Looking to eastern UkraineApril 11, 2014
As regular readers know, I tend to write in rather broad brush strokes avoiding – unless necessary, or particularly interesting – minutiae that can distract from a tapestry far better viewed when stepping back a few paces.
As such I have deliberately made but fleeting mention of the incidents in eastern Ukraine in the cities of Luhansk, Kharkiv and Donetsk – for as interesting and serious as they are, they too are a small part of the bigger picture.
However, with the interim Interior Minister laying down ultimatums with regard to time lines for negotiation prior to the use of force in ejecting those occupying the administrative buildings, I will make an observation regarding the framing of the situation.
Quite clearly the forced seizure of a main local governmental building by separatists/pro-Russian activists/ terrorists/agent provocateurs/an ideological minority/traitors/mercenaries/useful idiots – whatever label amongst the myriad you can choose to use that have already been attributed to those involved – and the subsequent holding of those building for 5 days now, is not a minor matter and is seemingly something of an embarrassment for the current leadership.
At least that would appear to be how they view the matter having now resorted to making ultimatums.
But, without trying to trivialise the matter, is the current situation really that bad?
Let us re-frame the matter at hand.
Instead of having these 500 or so separatists/pro-Russian activists/ terrorists/agent provocateurs/an ideological minority/traitors/mercenaries/useful idiots running around eastern cities causing havoc and upsetting the majority of the residents who overwhelmingly do not share their view of the regions future, these people have corralled themselves within a single building in each city.
They are contained.
There is no rush to remove them even though their removal is desirable. Interaction and negotiation can and should continue with them for the return of the buildings – although there is no need to make any major concessions to any demands.
The golden rule in politics when dealing with the extremes that operate outside of the legal framework is to overtly marginalize them – engaging with them only when they return within the boundaries of the law, or indicate that they are about to do so with immediate effect.
Naturally covert dialogue is very likely to continue through back channels, intermediaries, low level governmental contacta etc. if and as deemed appropriate.
The golden rule when dealing with large scale public disorder is to either contain or disperse to the 4 winds.
As containment has been achieved by the tactics of those involved rather than any effort by the authorities, and marginalisation amongst the political and societal classes is also de facto in effect – why are the Ukrainian authorities not portraying the situation that way?
It would portray (rightly or wrongly) the perception that they are completely in control of the situation and see no need to rush the outcome. In short, unless those occupying the buildings begin shooting from them at those outside, I can see no reason to rush to clear the buildings – and even less to make any major concessions any which way the situation gets resolved.
Unfortunately, having now made public ultimatums with time lines to those occupying, the Ukrainian authorities have now put themselves in an unnecessary position – and a position that may go very wrong when exercising the use of force they state will occur within the next 24 hours.
If they now chose to row back from such action, it will then be seen as weakness by those internally and externally opposed to the direction of the current interim government.
I understand the need to be seen to be doing something – but that something should only be done if it is sensible. Instead of setting ultimatums, a re-framing of the situation would seem to have been the more sensible option.
The choice now facing the current authorities is to either look weak or stupid to many onlookers quite unnecessarily – and if it all goes horribly wrong, they will probably look both!