The latest from my sister in Ukraine:
Many of you have reached out since my last update - I am very sorry that I can't reply to you each individually but please know that it is extremely comforting to know you are thinking about Igor and me, and that you are paying attention to what is happening in Ukraine.
We are still far geographically from Putin's aggression, but we are feeling it closer and closer morally. I say "Putin" specifically because I have many friends and colleagues in and from Russia, and I do not (cannot) believe a well-informed Russian would agree with what is happening, thus I lay the illegal acts solely on the shoulders of one man - Vladimir Putin. I did not want to be held personally accountable for the illegal acts for George W. Bush, and in that same philosophy, I won't hold all Russians responsible for the acts of a very wrong-minded president. Sadly, many Russians are victims of his propaganda and believe the lies they are told.
There is much discussion that Putin is insane, Obama is weak, the EU should do more. I will address these in reverse order, and emphasize that these are my personal opinions. Plus, I've not slept well in several weeks, so please forgive me for not being particularly articulate or polite.
The EU: Anyone who counts on the EU for anything is just plain naive. The concept of the EU is great, but in practice they can not agree on a effective way out of a paper bag. They will spend 3 months discussing the language of a slightly stern letter, and then ultimately not agree. This has been the way of the EU since its conception, and in theory I kinda like the idea of a government that debates how to get out of a paper bag, but their ineffectiveness is just, well, ineffective in the real world.
The U.S.: President Obama has been criticized on both sides of the pond for not being "strong" enough against Putin. I have 2 thoughts on this: (1) It's not the U.S.'s border at risk here, it's the EU's freaking border and thus the EU ought to be taking leadership, and (2) I absolutely do not want to be at ground zero of World War III, and I THANK President Obama for not risking the lives of every single person in Ukraine for some geopolitical power-play to show how "strong" he is.
As for Putin is insane, I suppose anything is possible, but I am inclined to agree with Masha Gessen's analysis in her recent op-ed (she wrote a biography of Putin a couple years ago): http://www.latimes.com/opinion/commentary/la-oe-gessen-putin-russia-ukraine-20140311,0,1433770.story#axzz2vdxV55eV
. This article that she recommended is also very good, albeit very discouraging:http://www.the-american-interest.com/articles/2014/03/10/falling-into-putins-trap/
If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, well, then it's the U.S. and the EU who are insane, not Putin. He has behaved exactly the same way for 15 years, and gets the same results each and every time (Chechnya, Georgia, Ukraine, and many other similar situations). The West, on the other hand, has never once been able to get Putin to play by their rules, and they will NEVER be able to get him to. Sanctions are necessary and the EU should stop buying Russian gas and oil immediately, but further isolating Putin both politically and economically will absolutely NOT have the effect the West desires - he isolates Russia himself and does not care at all to be part of any international community.
Some of you have asked about news sources. I am quite disappointed with most European and U.S. media and have almost entirely stopped following them. The BBC has generally been OK, but the speed with which they capitulated Crimea to Russia was disheartening. The fact that they continue to refer to the "referendum" in Crimea as the "illegal" referendum, putting quotes around illegal instead of referendum, is disappointing, as if it is questionable that the referendum is illegal, when it is absolutely sure that the referendum is unconstitutional and illegal. When the only countries that say they recognize the referendum as legit are the likes of Russia, North Korea, and Venezuela, you know something ain't right. As for the U.S. media, I find their myopia frightening and insulting. The world does not revolve around the United States, and I simply cannot listen to another "news report" that pivots the focus of every story to the "battle" between Democrats and Republicans. This is not about Obama, no matter how hard the media or politicians try to make it about him.
Good English-language sources I can recommend are: Kyiv Post (independent news in Ukraine), Moscow Times (independent news in Russia), Al Jazeera, and sometimes BBC (although less and less). On Twitter:@ChristopherJM, @shustry, @andersostlund, @EuroMaydan_eng, @edwardlucas, @steven_pifer, @MGongadze, @UkrEmbassyUSA, to name a few.
I also highly recommend the articles by my good friend Bill Varettoni, who really knows what the hell he is talking about.http://www.kyivpost.com/opinion/op-ed/william-varettoni-a-primer-on-crimeas-road-to-ruin-338084.html
And this rather predictive article of his from 2011: http://csis.org/publication/twq-crimeas-overlooked-instability
And Bill basically says it all about the "referendum":
On the upcoming "referendum" in Crimea - A referendum held at gunpoint without any outside, unbiased observers? In the presence of a foreign army? And where maintaining the previous state of affairs before the armed invasion is not even a choice on the ballot? 'Will of the people' is good and right, but you can't possibly believe this ballot has any hope of representing the will of the people.
I have not been able to write an update recently about what is happening because, frankly, I see no outcome that is not horrible, and it's just too hard to think about. I find it challenging to go down any theoretical path about what happens next, as every path leads me to a terrible conclusion. Putin will never play by anyone else's rules, and it's pointless to try to negotiate with him as if with a civilized world leader who recognizes the values of a global society. But I absolutely don't want the U.S or the EU to play by Putin's rules, because I think it would be disastrous to do so - I am not exaggerating when I say we could be on the brink of World War III if the U.S. and/or the EU respond to Putin in the only language he understands, one of aggression and violence. I do not think he values human life, and it will mean nothing to him to destroy all of Ukraine, Europe or even the globe. But I don't want my beloved Ukraine to be abandoned by the EU or the U.S., left alone to fend for herself against the worst and possibly most dangerous bully of our time. Ukrainians will fight to obliteration before submitting again to rule from Moscow, I have no doubts about this. Crimea may likely be lost, but I do not believe Putin will stop there.
And thus, the terrible conclusions to which I cannot find any alternatives. If you haven't already asked me about my evacuation plans, I know you want to now. I could leave at any moment, but I don't plan on it, at least not yet. Every day is "wait and see", and I'll keep waiting and seeing.
Hoping Putin's next botox shot is from a bad batch....