Thailand's coup: May it be brief and end with a civilian accord
The military of Thailand, a constitutional monarchy since 1932, carried out its 18th coup d'etat since then Thursday, ostensibly because rival political factions have been unable to bring stability to the government.
The armed forces had warned the competing civilian groups, the so-called red shirts and yellow shirts, that they must stop demonstrating and work out an agreement. There were inconclusive meetings between the groups, but with no outcome that the Thai military considered satisfactory. It took power on Thursday, shutting down some of the media.
The red shirts are supporters of the family of exiled billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who was forced out as prime minister a few days ago. The group's strength is greater in the rural areas of Thailand and it is, in general, more popular based. It has won all recent elections. The yellow shirts' strength lies mainly in urban areas and they are considered to be supporters of the ailing king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, 86, although he has stayed out of the fray.
The coup presents a problem for the United States, since it is not, by law, supposed to have military involvement with forces that stage takeovers. The U.S. military has cooperative dealings with Thailand's forces, spending $13 million a year and holding many joint exercises. The Obama administration has ignored that law regarding Egypt, pretending that its armed forces did not overthrow the nation's elected president in a coup last July.
The Thailand affair could come out all right, but only if the military keeps power briefly, until civilian leaders broker an arrangement. Until then, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha remains in charge.
Let Ukrainians decide what's best for Ukraine
As Ukrainians prepare to vote in Sunday's presidential election, Russia is sending mixed signals about whether it will respect their right to self-determination. President Vladimir Putin has announced that he has ordered Russian troops to move back from the border after "planned spring exercises." Meanwhile, Russian diplomats are signaling that Moscow would be willing to negotiate with the winner of the election. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov specifically indicated a willingness to deal with the front-runner, Petro Poroshenko.
Those are encouraging signs. They suggest that the calibrated sanctions the United States and its European allies have imposed on prominent Russian figures — with threats of broader sanctions if Russia undermines the election — may have had some success in checking further Russian adventurism. (The sanctions have done nothing, however, to roll back the Russian annexation of Crimea, a violation of Ukraine's sovereignty that Western nations reluctantly regard as a fait accompli.)
But parts of eastern Ukraine are still under the control of pro-Russia separatists who may be taking orders from Russian special forces. Putin could do more to ensure that separatists don't prevent Ukrainian citizens from casting their ballots. It wouldn't be out of character for the Kremlin to collude in preventing Ukrainians from voting and then question the legitimacy of the outcome because of low participation.
Given the historic ties between Ukraine and Russia, it's understandable that Putin would advocate that the new government of Ukraine embrace measures such as greater decentralization and official status for the Russian language. But that civilized conversation will be impossible unless Russia recognizes that Ukrainians have the first and final say about their political arrangements.