1) I am increasing the likelihood of annexation in Donetsk to 35%, Luhansk to 30% and Kharkiv to 25% per the document “Analyzing Annexation Targets in Ukraine and Frozen Targets” ( http://www.brianmefford.net/analyzing-annexation-targets-ukraine-frozen-conflicts-2/ )
2) Expect the separatist uprising in Donetsk and the east to get worse before it gets better- at least until Thursday’s meeting in Geneva with the US, EU, Ukraine and Russia. That assumes Russia doesn’t pull out altogether. Also given Russia’s modus operandi, expect more attempts to storm government buildings in the east and south before Geneva. At a minimum this will give Russia additional leverage for the talks but it also plays into their bigger game of annexing Ukrainian territory.
3) Look for the US and EU to support Ukraine’s call for a UN Peacekeeping force. To paraphrase Victoria Nuland, the US doesn’t have a lot of confidence in the EU and have been searching for a way to get the UN involved to “glue” the deal. The visit of CIA Director John Brennan to Kyiv over the weekend surely covered this topic (among others). It is likely that US soldiers will be a part of the peacekeeping mission. The presence of one US soldier in that capacity is a game changer as it’s not about the size but the symbolism. The trick is to get Russia not to veto a UN peacekeeping force and the only way to do that is to invite Russia to take part in the mission too. Thus, it appears that Russian peacekeepers will also be invited to serve alongside their American counterparts. This is an attempt to make Russia part of the solution and give them a fig leaf of cover domestically. Thus, Russia would send peacekeepers who would be held in check by the Americans, while Ukraine’s government will be recognized as legitimate and territorial integrity preserved. If that fails, then the US and the EU will have to act alone (which won’t be the first or last time but at least the West will have exhausted all diplomatic solutions).
4) The Ukrainian military and security forces need a major overhaul. After years of neglect and outright sabotage by pro-Russian forces in the Ukrainian government, the military is riddled with quislings and mostly unprepared for military operations. Internal polling with the Ministry of Defense has shown for years that in the event of a war with Russia, up to 30% of soldiers would refuse to fight. We are now seeing that statistic play out. Plus, every unsuccessful anti-terrorism operation (like the one last weekend in Sloviyansk) only encourages more separatist actions and causes the loyalties of Party of Regions members to vacillate between Kyiv and Moscow. In addition, there is a growing sense abroad that the Ukrainian military is hollow and unable to defend the country. The tactical retreat from Crimea is understandable as Ukrainians were outnumbered. However the apparent unwillingness of many Ukrainian soldiers to fight for their motherland on the mainland, is not going unnoticed in the West. Until Ukrainians either successful eliminate a separatist threat and/or demonstrate a Spartan-like steadfastness to take up arms to defend their country, the chance of getting the anti-aircraft and anti-tank weaponry they need to protect themselves is almost zero. America won’t sell Ukraine advanced weaponry only to see it surrendered to the Russians. In the 1980’s the mujaheddin received weapons partly because they proved their willingness to die for their cause. The activists of Euromaidan proved their willingness to die for their cause too. So far, aside from a few isolated incidents, the jury is out on the Ukrainian military’s willingness to do the same. That may yet change, but at this time, the international community is not convinced. As a result, there can be no serious talk of NATO until military reform takes place in Ukraine. Finally, many argue that if Ukraine uses force to eliminate the separatists that it will provoke Russia to invade. However, Russia has already invaded and annexed Crimea. They de facto have a state of guerilla warfare already existing. If it is not quickly ended, it will flourish and Ukraine will lose more territory.
5) It is critical for Kyiv that the elections go forward on May 25, otherwise the government and Euromaidan are de-legitimized internationally and Russia wins a huge PR victory. There is talk now that the political elites have reached agreement to postpone the parliamentary elections -tentatively planned for autumn- until the next regular election in 2017. If true, that would put added importance on the need to conduct the presidential elections next month. A compromise may be the direct election of governors this autumn instead as part of a decentralization/federalism process.