- The Russian national team has been eliminated from further competition in the knock-out stages by failing to defeat Algeria (1-1). This has to be viewed as a disappointment to a Russian side that expected to go through along with Belgium, and now the Russian people are no longer distracted from the messages being sent to them through state-controlled and state-influenced media, while the rest of the world is;
- Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia just signed “landmark” agreements with the European Union. Although I despise the word “landmark”, these Association Agreements are indeed a key step in joining the Western bloc. The deal will open up tariff free trade with the 420 million inhabitants of the EU, greatly strengthening the economies of the three former Soviet republics and reduce their dependence on the Russian market, if not supplant it completely. It also commits them to a series of political, legal and regulatory reforms that should align these nations firmly with the West, not with Russia and the East.
Russia has said before that such action would be an unfriendly and intolerable encroachment on their “near abroad”, a region which they consider to be their private political preserve. Flights between Moldova and Russia have already been cancelled in retaliation and more is sure to follow.
If Russia feels that they are going to lose their grip on these three key strategic nations, it is entirely plausible to think that they might decide to take drastic actions. Half of Ukraine is better than none at all, though the Russians would probably prefer to keep Ukraine intact and non-aligned, if not subservient to them. But losing the whole country to the West is not acceptable, and the Russians still holds all the military cards and can impose a different solution if they see fit to do so. The semi-independence of Luhansk and Donetsk has just taken a big step forward; and if Russia were to be bold enough to “liberate” these two provinces, I don’t think they would stop short of the Dnieper and Odessa. This might involve an initial move on the easternmost provinces with a maintenance of tension all along the Ukrainian frontier and a repetition of events in Kharkov, Zaporozhe, and Kherson at a minimum in order to secure a the land route to Crimea.