Saturday, January 3, 2009

Ukraine's Gas Crisis

Watch the Ukraine, people. Vlad Putin and company are getting ready to cook-up quite a stew for St. Barack when he ascends to the rule of the world later this month.
The (latest) natural gas crisis between Gazprom (the Russian gas-export company -- that croaks "ribbet!" when Vlad shouts "frog!") and Ukraine could get pretty serious, pretty quickly.
Find your atlas. Look up the Crimea. South part of Ukraine, right on the Black Sea. A lovely place I'm told (well, the German Army didn't think so in the last war), that produces some interesting wines. The big cities are Simferopol (about 340,000, capital of the "Autonomous Republic of Crimea" within Ukraine) and Sevastopol (population 350,000 or so) -- which has a giant Russian/Ukranian joint naval base, and used to be the home port of the Soviet Red Banner Black Sea Fleet. The place is well known to military historians: besides the great battles of the Second World War at Kerch, Sevastopol and other places, long ago, Crimea was the venue of -- yes, the Crimean War (see Charge of Light Brigade, et al).
Among other things, the Crimea is full of ethnic Russians who don't much like being Ukrainians, and who (as the Sudeten Germans did once) want to return Home to the Motherland. As recently as last September, the Russians were giving out Russian passports to "Ukranian" citizens of the Crimea, over Ukranian protests.
Mr. Putin (and most Russians with an interest in foreign policy) wants to rebuild Russia's control in its near abroad, and possibly bring portions of the former Soviet Union back under effective Russian control. Georgia was a step in this direction, but there are going to be others.
With the world financial crisis, and a dovish US administration taking power, an opportunity is opening for Russia to assert itself again. Georgia was an unmitigated success for a more aggressive Russian policy: why should Putin not push in Ukraine, also? Watch the Ukraine -- and particularly the Crimea. If you start hearing reports of pro-Russian agitation in the Crimea, in addition to problems with Russia over natural gas, you'll know Putin's reading the tea-leaves the same way.

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