Tensions mount in Ukraine

Oil prices surged during the week, though stock markets remained broadly sanguine, as tensions continued to mount in Ukraine as key government buildings in eastern towns and cities remained occupied by pro-Russian separatists.

After deadlines to leave were repeatedly ignored, the government in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, sent in security services and troops to recapture the buildings. It also accused Russian Special Forces of providing weapons and support for the rebels.

However, Ukrainian forces have only succeeded in clearing one airfield so far, while in one part of the country there are reports that Ukrainian troops have switched sides, surrendering armoured cars to the insurgents.

Russian president Vladimir Putin warned that further intervention by the central government risks putting Ukraine “on the brink of civil war”.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s central bank raised interest rates sharply – from 6.5% to 9.5% – to prop up the hryvnia, the country’s beleaguered currency, which has fallen by more than 30% this year.

What the commentators said

Ukraine is the victim of Putin’s “ambition and spite”, said Angus Roxburgh in
The Guardian. But America and Europe have allowed this to happen by their “consistent failure to predict or counter his moves”.

They ignored that Putin had “more or less promised” that he would “do anything” to secure Crimea. They need to make it clear that “any attempt to dismember the country will be repulsed by force”.

This should be followed by “incentives”, such as devolution of power to the regions and guarantees for Russian speakers. Kiev must also get its house in order, and get rid of “far-rightists” who are in the new government.

Russia has denied that those involved in the latest uprisings are its soldiers, said The Economist. But Russia’s defence ministry boasted last year of ‘special operations’ units in neighbouring countries – many think “this has now been seen in action”.

Yet the Kremlin is unlikely to want to “annex any more of the country” – the cost of keeping the population acquiescent would be too expensive. Putin would prefer the eastern regions “to grab power for themselves… undermining the central government’s legitimacy”.

Ultimately, Russia “wants to turn Ukraine back into a buffer state, with a level of disorder it can turn up or down”. In the end, it may “end up barely a state at all”.

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