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Ukraine: The Crisis Moves East

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My fifth interview from Ukraine with David C. Speedie, director of the program on U.S. Global Engagement at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, first published on April 21, 2014.

DAVID SPEEDIE: I'm David Speedie, director of the program on U.S. Global Engagement at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. This is another in our Security Bulletin series.

We are very pleased to welcome back Dr. Nicolai Petro, professor of international relations at the University of Rhode Island, who is, however, spending a year in Odessa on a Fulbright fellowship.

Nicolai, welcome back.

NICOLAI PETRO: Hello, David.

DAVID SPEEDIE: We have been talking over the past few weeks, during this crisis in Ukraine. Obviously in times past, we tended to focus on Crimea and the separatist vote and then subsequent annexation by Russia. But now, equally obviously, the focus has shifted very much to Ukraine's east. I wonder if you could just give us a sense of what's happening there.

It seems pretty chaotic. One day, as you pointed out earlier, the regime in Kiev said it was willing to consider a referendum on federalism and then, the next day, launched what they called an anti-terror operation.

Who's in charge here, and what's their game plan? How do you see it playing out?

NICOLAI PETRO: At this point, I don't think anybody is fully in charge, particularly in the Donetsk region, which seems to be the locus of the resistance.

I was struck by the findings of a survey that was taken in April by the Kiev Institute of International Studies of the eight predominantly Russian-speaking regions. It indicated that the two regions of Donetsk and Luhansk are indeed ones that feel more alienated than the rest of the Russian-speaking regions of the east and south. So it is in those regions that rebellion has focused and taken on the characteristics of an armed uprising.

As you pointed out, an anti-terror operation was initiated, but it did not fare very well. There were defections. There was apparently an understanding by the troops that they would be fighting some sort of Russian units, but in fact all that they encountered were civilians. They were also poorly equipped. So the entire operation stalled.

In Slavyansk, over Easter, however, some national guard units were mobilized. These are composed largely of former members of the Maidan self-defense forces. There was a shootout that took place over Easter. It's not clear at this point what the situation is there.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Obviously what is of concern here is Russia's response. I'll read part of Foreign Minister Lavrov's statement from over the weekend. Clearly, as you say, if the national guard mobilization is consisting of Maidan self-defense forces who did not want to disarm after Maidan, it certainly gives some credence to Russia's claim that the government from Kiev is not in control in the east.

This is what Lavrov said: "There has been a surge in appeals to Russia for saving them"--that is, obviously, the Eastern Ukrainians--"from this outrage. We are being put into an extremely complex position. Those who are deliberately pursuing a civil war, possibly in an attempt to start a big, serious, bloody conflict, are pursuing a criminal policy. And we will not only condemn this policy, but will also stop it."

So fairly direct and perhaps ominous sentiments there. It just seems to be that things are spinning out of control.

NICOLAI PETRO: We shall have to see. One of the actors that has yet to fully come into play is the monitoring mechanism, which is an OSCE- (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) mandated group that is currently in the region, visiting it, to make its recommendations. Based, I think, on the nature of those recommendations, we shall have to see how the parties react to the findings of the OSCE monitors. Then we shall have to see whether they come down clearly on one side or another as to indicating culpability in the ongoing conflict.

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Nicolai N. Petro is professor of political science at the University of Rhode Island. He has served as special assistant for policy in the U.S. State Department and as civic affairs advisor to the mayor of the Russian city of Novgorod the Great. His books include: The Rebirth of Russian Democracy (Harvard,1995), Russian Foreign Policy (Longman, 1997), and (more...)
 

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