WASHINGTON – The difference between the failed separatist fight that Chechnya started and lost several years ago and the current semi-insurrection now underway in Eastern Ukraine is that the Chechens could not rely on any help from anybody. And so they were literally decimated by the Russian army sent there by the same Vladimir Putin who has now reinvented himself as the protector of minorities. Putin saw to it that there would be no Chechen secession. Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, was destroyed.
Putin fomenting secession
In Eastern Ukraine it is the opposite. The very same Putin who acted ruthlessly to protect Russia’s integrity is now openly undermining another country’s sovereignty by fomenting rebellion in Eastern Ukraine. Unlike the Chechen rebels, the ethnic Russians in Ukraine, now protesting more and more violently against Kiev, know that they are not alone in this fight. Moscow pays for and enables the “rebellion”.
Kiev is too weak
Unlike the Russian government that acted with complete freedom in confronting isolated Chechen rebels, the poor and weak provisional government in Kiev knows that on the other side of Ukraine’s Eastern border there are 50,000 Russian troops ready to jump into Ukraine, if and when Putin decides that the moment has come to come to the aid of the persecuted Russians trying to fight the neo-Nazis from Kiev. (This is, as we know, the official Russian narrative).
The Ukrainian government of course would like to regain control over its Eastern cities, many of them now under Russian militias’ control. But it will not launch a real military operation for fear of giving Putin the excuse to invade.
In Chechnya Putin had a free hand
In other words, in Chechnya Putin had a free hand. He could send a large force and defeat the insurgents, even if at a very high price, because the Chechens really fought back, for many years. Still, in the end the Chechens, with no allies, were outnumbered and defeated. By 2009 Chechnya had been “pacified”.
In Eastern Ukraine it is exactly the opposite. The ethnic Russians demanding independence or whatever are very confident, because they are aided by Moscow, and because they know that the Russian army right across the border will attack the Ukrainians if they seriously try to regain control over the East. And Kiev, with no real military support from anybody, cannot prevail all alone against Russia.
Europe and the US will do nothing to stop Putin
Of course, Europe and the US are making all the right noises. They condemned Moscow, they sanctioned a few Russian policy-makers and business people close to Putin and they threaten to do more.
But it is more than obvious that there is zero appetite for a real confrontation with Putin. Putin knows this and so he keeps up his game. And this very favorable scenario emboldened the ethnic Russians in the East who see “victory”, (whatever that is in the end), near. And the Kiev provisional government at this point must have realized that this is the end game. They lost. They lost because they are much weaker than the Russians, and because they are all alone in this fight.
Kiev authorities should end all this by letting the East go
This is a dreadful situation. Still, these are the facts. Because of all this, the Kiev authorities by now should have realized that they will never, never win this battle for control over Eastern Ukraine. Therefore, they should accept defeat. And defeat means letting Eastern Ukraine go.
Even though until yesterday the vast majority of the ethnic Russians living in the East were calm and totally comfortable about being Ukrainians instead of citizens of Russia, today this is no longer possible. There is no going back.
And forget about working with Moscow on “honorable compromises” via “diplomatic solutions”. Putin wants to win. Having missed the opportunity of regaining control over the entire Ukraine when his deal with then president Viktor Yanukovych fell apart, now he wants at least a piece of it.
He started by grabbing Crimea, the low hanging fruit. And now he sees with satisfaction that nobody is willing to stop his mischief in the East. And so he quickly added it to his list.
The only way for Western Ukraine to survive and begin to focus on the serious business of rebuilding its society and economy is to stop the bleeding by letting the East go. There is absolutely nothing to be gained by prolonging a hopeless fight that Kiev by now should know that it will never win.