Neither Russia nor the west can satisfy their individual goals in Ukraine, but if they fail to find a solution to the crisis they risk the destruction of this divided nationby Anatol Lieven / March 14, 2014 / Leave a comment
Pro-Russian protesters, right, clash with Crimean Tatars outside a local government building in Simferopol, Crimea ©AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
The real danger in Ukraine does not lie in Crimea. One way or another, Crimea is almost certainly now lost to Ukraine, even if no one but Russia recognises this formally. The danger comes from the possibility of clashes between the Ukrainian nationalist and neo-fascist volunteers who led the overthrow of the previous government in Kiev and opposing Moscow-backed pro-Russian volunteers in the east of the country. If they get put of hand, such clashes could lead to Russian invasion, war and the partition of Ukraine. It is therefore urgently necessary to recreate in Ukraine an agreed and legitimate democratic process that will safeguard minority rights.
The stakes here are high for all sides. If war begins, Russia would almost certainly win it (since the USA and Britain, despite their attempts to bring Ukraine into Nato, have no intention of fighting to defend the country), but would suffer colossal damage in the process. Short term, there would be a shattering economic crisis. Longer term, Russia would face a collapse of economic and cultural ties with the west that would drive it inexorably towards the status of a satellite of China—a prospect, by the way, that terrifies liberal and nationalist Russians alike. The result would be a stagnant, closed and increasingly authoritarian Russian system.
The damage to the west would also be considerable. If the west introduced economic sanctions and Russia responded with a massive rise in its gas prices (or if gas supplies to western Europe across Ukraine were cut off by the conflict), the result could very easily be a new European and global recession. China would benefit greatly from the acquisition of Russia as an unconditional ally, and from the sheer distraction of US attention that war would bring. Propping up the remains of Ukraine economically would be a massive financial burden for the EU. And the sight of the USA and Nato again standing impotently by while a quasi-ally is defeated in a war for which western policy was partly responsible would be a humiliation that would embolden America’s global rivals.
It is important to remember that Ukraine is a deeply divided society that cannot make a categorical choice between the west and Russia without tearing itself apart. Since independence,…