WASHINGTON – After the (predictable) outcome of the Moscow-mandated referendum on annexation to Russia, the Crimea is gone, I would say for good. Unless the West (and I mean the US) is ready to go to war with Russia on this (clever) act of aggression, it is clear that the Crimea has been taken over by Russia. And that’s the way it is.
So, Putin wins this one. His prestige at home grows. He is “the protector of good Russians threatened by the bloodthirsty neo-fascists who have taken over in Kiev” –this is the official Moscow narrative of what has happened in the Ukraine recently.
Hopefully the West will do something about this egregious way of securing minority rights within another sovereign country. We shall see what will be done about economic sanctions and other (non military) forms of retaliation.
A real chance for the Ukraine
Still, be that as it may, the real prize here is the rest of the Ukraine. Losing the Crimea because of naked military aggression obviously hurts. However, the Ukraine (minus the Crimea) now has a real chance to have a fresh start.
In close consultation with the new leadership in Kiev, the West has to the opportunity to help the Ukraine fashion a robust, credible and sustainable financial stabilization and economic reform plan that will allow this truly damaged country to become a full member of the Western community. The country needs solid institutions, real accountability for all office holders, a serious fight against any form of corruption and economic rules that will foster the development of genuine enterprises.
Difficult task, but worthwhile
Clearly this is going to be very difficult. And it is going to cost –a lot. Still, now we (the Ukrainians working in partnership withe the West) have the unique opportunity to reaffirm the superiority of a Western model based on genuine democracy and a free market, rules-based system, right at the border with authoritarian Russia. If we are determined and successful in this attempt, then we shall reap huge political benefits.
What works and what does not work
Over time, the Russians will see what works and what does not. Right now Vladimir Putin makes them feel good by dishing out primitive nationalist feel-good actions. However, in the long run, it is inevitable that the Russian middle class will resent an authoritarian regime good at harassing political opponents but incapable of promoting genuine enterprise and growth.
At that time they will begin to realize that a pro-Western Ukraine is doing better because it embraced better values.