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The recklessness of Russia

In the last few days, Russian military vessels have attacked and sunk Georgian naval vessels. However those Russian ships are based in Sevastapol- under the remit of an agreement with the host nation: Ukraine.

Ukraine does not support the use of its ports in a vicious war against a friendly country. It has indicated that it will not permit those ships that participated in the action to return to Ukrainian ports.

If Russia intends to break the blockade, then it will essentially be attacking Ukraine in the same way as it has already attacked Georgia.

This is playing with fire.

The rape of Georgia has already humiliated the West and killed tens of thousands.

Unless the Kremlin pulls back from the brink, we could indeed be looking a a major war.


Anonymous said…

Of interest legally what clauses are there in the lease which gives Ukraine the right to do this.

Cicero said…
There are two protocols, one is the 1993 agrement on the division of the former Soviet navy and the second is the 1997 lease agreement on the Sevastopol and Yalta naval installaions. The Presidential decree issued by the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice yesterday makes reference to the 1997 treaty. This is a very large document! In any event the lease runs out in 2017, but Ukraine does have legally a veto on the use of the facilities in time of war. Georgia and Russia are at war so it does seem that the Ukrainian legal position is pretty solid.

However, as we have seen in the last few days, the Kremlin is not too big on international law.
Anonymous said…

The language will be quite important. In any case the idea is insanely risky. Leave aside anything the Russians may do how do you think eastern Ukraine would react. Even more so the inhabitants of the Crimea. With the Russian fleet based there for decades many of the Sailors will be friends and relatives, do you think they'll just go oh well never mind if Ukraine fired on them whatever the circumstances. It is a terribly fragile Country, Yuschenko need only look at the 2004 and 2006 elections to see that.

Cicero said…
It is not as fragile as all that. Despite Putin's outrageous comment that Ukraine could be partitioned, in fact even the Russian speakers do see themselves as Ukrainian. Politically, the country falls in to roughly five camps and these are increasingly not regional, but simply political: Yuschenko, for example is from the east of the country. Neither is Yuschenko a hothead in the manner of Saakashvili- If the Russian fleet breaks the restriction, Ukraine will have the legal right to begin early termination of the lease.
It is dangerous, but not because of the steps that Ukraine is making, but because Russia seems unwilling to be be bound by any treaty whatsoever, and is prepared to use brutal violence to impose its will. This is, of course why Ukraine fully intends to increase the distance between K'yev and Moscow and assert a greater independence.
An armed attack against Ukraine would be a different story compared to Georgia, since the Ukrainian army is far more evenly matched- and the Russian domestic political implications, including in Tatarstan are a potential major headache for Putin.
It is a risk, but a calculated risk, and unlike Germany and Italy, Ukraine is demonstrating prepared to stand up for itself.
Anonymous said…

They may think of themselves as Ukrainian but Russians as well. Many are also fiercely resistant to the idea of Nato membership. On paper the Ukrainian army is a far more even match but I seriously doubt Troops from Donetsk would be as motivated as say Troops from Lvov to take on the Russian Army if the trigger is a Ukrainian ship opening fire on the Russian Navy. More likely there would be serious trouble in the Crimea which was only giftede to Ukraine by a Ukrainian Kruschev in 1957.

In short Yuschenko should think hard about risking Ukraine now for Georgia. He should get Ukraine into the EU first which is the one thing they all agree on and worry about Nato only many years later. He can achieve his goals gradually. If he attempts to force the pace now he risks it all.

Cicero said…
I can not make that assesment of Ukrainian military capability- the armey is large and well equiped- Russia is not seen as a homeland by Russian speakers in Ukraine- Ukraine is seen as that homeland. As for Crimea, the population until 1941 was majority Tartar, not Russian, Then Stalin deported the Tartars and replaced them with Russians. However the tartars are now returned and while they retain links with Tartarstan, they are not going to fight for Russia- quite the reverse. I am not being complacent, and I sincerely hope that Russia doesn't decide to break another treaty. However I think Ukraine is by no means a pushover, and that for the long term relationship Russia would be mad to even consider hostile action. I would also point out the very luke-warm response to the fighting in Georgia amongst the general Russian population- the war is not popular at all. An atack on a borther Slav nation could cause Putin significant domestic problems, amongst Tartars and Russians alike
Anonymous said…

Dear Consul. What the population of the Crimea was in 1941 is about as relevant as saying that Scotland was majority Pict around 820AD.

I think you underestimate the Russians they don't need to launch a direct assault. The rioting in Estonia is just a taste of what they could stir up in Ukraine if they felt like it, where the population is much closer to Russia being more distant from the EU. This is especially so in Crimea.

In the end Yuschenko was elected President of Ukraine not Georgia and it is his duty to ensure he looks after Ukraine first and foremost.

Cicero said…
Well of course you are right, Russia doesn't need to launch a direct attack, but again I don't see the same kind of social fracture that you saw in Estonia- Russians are prety integrated in Ukraine. I am no saying that Russians can do nothing, simply that Ukraine is a more robust construct than commentators seem to think.

My comments about the history were intended to underline that Russia can not legitimately claim Crimea. They may indeed try to claim it- though that would break virtually all the treaties that they have ever signed with Ukraine and would therefore be a flagrent breach of international law.

You may say that the way in Georgia shows that Russia doesn't care for international law, but they can not behave in this manner for long before they end up totally isolated and their neighbours are armed to the teeth.
Anonymous said…
Sadly the Russian's are following the example of the US in regard to international treaties in recent years - Geneva Convention, Kyoto, Kosovo to some degree. To every challenge, the Russian's will respond with the charge of hypocracy.

The loss of moral authority the hubris of Bush and Blair created is going to have consequences for a long time.
Anonymous said…

I recommend you read Simon Sebag Montefiori in the Times. As an excellent a summing up as I have seen.

Richard T said…
All the comments seem to consider at Georgia in isolation from the other caucasian successor states to the soviet republics. I suggest that this is very dangerous.

Look at a map of the Caucusus and see the enclaves and remember the armed conflicts between Armenia and Azerbijan as well as Georgia over territory and interests. Remember too the religious overtones of different forms of orthodox christianity and islam.

The consequences of NATO becoming embroiled there are as worrying as the network of alliances before the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914. There are at least three local interested powers - Russia through previous ownership and its own national interests; Iran as a bordering state with a religious involvement; Turkey because of the borders and history - territory was lost at the end of the First World War; add western meddling in the area and the consequences however sympathetic one might be are incalculable.

Remember too that the involvement of NATO might not be welcome; the main neighbourhood NATO power is Turkey which has a great deal of form there especially with the Armenians.

All this is to say that extreme caution should be the approach by the west and before we condemn Russia too much we might look to the Caribbean where the USA has kept an active interest in the affairs of its independent neighbours to say the least.
AA said…
The rape of Georgia has already humiliated the West and killed tens of thousands.

This seems a colossal exaggeration. Georgia has hardly been “raped”, more like spanked and tens of thousands have not been killed. The actual toll seems very light considering the hardware employed. Considerably less than 1000 on all sides.

The Russians were quite restrained after the Georgians were routed and declined to do a ‘highway of death’ on them as others might. At the time I was surprised but realize now that they had no intention of taking Tbilisi.

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