WHITHER UKRAINE? SOME THOUGHTS
"Ukraine’s provisional government faces an uphill struggle to make it to the 25 May presidential election. Shaken by separatist agitation and distracted by Russian troops on its borders, it has not asserted itself coherently and has lost control of the eastern oblasts (regions) of Donetsk and Luhansk, which have voted for independence in contentious referendums. It appears incapable of keeping order in much of the south east, where separatists, supported and encouraged by Moscow, threaten the state’s viability and unity. Kyiv and the presidential candidates should reach out to the south east, explaining plans for local self-government and minority rights, and for Ukraine to be a bridge between Russia and Europe, not a geopolitical battleground. With relations between Moscow and the West deeply chilled, the U.S. and EU should continue tough sanctions to show Russia it will pay an increasing cost for destabilising or dismembering its neighbour, while pursuing parallel, vigorous diplomacy to reach understandings that avoid the worst and respect mutual interest. The situation has consistently worsened since late February, as much of the optimism from the Maidan protests that brought down the Yanukovych government has faded. Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, “volunteers” and quite possibly special forces (Spetsnaz) dispatched by the Kremlin have seized the initiative in the south east. The separatists’ objective seems to be to provoke sufficient disruption and bloodshed so that President Vladimir Putin can assert, if he chooses, what he says is Moscow’s right to protect Russian speakers anywhere – in the worst case scenario by carving off what would in effect be a new autonomous entity embracing almost a third of the country and many of its most viable economic resources, which might eventually be absorbed into the Russian Federation. All this deepens the crisis between the West and Russia, making the rapprochement necessary to resolve it much more difficult. The chaos in the south east seriously threatens the presidential election. The government formed in February after months of street demonstrations and fighting barely functions, consists mostly of veterans of a discredited political system and new faces with little or no government experience. Communication within government institutions seems weak, with the public as a whole almost non-existent. Moscow’s depiction of a country in the thrall of a fascist coup, dominated by ultra-right militias, has persuaded the Russian public and for lack of alternatives has taken root in parts of Ukraine."The International Crisis Group, Ukraine: Running out of Time. 14 May 2014, in www.crisisgroup.org For some weeks now the pessimists appear to have the upper hand in their reading of the situation in Ukraine. The country appears to be fast heading for another truncated, post-Soviet split and or division akin to that suffered by Moldova and Georgia in the immediate post-Soviet period. And while Matushka Russia has much to answer for, the fact of the matter is, that the government in Kyiv has proven itself to be, at least as per endeavoring to run the country with the minimum of efficiency and order to be almost entirely hapless. As the American commentator, Fred Kaplan has cogently argued, it is much too easy to merely blame Grazhdanin Putin for the events of the past month in the eastern portions of the country 1. Which is not to gainsay that fact Putin has no doubt contributed to the escalating violence and disorder. Merely that per se, it seems somewhat unlikely that what is occurring in the eastern sector of the country would necessarily have come about if there was not some pre-existing tensions and acute dissatisfaction with the new, post-revolutionary government in Kyiv. Stirred up no doubt by egregiously horrid Russian propaganda, those elements in say Donetsk, et. al., would not be up in arms (literally) if the new regime in Kyiv, had played their cards right politically speaking. Unfortunately, they did not. Which means that the game plan for the Western powers at the very least, currently should be to at the very least ensure that Presidential elections later on this month proceed in a manner suggested by the International Crisis Group. If indeed the elections are able to proceed in something approaching a fair and transparent manner, then that will give the lie to the mendacious claims coming out of Moskva. And, with a successful Presidential elections, it might, just might be possible to save the unity of Ukraine from being completely fractured and destroyed. Indeed, as Uilleam Blacker cogently argues in the current issue of the Times (London) Literary Supplement, the twenty-plus years of post-Soviet independence has given to the vast majority of the population something approaching a common identity. Or as he cogently puts it:
"while the polls show that the citizens of Lviv and Donetsk may have divergent views on some issues facing their country, the overwhelming majority in both regions agree that they are still talking about 'one country' " 2.1. Fred Kaplan, "The Right Goal in Ukraine: Don’t be distracted by Putin and his antics. The real test is stabilizing Ukraine." Slate. 14 May 2014, in www.slate.com. 2. Uilleam Blacker, "One Country? Ukraine's search for cultural coherence." The TLS. 9 May 2014, in www.the-tls.co.uk.