The Separatist Card

KIEV, Ukraine -- Appearing on Ukrainian TV’s Svoboda Slova talk show last week, Communist Member of Parliament Leonid Hrach warned that the autonomous peninsula, Crimea, could split away from Ukraine if the country joins NATO.

Communist Member of Parliament Leonid Hrach

It’s no secret that Hrach, who once chaired Crimea’s legislature, would support such a drastic move.

What is worrisome, however, is that such a threat could become reality, mirroring other Moscow-backed separatist movements in the Moldovan breakaway region of Transdniester, or Georgia’s secessionist Ossetia and Abkhazia regions. And the Kremlin’s geopolitical ambitions should not be taken lightly in this regard.

Such separatist movements are clearly designed to spur instability and maintain Russian influence over former Soviet republics with European ambitions.

As the strategy goes, you first create a problem, then send your peacekeepers in with the purported intention of protecting ethnic Russians left over from Soviet days.

It’s a formula that could, in theory, be applied in Crimea, whose population is regarded as largely pro-Russian and anti-NATO. The strategy involves keeping Russian peacekeepers in the region for a long time.

It has worked in Transdniester, which fought a war with Moldova proper in the early 90s. Georgia, whose Western friendly president has continually bumped heads with the Kremlin, is also in a hard spot, with two regions bent on gaining independence from Tbilisi and aligning with Moscow.

The Kremlin’s divide-and-conquer strategy is clearly intended to complicate efforts by both newly independent states towards integrating into western structures, such as NATO and the European Union.

It is being done in Georgia and Moldova, why can’t it happen to Ukraine?

All Moscow and its agents in Ukraine, like the Communists, need to do is flare up ethnic tensions in Crimea and play up the anti-NATO card, warning residents that their sons and daughters could be sent to Iraq as combatants if Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko gets his way in joining the Western military alliance.

During past election campaigns, hard-pressed Ukrainian politicians have had no qualms about playing the Russian-nationalism card in various hands – the language issue, NATO, etc. – with Crimea often serving as the main game table.

Re-igniting already tense relations between ethnic Russians and Muslim Tartars, many of whom have returned to the peninsula as homeless refugees, following their exile to Central Asia by Joseph Stalin during World War II, will help catalyze this scenario.

Adding oil to the fire is the fact that Crimean Tatars have traditionally supported the camp of Ukraine’s pro-Western President Yushchenko. Another tactic the Russians have apparently employed includes efforts to hand out Russian citizenship to population pockets in former republics.

Rumor has it that more and more of Crimea’s population are accepting Russian passports. The practice has been going on for a long time in Transdniester, and it isn’t just practiced by the Russians.

The threat is real, but what should Ukraine’s leadership do?

First of all, they need to start informing the population effectively about the benefits of joining NATO. Efforts thus far have been poor, to say the least.

Ukrainian leaders also have to crack down hard on separatist movements in what Czarina Catherine the Great referred to as the pearl of the Russian Empire. Focusing on the military benefits of joining NATO, including security from an increasingly blustering Moscow, is not enough.

Ukraine’s leadership needs to point out the economic benefits of Western integration as well. For one, larger inflows of tourists who would arrive when Ukraine integrates more closely with Europe would benefit Crimea more than any other region in Ukraine.

NATO membership also equates to more sales, contracts and jobs in the military industrial complex, meaning aerospace and other hi-tech industries such as rocket building.

This should bolster support in the Russian-speaking eastern industrialized regions of Ukraine. Simply said, when you are a member of NATO, you have a solid chance of selling your products to most first, second and third world countries.

If you’re not part of the club, you are left competing with Russia for the scraps, namely third world contracts.

True, setting up joint ventures with Western aerospace and military contractors will leave Ukraine as the smaller partner in most ventures. But it should bring Ukraine’s producers the kind of experience and technology needed to step up into the major leagues.

Moreover, sales of Ukrainian produced hi-tech military hardware, such as tanks, airplanes and rockets, should exceed today’s levels many times over.

Source: Kyiv Post

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