WASHINGTON – By now the provisional government in Kiev should have understood that, beyond symbolic gestures, the West will do nothing to stop Russia’s mischief in Eastern Ukraine. It is obvious that the West has no stomach to engage in a serious, protracted confrontation with Putin over his meddling in Eastern Ukraine. Yes, there will be a few more “targeted sanctions”, mostly against individuals close to Putin, may be something else; but that’s about that.
No “Western Front”
Indeed, contrary to what has been advertised, there is no “United Western Front” on this crisis. President Obama may be a bit more forceful, but Europe is a sorry-looking mix of timidity and cynical self-interest. Forget about “forcing” Russia to do anything.
Sure enough, in the long, assuming Western resolve to tighten the screws, Russia would pay a huge economic price. Its economy is weak and it depends almost entirely on the revenue provided by the oil and gas it exports.
But there is no way that European countries worried about serious economic and social problems at home, (think France, Italy and Spain) , are willing to engage in a protracted, ugly confrontation with Moscow.
Russia has the upper hand
Given all this, it is clear that the Russian-inspired troubles in Eastern Ukraine will not go away. Russia has decided that, if it cannot “retake” Ukraine, it will make sure that the former Soviet Republic will not prosper as a western-leaning nation.
And, given the ethnic complexity in the region, fanning the flames of unrest is extremely easy for Russia. Pay people to demonstrate. Send in agents and disguised special operations forces. They easily blend in with the local ethnic Russians. Nobody can tell the difference.
In a different world, a diplomatic solution
Of course, in a better, more civilized world, there could be a way out of this mess. Ukraine would implement in good faith promised constitutional changes aimed at granting greater autonomy to the East, all under international supervision.
In return for these real guarantees to ethnic Russians, Moscow would stop fueling unrest. With ethnic tensions out of the way, a future, federal Ukraine would develop new economic ties with the West, while continuing its historic connections with Russia.
Russia is not acting in good faith
This would be nice. But this would be premised on the assumption that Russia acted in good faith, out of a genuine concern for the fate of its brethren in Eastern Ukraine. But this is not the case. The Russians simply want to destabilize Ukraine. They do not like the idea of a future, prosperous and pro-Western Ukraine right at their door step.
Kiev is alone in this
By now the provisional government in Kiev should have digested the meaning of developments so far.
In a nutshell: they are on their own. The West will not force Russia to stop its mischief in Eastern Ukraine, let alone force Moscow to give back Crimea. Yes, the people in charge in Kiev are really on their own.
For this reason, the smart –if painful– thing to do is to let Eastern Ukraine go. By now it should be clear to the people in Kiev that they will never win this ugly fight. With 50,000 Russian troops across the border, ready to pounce, and a large number of infiltrated Russians and Russian agents calling the shots, there is no way that a weak and poor Ukraine will ever be able to regain full control over the East. Impossible. Putin will see to that.
Therefore, the only solution is this: get out of this mess by performing a drastic, but probably life-saving, “self-amputation”.
Grant immediate independence to the Eastern Ukrainian Provinces where there are large numbers of Russians. Let them go. This way Putin will get half a loaf, (a piece of the Ukraine he could not gobble in its entirety), but Western Ukraine will have a chance to pursue its own economic development without having to worry about constant Russian interferences. Given American and Western timidity, this is the best course of action for Kiev.
And to those who cling to the belief in a rules-based, UN centered, international political order in which disputes are solved diplomatically by well-meaning statesmen inspired by principles of fairness and justice: “Stop dreaming”.