Sunday, March 02, 2014

Ukraine Predictions: A Breakup, of sorts

Plea from Ukraine
My earlier post showed some interesting maps of the ethnic and language divisions inside the Ukraine, and asked whether a split into two parts was going to happen. Today Julia Ioffe in the New Republic has this forecast:

Neither America nor NATO can stop this. They've shown they won't in Georgia, because nobody wants to start a war with nuclear-armed Russia, and rightly so. So while Washington and Brussels huff and puff about lines and sovereignty and diplomacy, Russia will do what it needs to do and there's not a thing we can do about it.

Russia's next target is eastern Ukraine. Because pessimism conquers all, don't bet that Putin is going to stop once he wrests Crimea from Kiev's orbit. Eastern, Russian-speaking Ukraine—and all its heavy industry—is looking pretty good right now. And if you're thinking "Why would Putin take eastern Ukraine?," well, you haven't been reading very carefully.

I believe she is right: Putin will move to “protect” Russians in the eastern part of the Ukraine, if “asked” by such Russian ethnics to come to their defence against the “fascists” that have “seized power” in the western part of the country.

What will the West do? Very little.

Neither the US nor the EU will go to war against Russia to protect the territorial integrity of the Ukraine.

Why? Because they believe the price is too high. 

Sure, there will be symbolic huffing and puffing, with leaders not attending meetings (think Cameron and Obama), or offering support (short of military force) to the new government in the Ukraine. Witness the rather sad trek to the Ukraine of a motley crew of Stephen Harper’s new Conservatives (mostly to bolster their support in the 2015 election among the 2 million or so Canadian voters of Ukranian ethnicity – all politics for this government is local). And there will be talk of some kinds of economic pressure, although this will be ineffective and more of a token.
The divisions

Why will Russia get away with it?

Because it can.

And because the new government in the Ukraine is really a mixture of mediocrities. The younger people in the streets in Kiev and elsewhere really want something else: an end to the bandit governments the Ukraine has had for so many long, dreary years. Democracy barely flickers in that country; the oligarchs control the show. Human rights exist by tolerance from billionaires;  real democratic rights are a figment of people’s imagination.

What the Ukraine really needs is an Arab spring, with the West actively supporting a giant leap forward into real democracy.

But what the European Union and the USA offer are platitudes, token sums of money, and a rudderless, planless sorry excuse for any meaningful action.

For example, where is the economic Marshall Plan equivalent to wrest control of the Ukraine’s future away from the bandits who have run it for so long? And were is the political Marshall Plan to jumpstart the move from a medieval feudal system into modern democracy?

We see or hear none of these from the West.

Russian gas flows through the Ukraine to Western Europe, and can easily be pinched off by Putin, if he needs to exert a bit of pressure. And the Ukraine depends on Russia for its own gas supplies: expect delays to start soon, ala Governor Christie and a certain bridge in New Jersey.

Putin will support action in the UN – in a few weeks’ time – to hold plebescites in the Crimea and in various eastern parts of the Ukraine with a large Russian population, asking the population if they wish to join Russia, or join the new Crimean government in a new federation, separate from the Ukraine.  Will the West go along with it? It did once before, in 1938, when similar appeals were heard about Checkoslovakia. UN obeservers could be injected to make sure the vote is an honest one ...

Will the oligarchs who control the Kiev government go along with such plebscites? Better half a loaf than nothing ...

The only way I see a better solution is something along the lines of a seperate Crimea, ostensibly run by its own government but allied to Russia, plus a federation of states within the rest of the Ukraine, with much power devolved to such member states and a weaker central government. Such devolution would include security forces at the state level (police, army units etc), as well as most economic powers.

The key for me is whether the EU would be prepared to allow some members of such a new federation join the EU even if the central government of the rump Ukraine did not join it. This would allow individual member states to hold plebescites on whether to join or not – most western parts would probably opt to do so, with a slimmer majority in eastern parts opting not to.

Such a solution would need imaginative proposals from the West.

Not just PR visits.

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