HankP says US foreign policy and security policy is still engaged in self-defeating Cold War tactics. As a veteran of an intricate proxy war waged under the larger rubric of the Cold War, I don't share his opinion. But there's lots to agree with in his diary: there are no Good Guys in this squabble, as there were none in mine.
Anciently, there were two ways to be Russian, centred on Kiev or Moscow. Yaroslav the Wise would break free of the decaying Byzantine world to become the first truly Russian ruler and it was he who wrote the first Russian laws. Yaroslav ruled from Kiev and with his death, the Kievan Rus fell into internecine warfare and eventual suzerainty of the Grand Duchy of Moscow.
These are not mere factoids. Let's not concentrate on irrelevant issues of sovereignty in the Ukraine. This is a struggle for identity involving both Kiev and Moscow. The current definitions no longer work: new ones must be devised from far older models than the Communists or the Tsars. Putin has become a new prince in the terribly old model of Yaroslav the Wise.
Put a political marble on the floor of eastern Europe and it will roll toward a cathedral. Ukrainian Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Catholic - might as well amend that statement to say the marble might roll toward a mosque, for there are Muslims to consider, even within Ukraine. Neither the Ukrainians nor the Russians of the area like to admit it, but they've been ruled by Muslims for many centuries, first by the Tatars, then by the Ottoman Empire.
Stalin exacted a terrible revenge on the Tatars, ethnically cleansing them out of the Crimea. Stalin systematically starved millions of Ukrainians in the Holomodor. If the subject of fascism is to enter this discussion, the Third Reich starved more people to death than ever died in the designated Death Camps. Stalin learned a thing or three about how to manage rebellious subject peoples. The Russians are not universally beloved throughout the Ukraine, shall we say.
Hank observes the West merely wants to fleece the region and plunder its resources. Here is the reality: both Russia and the Ukraine have been fleeced and plundered by their own wretched leadership. The West was complicit in all of it, bowing and scraping before the wealthy New Boyars of Russia and Ukraine, stashing their ill-gotten wealth in European banks. Mansions in Belgravia, great yachts in the Mediterranean, Gulfstream jets taxiing up to private airports in Switzerland and Lichtenstein, disgorging suitcases full of cash and diamonds: the New Boyars strutted and preened in their garish splendour while their servile European accomplices and toadies unloaded those suitcases. The West was never clever enough to do a proper job of plundering, nor did they need to: the Russians and Ukrainians handled it all themselves. The West merely needed to provide safe haven for the loot.
Forget the military implications of this mess. The Russian military is a paper tiger, good enough for a bit of bullying and occupation but its navy lies rusting at anchor in Sevastopol, more a pollution hazard than a military threat. Russia's air force is a dismal thing, its infantry and armor equally so. This is a war for hearts and minds. If someone calls himself a Russian and another Ukrainian, these are not statements of political identity: the political marble rolls toward the cathedral, not some bit of Soviet-era architecture.
Sevastopol is Russia's equivalent of Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. As the US would never relinquish its hold on the tip of Cuba, so Russia will never retreat from Sevastopol. Nor will the Ukrainians put up much of a fight for the Crimea. It will most likely become yet another Russian quasi-state, think Belarus or Transnistria, Moldova and the like. A flag, a song and a petty duke, reporting to his emperor in Moscow. There you are, gentlemen and ladies, the future of Crimea.
The Ukraine won't contest the Crimea. But Putin has already shown he isn't willing to fight for the rest of the Ukraine. Look at him, too ashamed to send in uniformed troops, sending in a handful of Spetsnatz / GRU as he has done in Syria, also without uniforms.
Putin has his foot in a bear trap he set for others. Putin tolerated the excesses of Yanukovich for too long. Now the Europeans have frozen the bank accounts holding those ill-gotten gains. Seems the aforementioned servile accomplices and toadies weren't quite as servile as all that.
Putin now blusters (always a sign of weakness) about seizing Western assets in Russia. Which assets, precisely? A few economic zones? The West did not loot Russia nor is that loot in Russia. That loot is in Western banks and investment houses. It is an empty threat.
Try doing business in Russia, you'll find out you must deal with proxies. For Russia is asymptotically corrupt and Putin does not control all that corruption. Oh, he might periodically murder or exile anyone who might threaten his cabal. But Putin can only stay in power while he can reward his enforcers. But really, Putin is not a tsar on the model of Ivan Grozny nor yet a vicious autocrat in the model of Stalin. Putin is a recapitulation of the ancient Russian kings, who ruled through personal strength of will, not by any mandate granted him by the rule of law. Look at him, flexing his muscles, all that bare chest Rambo BS, wrestling wild animals and wild women. Thus did the kings of old. This is the 21st century, Vladimir Vladimirovich. The era of the nation state is coming to an end. The European Union will have no dealings with a petty oligarchy such as Russia. Quit living in the 15th century.
Russia can't even control Chechnya or Abkhazia or even Georgia, for all that. The tighter Putin squeezes his fist, the more dirt falls out of it. If Putin is not a stupid man, he is a man lost in the fog of history, as were most of the tsars before him. But Putin has an option here, one which seems to have occurred to nobody: allow the political marble to roll to Moscow, as it has always done, throughout the centuries.
If another such marble rolls to Kiev in the Ukraine, Kiev is only a Local Minimum on a far larger landscape, one Putin controls reasonably well, one he has assiduously cultivated, the spiritual landscape of Russia. Putin is a fine wrestler by all accounts. He should know his political judo well enough to understand how to lever his opponents' force to his advantage. So what, Ukraine enters into the EU. But Putin controls the gas pipelines. Ukrainian nationalism is a stupid thing. Hank's right, there's a whole lot of ignorant and ur-fascist talk being bandied about in Kiev. But there's a good deal of lying propaganda coming out of Russia, especially Russian state media denying the utterance of this fart about how Russia doesn't have troops in the Crimea. It does and there's no good reason to deny it, Russia has the right and the need to use the port of Sevastopol.
There are good guys in this equation, none at all. Petty, greedy little creatures, each intent upon enriching himself, herself (Tymoshenko the supposed heroine of Ukraine, grown fabulously wealthy on Russian gas deals) - now waving flags about, singing songs, whipping up the mobs. If the Russians are thugs, and they are, the Ukrainian mobs have pissed in the soup of their own revolution.
As for Hank's charge of US connivance in the Ukrainian revolution, our Department of Agitprop is as useless as the Russian Navy. Couldn't find its own buttocks in the dark with a map and a flashlight. Yes, the USA backs all sorts of interest groups, hopefully backing some winners, instilling in them a few American principles about how such struggles are to be won. But our Department of Agitprop kinda forgets the basic principle of democracy, that it can't be transplanted. It must arise from the consent of the governed and isn't always helped along from the outside. Thus the USA failed in Iraq and Afghanistan both.
Gogol, one of the wisest and funniest writers Russia ever produced, wrote a book called The Inspector General, generally accepted as the best caricature of Russia ever written. In it, Gogol said "The more destruction there is everywhere, the more this reveals the influence of the town authorities."