Monday, September 29, 2008

Captain Blood, Part 2

As of this writing, the Somali pirates have been effectively surrounded by US warships.  The pirates are inside the territorial waters of Somalia, which -- give that nation's lack of a functioning government -- is no real bar to action.  One suspects that the Americans haven't sunk the ship yet only because the pirates have hostages, a 21-member Russian and Ukrainian crew.

But here comes the game changer:  the Russian navy is on its way.

The tanks themselves, all 33 of them, along with unspecified other weapons, are arguably still Ukrainian property, or perhaps the property of Kenya (or, if you believe the rumors, of the Sudanese monsters).  In any case, we expect the Americans would sink the ship, tanks and all, and not worry too much about property rights.  

But what will Russia do?  On one hand, Russia and the Ukraine have a tense relationship these days, as the latter waits to be reconquered by the former.  A little defense of Ukrainian sovereignty might be a useful symbol, a way of reassuring the Ukrainians that having the Bear at their back is like having a big strong older brother, ready to defend you against playground bullies.

On the other hand, we are talking about Putin's Russia.  Despite what President Bush saw in his supposed soul, Putin has shown himself to be uninterested in negotiated solutions to hostage crises.  Remember the Moscow theatre incident, in which he gassed both the Chechen rebels and the hostages themselves?  Killed up to 50 rebels, and an undisclosed number of hostages, thought to be between 120-200.

So do not expect much negotiation once the Russians arrive.  We hope the hostages have life jackets.  And gas masks.

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