A very cold winter in Eastern Europe may tilt its political balance in Russia's direction, And why the situation might go from bad to worse.
© The Kremlin
As winter approaches, Putin's hand is even stronger, as the crisis begins to transform from a military confrontation into a confrontation between Ukraine and Europe over the supply of Russian natural gas
Reports out of Milan regarding last Friday's much anticipated meeting
between Russian president Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko indicate that little progress has been made toward resolving the nearly yearlong Ukraine crisis. This, given the broader political currents at play in Europe, is unsurprising.
To begin with, Mr. Poroshenko has, for all intents and purposes, lost the military battle over the Donbas in resounding fashion. While his bloc leads in the polls ahead of next Sunday's parliamentary election, Poroshenko faces a number of other challenges, not least of which is a collapsing economy (some estimates have the Ukrainian economy shrinking by 10 percent this year
) and a burgeoning populist backlash over the government's handling of the crisis.
So what we saw play out in Milan is more or less a repeat of the last Putin/Poroshenko meeting that took place in Minsk on August 26, because the same logic applies. Mr. Putin, as I wrote then
, is always going to be the party - regardless of whether he is facing sanctions or a chorus of international condemnation - who will be playing the stronger hand in negotiations with Ukraine.
Yet as we approach November, his hand is even stronger, as the crisis begins to transform from a military confrontation between Russia and Ukraine into a confrontation between Ukraine and Europe over the supply of Russian natural gas.
Ukraine serves as the transit point for 50 percent of EU-bound Russian LNG, and Ukraine's siphoning off of LNG bound for southeastern Europe, which led to Russia cutting off the supply in January 2006 and January 2009, is still fresh in the minds of European leaders.
The Rada's recent passage of a lustration bill
, widely publicized acts of violence against sitting MPs through "trash bucket challenges
," a popular revival of Nazi-era symbols
and the incorporation of far-right elements into Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk's "People's Front" do not exactly augur well for the chances for a tranquil political environment in either Ukraine or in Eastern Europe, where the memory of Ukrainian collaboration against the Poles and the region's Jews is fresher there than it is here in the United States.