WASHINGTON – I know that this is repetitive, but I have to say again that it is time for Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko to acknowledge reality and let the Eastern Provinces go. Unless the Kiev government has some kind of death wish and therefore pledges to fight Putin to the end, whatever the cost, any attempt to regain control over the Eastern Provinces now in the hands of Moscow-backed ethnic Russian rebels is a really stupid idea.
Ukraine cannot win
Ukraine cannot prevail militarily against forces backed by Russia. It is crystal clear that neither the EU, nor NATO have any intention to support Kiev with weapons and ammunitions. America has shown how far it will go by offering Meals Ready to Eat, (MREs), blankets and socks (yes, socks) to the Ukrainian armed forces.
Give up the East
Now, whatever the formal diplomatic arrangements, timetables and what not that should lead to some form of autonomy for the East, the reality is that these Provinces are gone –for good.
Sure enough, the rebels are not respecting the agreements they signed in Minsk not too long ago. They are fighting the Ukrainians. They held “elections” won by separatist leaders.
Kiev in turn has sent in again its own troops. And, guess what, Moscow responded by sending into Ukraine its own forces, even though without official uniforms and insignia. This is technically an invasion of a sovereign country. But, beyond German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier expressing “surprise”, nobody will do anything about it.
The fact is that Moscow will not give back any territory it now controls via the rebels. If Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko still does not want to accept this reality and insists on fighting Putin’s armies, he is a fool.
This war is lost, and he should let go.
Ukraine is alone in this fight
Let me say it again: Ukraine has and will have support from the West when it comes to economic assistance, IMF and EU loans, and other forms of aid. But neither Europe nor the US want to get entangled, directly or indirectly, in a military confrontation with Moscow.
Translation: Poroshenko is all by himself in this ugly fight with a far more powerful enemy.
Therefore, let it go. Grant independence to the East and close this sad page, so that the rest of the country will be able to focus on rebuilding a comatose economy.
A green light to Putin?
Many say that this is a terrible idea. Giving Putin a green light in Eastern Ukraine means that his appetite will grow. He will soon gobble Moldova, may be Estonia and even Poland.
Well, I do not think so.
I do not believe that there is any substance to the notion that Putin is bent on reconstituting the old Soviet Empire, just like it used to be. Sure enough, Putin and most of Russia believe that the end of the Soviet Union was an epochal catastrophe, a true national disaster.
In an instant, Moscow lost control over all of Eastern Europe, (East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria), and over huge chunks of what it considered to be its own territory. The Baltic countries, (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), are gone. The Central Asian Republics are gone. Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan are gone. And, last but least, Ukraine is gone.
Change the map, up to a point
In Putin’s mind, the post Soviet, post Cold-War settlement was unfair. The new Russia got a rotten deal. And therefore he is looking for ways to rearrange the political map of Europe on more favorable terms.
This is true.
However, Russia is not about to go to war with America in order to regain control over Poland, a NATO country.
Russia will instead take advantage of opportunities, such as chaos in Ukraine, to reclaim a piece here and a piece there, especially when large chunks of land are inhabited by ethnic Russians, like in Crimea or Eastern Ukraine.
Putin acts rationally
That said, Putin may be a ruthless revanchist, but he is not a crazy maniac.
He gambles; but only within certain parameters. He knew that Ukraine was outside of NATO, and therefore not protected by this US-led security arrangement. (He had made the same calculation regarding Georgia, just a few years ago).
Having observed President Obama, he calculated that the US would make a lot of noise, but would not take any action about Crimea and about Eastern Ukraine. And he was right.
Let’s face it: allowing Putin to get away with this naked aggression is not a good thing. But forcing him to give back Eastern Ukraine, let alone Crimea, would require a degree of fortitude that neither Europe nor the US have at this time.
Poland is not the same as Ukraine
That said, by giving Putin a “pass” in Eastern Ukraine, the West is not signaling to Russia that from now on it can do as it pleases all over Europe.
Putin knows the difference between encroaching on “unprotected” territories inhabited mostly by ethnic Russians (Crimea and Eastern Ukraine) and stirring trouble in a NATO country.
Even this diminished and timid America knows when to say “enough”. Attacking Poland or Estonia, both of them NATO members, will not be treated in the same way as the invasion of Crimea.
I believe Putin knows the difference, and he will behave accordingly.