In his latest RTTV interview our Foreign Affairs Editor discusses the developments in the Crimean Peninsula and elsewhere in Ukraine.
Srdja Trifkovic: Ukraine is getting closer to disintegration, or at least a form of federalization to which the Russians can make a stabilizing contribution. Any attempt by the mobocracy that has gained power in Kiev to establish its writ, not only in the Crimean peninsula but also in other southern cities, such as Odessa and Nikolayev, and in the eastern provinces, in Donetsk and Kharkov, can only lead to civil war. Ukraine is internally divided between the people in the center and the west, who have radically different self-perception and radically different values and images of the future for themselves than the people to the east and the south. In the long term, the Russian leaders have realized that some form of federal or confederal order is the only way to avoid further bloodshed and outright disintegration of this somewhat hybrid country.
RT: What reaction should we expect from the new authorities in Kiev?
ST: They will scream blue murder, of course, and likewise there will be negative reactions across the western world. The response should be: in 1999 you violated with armed aggression the sovereignty of Serbia in order to help the secession of Kosovo and to help the Albanian KLA there, and now we’re acting in a way which you regarded as both legally and morally justified. In fact the Russians have a much greater right to intervene in Ukraine, not only because of some 10 million Russians who live there and another 20 million Ukrainians who feel close to the Russians, but also because its status as a great power is jeopardized if NATO is allowed to play havoc on the eastern borders of Ukraine. That must not be allowed. That would be a geopolitical disaster of the greatest magnitude.
RT: Crimea’s referendum on autonomy has now been moved forward two months… what reaction do you expect from Kiev if there’s a positive vote on Crimea breaking away?
ST: Of course they will claim that it is an illegal and unconstitutional referendum, forgetting along the way that they reached power by illegal and unconstitutional means. For the new authorities in Kiev, and for their handlers, aiders and abettors in the Western world, what is sauce for the goose is not a sauce for the gander. I would expect, and I look forward to a similar referendum to be organized not only in the Crimea, but in Odessa further west along the Black Sea coast, and in Donetsk and Kharkov to the northeast, because—as I have already said—Ukraine is a deeply divided country, which only through devolution and through federalization can avoid the danger of outright civil war and disintegration.
RT: Kiev’s self-appointed Prime Minister promises to ruin Crimea’s vital tourist industry by blocking entry from Russia, Belarus and Europe—unless Russian troops leave. What do you make of his threat?
ST: It is quite the contrary. I think that foreign tourists would far rather come to the Crimean Peninsula guarded by Russian troops, than that policed by the thugs of Lvov and Ivano-Frankovsk who came to Kiev to effect the regime change. If they were allowed to descend into eastern and southern Ukraine—and they are very gung-ho and ready for violence—that would be a disaster that the Russian president is well advised to preclude by sending troops.
RT: EU powers and the U.S. have time and again pledged support for the self-proclaimed authorities in Kiev. How do you think they’ll react to the news of an attempted assault by forces sent from the capital?
ST: I think there would be purely verbal expressions of support. I don’t expect either the EU or the U.S. to be willing to escalate this dispute beyond the point of no return. After all they realize that for the EU it is a peripheral issue, for the United States it is an optional crisis, and for the Russians and for eastern and southern Ukrainians, it is an existential issue. The reactions would be accordingly different. The Russians cannot allow Ukraine to be ruled by the neofascists from Lvov. They cannot allow the Ukraine that would seek, yet again, NATO membership. That would be extremely disruptive for the geopolitical balance in Eastern Europe. On the other hand, for the West, it is simply a geopolitical playing field in a game of surrounding Russia and exercising what an American geopolitical expert called the ‘anaconda strategy.’ The sooner the Russians react and protect both the Crimean peninsula and the surrounding eastern and southern areas, the better. The quicker the action, the less of a reaction there will be from the West.
RT: We’ve heard threats from some quarters calling for Ukraine to rebuild nuclear weapons, as leverage against Russia. The West was quick to condemn Iran for suspected nuclear arms, so what will it make of these almost direct threats?
ST: I think it is a bit of bravado. Neither the Ukrainian scientific community nor its arms industry has the capacity to do so, nor will it be allowed to do so. If that were indeed on the cards, I have no doubt that Russian special forces would be sent to wherever these installations happened to be—and also to Kiev itself. That would be an outright provocation that nobody can afford at this moment in time, except perhaps some neurotics like Senator John McCain.
RT: Nobody seems to be taking Yanukovich into account anymore—has he any chance of a comeback?
ST: I don’t think so. Even the people that used to support him were terribly disillusioned by his poor performance. His indecisiveness, his lukewarm attempts to contain the tide—as I warned on your program some weeks ago—were the signs of weakness which only could increase the appetite of the other side. He now stands largely discredited. I think it would be very important for the Russian and pro-Russian Ukrainians to find another, more energetic, perhaps younger leader, who is not tainted by corruption and who would be able to articulate their interests and not the interests of the ruling oligarchy.