Putin’s appetite for Ukraine

Seizure of Crimea is in the bag, and everybody already knows it. Russia knows it well, and Kiev knows it well. Europe and United States also are well aware that nothing can be done to convince Putin to step back.

What nobody knows yet – and that is scaring everybody – is when Putin’s appetite for Ukraine will be satisfied.

Stantis - Chicago Tribune 2014Stantis - Chicago Tribune 2014

Russian troops already took control of main ports, airports, border crossings and Ukrainian military bases all over Crimea. Latest reports from the port of Kerch, where the eastern Crimea meets Russia on the strait that closes the Azov’s sea, witness more and more Russian troops flooding the peninsula… did I say Russian troops? Well, I actually got just a clue. I should have said that witnesses tell of dozens of military trucks loaded of soldiers in unmarked uniforms passing the border from Russia to Ukraine. Even though with no license plates (after some pictures in the past days showed these mysterious armed men driving Italian-made Lince armored vehicles with Russian army number plates), trucks are typical Kamaz-4310 in force of Russian army, soldiers are equipped with NSV heavy machine guns and RGD-5 grenades  and wear newly designed Russian army uniforms. Vladimir Putin outrageously insists to call these soldiers a “self-defense army”, and his boldness is the first hint suggesting that everybody knows he already did it and nobody will lift his arms to change it. What at the beginning was a cunning trick that let Russian army deploy in Crimea without officially being there, is now a hard to take shameless falsehood.

The importance of Ukraine

Many ask why Putin is taking over pieces of Ukraine. Here are some reasons. The first and more obvious so far, is just because he can. But that doesn’t explain it all. We should recall his ambitious project of the Eurasian Union – whose preliminary step is the Custom union that already ties Belarus and Kazakhstan to Russia. The Eurasian Union - that is seen by some observers as a de-ideological overhaul of USSR (of which already covers two-thirds) - will have its pan-Slavic character and - in the absence of an ideological constituent basis - an internationally recognized identity only with the entry of Ukraine. Only this condition would lay the groundwork for a political union, not to mention the importance of taking Ukraine away from the European Union and NATO. In other words, Putin needs Ukraine. And he was one step away from having it in the very moment he lost it because of the Euromaidan revolution. Now he is reclaiming his property.

Not even a country

“You have to understand, George. Ukraine is not even a country”, is reported the head of Kremlin to have said to George W. Bush, once. Putin and Russian have always considered Ukraine as their own business. In that land, referred as “Little Russia” until the Twentieth century, the pan-Russian culture, tradition, language and religion have their roots. The “Russia” name itself comes from the Kievan Rus’, the kingdom where everything had its start in the 9th century.

But we could find at least one more reason. After almost 14 years of consecutive power (counting the Medvedev’s 4 years term, when he was Prime minister and real ruler of the country), Putin’s approval rate was getting its lowest, even though it always was an enviable figure for any western leader. Russian economy is dramatically slowing down, and people sense of confidence getting thinner and thinner. Should we be surprised to know that a survey conducted by the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM) said that Putin’s approval rate is now at the highest level during the last two years for, at 67.8 percent?

Given the situation, a civil war for Crimea is still unlikely to happen.  Crimeans are called to vote in a referendum for independence or reunion with Russia, already next Sunday (two weeks earlier than previously scheduled), and Russian troops will be there to monitor. US, NATO, UN and EU can do very little to push Putin back on his steps and can only await the moment when his appetite for Ukraine will be satisfied.

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