Donetsk shaping up to be the next stage of Russia’s move into Ukraine

In Donetsk, a large industrial city in Ukraine’s east, pro-Russian protesters stormed the regional legislature and, according to reports in Russian media, declared the city “Donetsk People’s Republic” on Monday. The protesters are now demanding a referendum on joining Russia, with May 11 touted as the day of the vote, and calling for “peacekeepers” from Russia to intervene.

Of course, this all looks a little Crimea 2.0. And that’s especially worrying, as there have been a number of other reports of pro-Russian protests in other Ukrainian cities like Kharkiv and Luhansk. If Donetsk is following a pattern established by Crimea, it seems these regions might, too.

Donetsk does have a slim Russian plurality (48.15 percent vs. 46.65 percent Ukrainians, according to the 2001 census), it’s at the center of an oblast with a clear Ukrainian majority (56.9 percent Ukrainians to 38.2 percent Russians, according to the same census).

Last week, NATO’s top commander said that the 40,000 troops Russia has within striking distance of Ukraine are poised to attack on 12 hours’ notice and could accomplish their military objectives within three to five days.

George Friedman Stratfor at Forbes

[George Friedman. Stratfor/Forbes] The United States sees the Russians as having two levers. Militarily, the Russians are stronger than the Americans in their region. The United States had no practical military options in Crimea, just as they had none in Georgia in 2008. The United States would take months to build up forces in the event of a major conflict in Eurasia. Preparation for Desert Storm took six months, and the invasion of Iraq in 2003 took similar preparation. With such a time frame the Russians would have achieved their aims and the only option the Americans would have would be an impossible one: mounting an invasion of Russian-held territory. The Americans do not want the Russians to exercise military options, because it would reveal the U.S. inability to mount a timely response. It would also reveal weaknesses in NATO.

The Germans do not want a little Cold War to break out. Constant conflict to their east would exacerbate the European Union’s instability and could force Germany into more assertive actions that it really does not want to undertake. Berlin is very busy trying to stabilize the European Union and hold together Southern and Central Europe in the face of massive economic dislocation and the emergence of an increasingly visible radical right. It does not need a duel with Russia. The Germans also receive a third of their energy from Russia. This is of mutual benefit, but the Germans are not certain that Russia will see the mutual benefits during a crisis. It is a risk the Germans cannot afford to take.

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