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Political Sustainability

October 10, 2014

Way back on 1st July, this entry questioned the sustainability of the “People’s Republics” in eastern Ukraine – as well as the prospects of a certain personality at the time.  17 days later, the predictions for that personality were proven correct.

But what of the prospects of any sustainability regarding the “People’s Republics”?  Have they improved or regressed since that entry?

The latest opinion poll from the region states 42% of residents want the region to remain part of Ukraine with more autonomy.  16% of residents want the region to join the Russian Federation.  Neither percentage therefore supporting the concept of independent “People’s Republics”.

The number of polled residents of the region supporting independent “People’s Republics” was 26% – or 1 in 4 for the sake of arguement.

Therefore, whilst there may be clear territory held, there is certainly not sustainable public support amongst what would be the residents of any such territorial creation.  Any such favourable numbers would have to be concentrated literally in a single city or several towns to form any sort of majority support on the presumption rule at gunpoint will eventually be replaced by more civilised governance.

Whilst any such “People’s Republics” may have territory, some areas of that territory may become “Republics” without “People’s” – or at least willing people, depending upon the concentration levels of the 26%.

With the issues of territory and governance, amongst many questions come very serious issues of economic sustainability and rule of law – issues magnified by such small public support for any new territory.  Thus the current territory controlled by the “People’s Republics” (and Russian military) do not present a sustainable or viable economic or political future for the “People’s Republics” as a stand alone entity.

If we are to accept the genuine local separatists (and their number is extremely hard to define) will not allow any reintegration with Ukraine, despite 42% of the population within the “Republics” preferring to take that reintegration route per the aforementioned poll, and we are to accept that Russia will not annex the region as 16% would wish, for the simple reason that to do so removes any leverage over the Ukrainian government and rest of Ukraine, thus allowing a move toward Europe, consolidated democracy, and an “alternative Russia” that would not suit the Kremlin if it were to become successful for Russia’s own domestic reasons, what does that leave?

Few options remain.  One is to continue “as is”.  To maintain, finance and provide “security” to the current unstable status quo The Kremlin has created – meaning anything like a tangible, self-governing, economically plausible, independent “People’s Republic” will not come to pass – let alone one with the support of the majority of its “citizens”.  Even maintaining the status quo may not be as simple as it appears.  The in-fighting between various “volunteer” groups  continues when not fighting the Ukrainian forces.  Recently some Chechens and Cossacks clashed resulting in injuries and a few fatalities – despite “being on the same side”.  Sooner or later, discipline amongst the various groups and various political and/or criminal goals within them will need to be “policed” by somebody.  That may well end up having to be the Russian military (either overtly or covertly) as not all “volunteer groups” adhere to the weak political structures that have been inserted.  If/when the Russian military are forced to police to support these weak political structures, they themselves then possibly become targets of the “volunteers” in response to either “heavy-handedness” when setting down some rules and enforcing them, or scuppering any political and/or criminal goals that the “volunteers” may have for the region and themselves within it.

The Kremlin could recognise the “Republics” but that leverage is only good as long as Ukraine wants to keep the region.  The moment it decides to head west without the region if necessary, all leverage is gone and The Kremlin is left with a de facto protectorate it must subsidise to no advantage.  It would also insure the continuation of sanctions, even if the unity of the Europeans is questionable when it comes to further expansion of sanctions.

Another option The Kremlin has is to create a stand-alone territory with far more of a chance of economic plausibility, which means taking the city of Mariupol at a minimum – with far more overt Russian military action than already witnessed and a vastly increased number of dissenting citizenry to control/police if successful.  That 42% wanting to remain within Ukraine would rise substantially, whilst taking Mariupol would come at huge military costs.

It should be noted that President Putin will not make his annual economic speech to the Russian nation this year – an indicator that the economics are not good, will get worse, are a government and not presidential responsibility – may be – but perhaps more importantly it is a strong indicator that realpolitik regarding Ukraine remains far more important to The Kremlin than national economics.  Perhaps The Kremlin believes it can take the pain and wait it out until June 2015 when the EU Members must once again  show unanimity when renewing the current sanctions – with The Kremlin expecting the EU to fail to find such common ground again.

Not withstanding that even maintaining the current status quo ethically points the Europeans to extending the sanctions as nothing will have changed, if waiting it out and suffering sanctions until June 2015 is the Kremlin plan, and a large scale slackening of sanctions is the expected return through the Europeans failing to maintain unity – then taking Mariupol and/or going on to create a land corridor to Crimea whilst at it, is very likely to insure the Europeans rediscover their resolve and jolt it from any attention deficit disorder, remembering why sanctions were placed in the first place.

If sanctions are renewed, how close to economic collapse are the Europeans prepared to let Russia go?  Let us not forget the $50 billion plus of Russian majority State owned assets (less embassies and military equipment that are legally exempt) that can be seized from mid January relating to the Yukos shareholders compensation should The Kremlin fail to pay them off.   The continued capital flight and halt of FDI?   At what point on its economic slide, would The Kremlin decide to “go for it” with little else to lose?  At what point in the slide will the Europeans begin to worry that will be the case?  Will they hold their nerve if that looks likely?  What does this mean for the “People’s Republics” that will be little more than Kremlin protectorates if they are recgonsied?  If not recognised by anybody, then obviously de jure they don’t exist.

There is one other, quite improbable option, and that is for The Kremlin to pull out its troops and mercenaries from Ukraine, leaving the genuine local separatists to strike a deal with Kyiv – but whilst that would insure the region remained within Ukraine and under some Kremlin leverage retained via sustained “contact” with those people throughout – and after – any political process, those individuals would surely eventually fail given the lack of local support.  Thus The Kremlin cannot leave without jeopardising its current level of leverage on the ground.  With Ukraine being Kremlin foreign policy priority number 1 – simply because the prevention of  a successful “alternative Russia” next door is domestic policy priority number 1 – this seems the most unlikely option of all,  at least before June 2015 and an answer to the sanctions extensions – or not – arrives.  By this time economics may finally be vying for an equal footing with politics within The Kremlin once more.

Whatever the case, the prospects of genuinely functioning, successful, economically viable “People’s Republics” still remain as dim as they were when the 1st July entry was written – expect there is now considerably more severely damaged infrastructure and far greater humanitarian problems to contend with if they somehow succeed.  The most likely outcome if the “People’s Republics” are to exist even quasi-de jure, remains one of Kremlin recognition, followed by being a failed and dirt poor Kremlin protectorate as all other Kremlin induced “frozen conflicts” have become, entirely reliant on Moscow – and it is difficult to see what gains there would be for The Kremlin in doing so, vis a vis not doing so.  Even then the sustainability when supported by 26% of its current residents within the current controlled territory would be questionable.

Realistic choices then?  The current unstable status quo is maintained on the ground until The Kremlin “goes for it”, taking Mariupol and creating a land bridge to Crimea whilst it is at it, in which case the “People’s Republics” may – or may not – get recognised as they then become more viable, but The Kremlin suffers large military and at least another 18 months (if not indefinite) economic costs for doing so – or The Kremlin doesn’t “go for it” and the “People’s Republics”  never become anything more than illusionary entities existing only within a few political offices of the self-appointed, and within a few heads of ideologues.

Unlike previous Kremlin induced frozen conflicts that incurred no costs, the attempt in eastern Ukraine does.  It is not simply a case of “might is right” as the others have been – there is now a question of sustainability.

You have to suspect that by next summer, the answer – whatever it may be – will be become clear.  An answer that will be directly related to political sustainability for anybody other than the “People’s Republics” – who will be nothing more than beneficiaries – or not.

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