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Russia Could Destroy the Ukrainian Government with This Political Gambit

This post first appeared on Russia Insider


Four years ago far-right groups in Ukraine were in open opposition to Petro Poroshenko using anti-Semitic slurs to attack him. Now, of course, Poroshenko is president and his Prime Minister - low and behold - is Jewish. Yet the far-right is allied with this government. Confused? Don’t be.

Ukrainian nationalists, especially far-right extremists, have always hated Russians, Poles and Jews. In order to prevent an anti-Semitic backlash in his country, Poroshenko managed to get these nationalists to direct their hatred primarily towards Russians who make up the largest non-Ukrainian minority in the country. He accomplished this with heavy-handed anti-Russian propaganda communicated through the media both domestically and via the West.

A WW2 monument in Kiev

In order to silence the ethnic Russians, a barbaric attack was unleashed in May 2014 on peaceful protesters in Odessa opposed to the February coup d’etat. The horrific crime in which dozens were burnt alive- and cheered on by a crazed mob - was largely ignored in the West.

This carefully orchestrated attack was meant to force anti-Fascist Russians into submission through the use of terror. It worked, except in the East and particularly Novorossiya. The ethnic Russians there rose up and declared their opposition to the new government. Civil War followed. And Poroshenko loved it. The war in Novorossiya has given him propaganda points and allows him to portray Russia as the enemy for supporting “anti-Ukrainian” separatists. He is perceived in the West as having the “moral high-ground”.

The Political Chess Game

In chess there is a move called “the gambit”. This consists of sacrificing a piece on the board with the hope of achieving a resulting advantageous position and winning the match. If Putin were to sacrifice Novorossiya and convince the leaders there to end their separatist campaign swearing loyalty to the government in Kiev, he would defeat Poroshenko. A risky move no doubt, but if successful it would destroy the current Ukrainian government. Putin could then offer an olive branch to Kiev with promises of gas and oil deliveries at a reduced price.

These gestures would be welcomed by the international community and Kiev would no longer be able to portray Russia as an aggressor. If Poroshenko were to reject this offer he would lose his “moral high-ground”, and perhaps even lose the support of the far-right. Without the Russian bogey man to point a finger at, the extremists might begin to look elsewhere for enemies – the Jews and Poles. Things could turn ugly very fast. Violence perpetrated towards Poles or Jews would seriously damage relations with the West. Any attempt by Poroshenko to squash the far-right would be suicidal, however.

There are still sections of the Ukrainian population who want good relations with Russia. Manufacturers, commodity traders and some politicians know full-well that the anti-Russian campaign has caused tremendous economic harm. These people are just waiting and hoping for some thaw in the frosty relations so that Ukraine can recover from its current malaise.

Without this political gambit, the thaw will never happen and the current conflict may last for decades resulting in a “stalemate”. If Putin were to make this bold move now, however, the game would be over. How do you say “checkmate” in Ukrainian?

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