putin's plans unfold while the west has a legal excuse to do nothing (a policy of appeasement), they will fail to support the Ukrainian central authority when it resists adopting a federal structure.
The annexation of the Crimea is an almost exact historical parallel with the Anschluss, the Third Reich's annexation of Austria in 1938, including a referendum under occupation (97% for Crimea, only 95% for Austria -- Putin is two up on Hitler.)
The dismemberment of the eastern Ukraine will be an almost exact historical parallel with the Sudetenland: -- allegations of oppression of an ethnic minority in an adjacent sovereign country -- saber rattling by the aggressor -- western powers engaging in frantic diplomacy to "calm the crisis" rather than deter the aggressor, leading to western pressure on the borderland country to give in to the aggressor’s demands).
The Russian takeover of the western Ukraine will be an almost exact parallel with the takeover by the Third Reich of the rump of Czechoslovakia.
The Anschluss was accomplished in March 1938, the Crimean annexation in March 2014.
In April 1938 the Sudeten Nazis started to agitate for "autonomy", which would have required a federal structure for Czechoslovakia. Russia has been proposing a federal structure for the Ukraine for a while.
In 1938 France had a treaty of mutual defense with Czechoslovakia and the UK had one with France. In 1994 the US, France, and the UK (not to mention Russia and China) provided the Ukraine with security “assurances” in the Budapest Memorandum committing all of them to defend the Ukraine’s sovereign territory (in return for the Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons).
In August 1938 a diplomatic effort involving a representative of the UK government failed to "ease the crisis" manufactured by Hitler, and the Czechoslovak government said it would fight rather than cede the Sudetenland. On September 15, 1938 UK Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain met privately with Hitler at Berchtesgaden, without representatives of the Czechoslovak government present, and agreed to cede the Sudetenland to the Third Reich. Deladier did the same on September 18, 1938. These deals were then rolled out in more public diplomatic events in Bad Godesberg on September 22, 1938 and in Munich on September 29, 1938. Germany occupied the Sudetenland in early October 1938. Look for the moment, this summer when Obama decides to get involved personally and goes to a summit with Putin. Perhaps Merkel will come along. (Of course the new Ukrainian government in Kiev cannot attend because Russia does not recognize that government as legitimate.)
The Third Reich invaded the rump of Czechoslovakia in March 1939.
Any bets on whether Putin can beat Hitler's timetable? Any bets on whether Obama and Merkel and Hollande and Cameron can be more craven and feckless than Chamberlain and Deladier were?
As a result of the events of September 1938, the Chamberlain government dramatically sped up its rearming (including particularly with respect to fighter aircraft and the Chain-Home radar stations, which ultimately saved the UK). Any bets on whether the west European countries in NATO will dramatically increase their military strength or preparedness? Any bets on whether NATO will forward deploy crack troops in the eastern-most members of NATO? Any bets on whether Obama reverses his decision to further downsize the US military or even, God forbid, build it back up?
Where will our Churchill come from?