“What we see from Russia is an illegal and illegitimate effort to destabilize a sovereign state and create a contrived crisis with paid operatives across an international boundary,” Secretary of State John Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday. He accused Russian agents and special forces of instigating the separatist turmoil in the eastern regions of Ukraine, as rumors were swirling that Russia would invade and annex them as it had done with Crimea.
And turmoil it is. In the city of Luhansk, pro-Russian separatists built barricades around the former KGB headquarters they’re occupying. According to local police, they’d armed themselves with 200 to 300 Kalashnikov automatic rifles they’d found in an arsenal. Another group of separatists had occupied a government building in the city of Kharkiv, though authorities ended that. In Donetsk, an industrial city of about 1 million people, separatists are occupying the main regional authority building. They cobbled tires and barbed wire into barricades around the building and played the Soviet anthem over loudspeakers.
“A resolution to this crisis will be found within the next 48 hours,” Interior Minister Arsen Avakov told reporters in Kiev. “For those who want dialogue, we propose talks and a political solution. For the minority who want conflict they will get a forceful answer from the Ukrainian authorities.”
When the separatists heard that the government threatened to throw them out by force, they exhorted Uncle Putin to come to their aid.
So, here is a nugget that was brought to my attention by Kiev-based journalist Maxim Eristavi. The Institute for Social Research and Policy Analysis found in its poll of a representative sample of the adult population of Donetsk that the pro-Russian separatists represent the will of only a small minority of the people.
Turns out, only 18.2% of the adults in Donetsk want the region to secede from Ukraine and become part of Russia. A minuscule 4.7% want an independent republic of Donetsk. But a solid majority of 65.7% want to live in a united Ukraine. Which complicates the efforts of the pro-Russian separatists.
But opinions differ on how the region should remain part of Ukraine: 50.2% favor the current unitary state, though about a third of them thought that regions should be given broader economic and fiscal powers. And 15.5% would like to transition to a federal system, where one of the federal districts would be the Donetsk region.
A breath of fresh air in the escalating battle of threats and counter-threats. Someone finally asked the people! Clearly, for Russia, this is a different ballgame than the Crimea. There would be no fig leaf. Invasion and annexation would not have the support of the majority of the population, except perhaps in a doctored referendum enforced at gunpoint.