WASHINGTON – In a more civilized world the rights of the very large ethnic Russian minority in Eastern Ukraine would have been properly safeguarded by Ukrainian laws prohibiting any form of discrimination on the basis of language or ethnicity.
But this is a crazy world. Russian President Vladimir Putin falsely claims that his Russian brothers and sisters in Ukraine are oppressed by a hostile Kiev government now dominated by neo-Nazis and Russia haters. Because of this unfolding tragedy, he explains, the people in the East resist the Kiev government. And it is understandable, he adds, that ordinary Russians, including Russian soldiers currently on vacation, (he really said this), rushed in to help their embattled cousins. Well, this is laughable, of course. But this is the official Russian narrative. “Embattled ethnic Russians in Eastern Ukraine, fighting for their own survival”.
Of course, we know that, even if it were true that ethnic Russians living in Ukraine are not treated fairly, there are many other ways to address and resolve this issue without starting and fueling a bloody insurrection.
However, none of this matters. Using the Kiev unrest that led to the dramatic change of government in Ukraine as a pretext, now Putin is bent on extending Moscow’s reach to large ethnic Russian minorities in Ukraine that were cut off from the Motherland after the implosion of the Soviet Union. His public justification, as indicated above, is that these ethnic Russians are oppressed by the anti-Russian government ruling Ukraine.
America will not get involved
In principle, the whole thing is totally preposterous. In practice, however, unless Washington wants to get into a direct confrontation with Moscow that may escalate to uncontrollable levels, there is almost nothing that can be done to reverse what Putin has already accomplished: a de facto secession of Eastern Ukraine from the rest of the country.
As I said, short of America threatening Russia directly, there is nothing that can be done. And it is clear that President Obama has no intention to be the self-appointed defender of international law by intervening to protect Ukrainian territorial integrity against Moscow’s indirect aggression.
The idea that America should give heavy weapons to the Ukrainians, so that they could fight back, would make sense only if Washington were prepared to escalate, up to the point of forcing Moscow to commit massive Russian forces to the conflict in order to avoid a humiliating setback.
And then, what to do we do when Moscow escalates? We back off? Or do we escalate even more? Unless we are committed to win, whatever the risk of provoking a general conflagration, giving “some arms” to Ukraine would simply prolong the conflict without changing the final outcome.
Bankrupt Ukraine cannot win
These are the facts. Ukraine is essentially bankrupt. Its military forces are weak and incapable of regaining control over the territories seized by the Moscow-backed rebels. Washington will not help. The Europeans, with Germany in the lead, have no intention to help Kiev with military assistance. They want to help with negotiations and diplomacy, so that this unpleasant conflict will go away.
No help on the way
This being the case –that is no military help coming– and given Russian military superiority, the only sensible solution is for Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to admit defeat and give up the Eastern Provinces.
This is sad. It really means that international rules mean nothing here. Facing aggression while the rest of the world looks the other way, a weak state has to raise the white flag simply because it has no other option. The so-called “International Community” is not engaged. Nobody is really interested in any effort aimed at reaffirming the value of supposedly sacrosanct principles whereby national borders, cannot be modified through the use of force.
“Fight till the end?”
As I said, there is no other solution, except for what I would call “slow suicide” on the part of the Ukrainians. The Kiev government, poor and under resourced, may decide that it will keep on fighting this Moscow-inspired insurrection “until the end”. The Ukrainians cannot possibly win, but they will bleed to death trying.
This may look noble. But it is foolish.
Give up the East, begin rebuilding the economy
The only sensible solution here is to give up these territories inhabited mostly by ethnic Russians. This is the only way to stop the hemorrhaging of precious resources that should be devoted to the reconstruction of the Ukrainian economy.
The sooner Petro Poroshenko and his government recognize this simple, if unpleasant, reality, the better. Ukraine has already wasted huge resources on an unwinnable conflict.