The venal president of Ukraine is on the run and the bloodshed has stopped, but it is far too early to celebrate or to claim that the West has “won” or that Russia has “lost.” One incontrovertible lesson from the events in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, is that the deeply divided country will have to contend with dangerous problems that could reverberate beyond its borders.
The success of the protesters in Independence Square in driving out President Viktor Yanukovych and his supporters has also fired nationalist passions that can still erupt into further deadly violence. Parliament is feverishly passing laws, but it is not clear who is in charge. Ukraine is broke, and a vindictive Russia could easily make things more miserable by closing the border or raising gas prices.
“It is not in the interests of Ukraine or of Russia, or of Europe, or the United States to see the country split.” How naive can one get? That sentiment might pertain to the last two polities, but to believe that Putin’s Russia has a vital interest in preserving the territorial integrity of Ukraine is simply delusional.
Putin looks on the breakup of the old Soviet Union as the greatest geopolitical disaster of the 20th Century, and his overarching goal is to restore the territorial extent of the old Russian Empire. He would not want a strong, independent Ukraine under any circumstances. He would prefer its territory to be integrated into Russia, possibly with some facade of local control to appease the peasants, but the idea that he should act to keep Ukraine whole so the EU can extend out to the Don and Volga is just plain inane.
Beyond that, how many ethnic Great Russians are included within the borders of Ukraine? To which there will always be irredentist tendencies. Which will probably flair up shortly in the Crimea, where the majority of all people are Great Russians and only 25% Ukrainians.
This is a highly dangerous situation. And it does not give one a sense of confidence to find our government harbors such illusions regarding one of our chief antagonists.