The Big V-D

Thursday, May 8, 2014

May 9 is Victory Day, people, exciting times in former Soviet Space! 

The chatter today is about the rebels in eastern Ukraine, who are apparently defying Russian President Vladimir Putin's public suggestion that the separatists call off Sunday's planned referendum on autonomy.
Some have already raised the idea that this might all be a ploy, specially designed to take the heat off Putin. After all, if he claims that he has no control over the separatists, then he can't be blamed for their actions, right? 


Maybe--there's definitely a possibility that the schism is fake. At the same time, I wouldn't be surprised if the separatists had simply decided to respectfully ignore Putin's advice. As I've been mentioning for the past couple of months, I don't think Putin really believes that it's a good idea to get involved in full-scale fighting in eastern Ukraine. The east of Ukraine constitutes to Putin a means of exerting pressure on Kyiv, rather than an end in itself.

Or maybe Putin senses there will be bloodshed this weekend, and is trying to distance himself from it pre-emptively. It is, after all, Victory Day weekend.

Victory Day! Russians celebrate May 9 as the end of WWII. It's always been a major holiday.
 Victory Day celebrations in Kazan, 2005


Victory Day picks all of the scabs surrounding Russia's narrative about this conflict. Ukrainian 'fascists'--just like those from the Great Fatherland War!--betraying Russia. If ever there was a time during the calendar year that seems destined to fuel antipathy between Ukrainians and Russians, it would be May 9. The immense amount of drinking that accompanies the weekend probably doesn't help, unless you're rooting for conflict.
Cool video from Victory Day, 1985, the first with Gorbachev as General Secretary. 
Meanwhile, polls indicate that even in eastern Ukraine, most people support Ukrainian unity. According to the Washington Post:
Only 18 percent of those surveyed in eastern Ukraine think the country's regions should be allowed to secede -- a statistic that serves as something of a rebuke to Pushilin and his fellow separatists. The entire Pew study is worth exploring. (You can read about its methodology here.) It's important to note one caveat: the field work was done in early to mid-April, before the recent violent clashes in Slovyansk and Odessa that left dozens dead -- and could have deepened the country's polarization.  
The caveats are important. Conflict has a tendency of polarizing views, so it's possible that the numbers have shifted since April. Nevertheless, the numbers indicate that, at the very least, autonomy or unification with Russia is going to be a hard sell even in these regions.

Therefore, it is possible that the three most likely outcomes to the referendum could all be bad for Putin. The first of these would be that the vote is fair, with the separatists losing. Secondly, maybe the separatists will win, but only after conducting an immense amount of fraud and intimidation. The third is an escalation of hostilities, perhaps prompted by heavy drinking, belligerent nationalist feelings connected to the holiday, and the distinct possibility that the separatists won't be able to win a fair vote.

So I wonder if the apparent difference between Moscow and E. Ukraine is real. If it is, I wonder if Putin will find a way to stop the referendum by Sunday.
It will also be interesting to see what the Victory Day parades are like in Moscow as well as in the Crimean cities of Simferopol and Sevastopol. According to the Washington Post, Odessa is already filled with dread
Sunset over Sevastopol, 2006

In any case, it will likely be an interesting three-day weekend in the Borderlands. Stay tuned. 

Also see:

Putin's Gambit

Next Stop, Kyiv?

The Great Game: The US and Russia in Post-Soviet Space

Bad Idea Jeans: Ukraine Edition

Will he or won't he? Putin and Eastern Ukraine

Crimea and Eastern Ukraine: Things Can Always Get Worse

Tough Options

Russia and the Politics of Citizenship

The Crimea: More Than Just a War

More Thoughts on the Crimea

Crimea on the Brink: What's Going On?
More links, commentary and other stuff can be found at the Borderlands Lounge.

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