Fearing abduction at the hands of separatists, thousands of residents have fled Donetsk, an eastern province where separatists have declared independence from Ukraine’s new, pro-Western government, AP reports:
Accounts also abound of militia profiting from abductions by demanding ransoms. Human Rights Watch researcher Tanya Lokshina wrote this week about seeing a woman in a Luhansk village whose son had been taken captive.
“She said the insurgents demanded $5,000 for his release but the family had no money,” she wrote, without identifying the woman or her son. “He called her recently from his captors’ phone, crying and saying he’d be killed unless the ransom is paid promptly.”
Television reports from independent Ukrainian channels make clear that the population—earlier portrayed as pro-separatist by Russian and other media—is not hostile to Ukraine, notes Adrian Karatnycky, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council and co-director of its Ukraine in Europe program.
“A poll taken last week by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology showed that in the Donbas, Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko now enjoys more trust than either Russia’s President Vladimir Putin or the insurgents,” he writes for the Wall Street Journal:
Russian media have also changed their tone markedly since the Ukrainian counteroffensive began to make major progress in mid-June. There has been a sharp decline in the use of terms like “fascist junta” to describe Ukraine’s government. Some Russian media outlets have even reported on the humanitarian relief efforts by Ukraine’s forces…..Russian public opinion appears to have shifted accordingly. A survey released this week by VTsIOM, a Kremlin-friendly polling group, showed that 66% of Russians now oppose military intervention in Ukraine, while in March a poll by the Levada Center found that 65% of Russians said Russia has the right to militarily intervene in both Crimea and Eastern Ukraine.
Three months after since Vladimir Putin’s triumphalist speech to the duma following his military seizure of Crimea, Putin faces three basic choices, amid continuing uncertainty regarding Russo-Ukrainian relations and growing international costs for Russia, notes Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser from 1977 to 1981:
1. He could pursue an accommodation with Ukraine by terminating the assault on its sovereignty and economic well-being. … Such an accommodation should involve the termination of Russian efforts to destabilize Ukraine from within, ending any threat of a larger invasion, and some sort of East-West understanding that entails Russia’s tacit acceptance of Ukraine’s prolonged journey toward eventual European Union membership.
2. Putin could continue to sponsor a thinly veiled military intervention designed to disrupt life in portions of Ukraine. Should Russia continue on this course, obviously the West would have to undertake a prolonged and truly punishing application of sanctions designed to convey to Russia the painful consequences of its violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty. This unfortunate outcome would likely yield two basket cases in Eastern Europe: Ukraine, because of destructive Russian actions, and Russia itself.
3. Putin could invade Ukraine, exploiting Russia’s much larger military potential. Such an action, however, would not only prompt retaliation by the West but also could provoke Ukrainian resistance. …..
“The issue of Crimea will remain unresolved for now, but it will serve as an enduring reminder that chauvinistic fanaticism is not the best point of departure for resolving complex issues,” Brzezinski writes for the Washington Post.
Seeking utopia in Ukraine?
“The idea of Ukraine as a place where you can glimpse the dream of a post-national, pan-European utopia, where people were prepared to die under the EU flag while standing up to Moscow, is perhaps most popular among certain Western intellectuals,” argues Peter Pomerantsev, the author of Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible, a forthcoming book about Putin’s postmodern dictatorship.
But these paradigms play right into Putin’s hands, he writes for The Atlantic.com:
The Kremlin has desperately sought to transform the story of the Ukrainian revolution from an uprising against corruption and terrible governance—grievances that could apply to Putin’s rule too—into a muddled narrative about ‘Holy Russia’ versus ‘Euro-Sodom.’ The idea of Russia as a beacon of religious conservatism is specious—68 percent of Russians might identify as Orthodox Christian, but only 14 percent go to religious services once a month or more frequently, and 60 percent of Orthodox Russians don’t consider themselves religious. Western liberals risk being spun by Putin.
In the post-Soviet space, it’s the idea of utopia, almost any utopia, that is perhaps the most important thing. Cynicism is the great underlying ideology of Putinism, fostered by decades of late-Soviet and post-Soviet disillusion, and now reinforced by Kremlin media, with its recurring message that democracy everywhere is a sham, that the Maidan is a con, its ideals doomed.
“This dynamic isn’t confined to Eastern Europe. When was the last time a Western country had a revolution that brought with it the promise of everything beginning again? 1989?,” Pomerantsev adds.
There are two possible outcomes of the proxy war, according to Karatnycky:
First is the military track. With Ukraine’s use of air power, and with effective control of borders, the military will continue to make inroads, taking peripheral towns and smaller cities, and squeezing the insurgents to the main cities of the Donbas region. ….Rising factionalism and divisions among the insurgents seem likely. With Russian propagandists now signaling to their own population that Moscow will not directly invade Ukraine, many more fighters are likely to lay down their weapons or desert. ….
The second way out may be through negotiations. This is the strategy that Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has been pursuing. To that end, the Germans have been pressing Ukraine’s leaders to integrate Viktor Medvedchuk, the pro-Russian former chief of staff to ex-Ukraine President Leonid Kuchma, into a peace process. There is even talk that Mr. Medvedchuk (Mr. Putin is the godfather of his daughter) may emerge as an interim governor of Donetsk as part of a peace accord. ..
“But the reality is that no matter the outcome, President Putin’s Ukraine strategy is a shambles.”