I wish events in Ukraine were not so easy to predict. It was clear from the time of the “Revolution” that Crimea would declare independence from Ukraine and that Russian intelligence would stir up revolt in Eastern Ukraine. This happened and it was not hard to predict. Anyone with a knowledge of Ukraine could have been able to foresee what is happening to the country now. The conflict was far from over on 23 February. There was and there will be much more to come. The country is falling apart.
Despite their lack of popular support, neo-fascist groups are marching through the streets, oftentimes beating up any opposition. They are organizing militia forces to defend the country from Russian invasion. The same is true in East Ukraine. Armed men only recently occupied police HQ in Slavyansk in Donetsk Oblast, waving the Russian flag from its top. Donetsk’s Regional Administration Building is being occupied by pro-Russian militants who are demanding a referendum on whether Donetsk should join Russia.
Donetsk is not alone. Militants from Luhansk and Kharkiv have done the same thing. While it is certainly true that these men are not fully supported by the population, it is important to keep in mind that neither were the militants from the nations of Yugoslavia. Yet, because of the fear that they were able to sow, any effective democratic opposition was destroyed and war and genocide followed.
I really hope that the events in Ukraine come to a halt, but it doesn’t seem that it will happen anytime soon. The country is in dire economic straits, and the $27 billion loan from the IMF and Western partners may not be enough. If the Ukrainian economy collapses, the fascist alternative will seem very appealing, especially as the country begins to fall apart.
There is also the problem that Ukraine’s new leaders will be seen as illegitimate if they do not restore some sort of order within the country. The Interior Ministry head, Arsen Avakov launched an operation in Slavyansk just a couple of days ago to supplant a group of pro-Russian militants from police HQ in the city. The result, according to Avakov, was dead and wounded on both sides.
Is this just the beginning? The Yugoslav wars began with a riot over a football match between Dinamo Zagreb and Red Star Belgrade. This would be the last season the prestigious Yugoslav First League would play. Within the next year, pro-Serb militias were made throughout the Serbian regions of Croatia. They demanded sovereignty from the Croat republic and wished to join Serbia. This movement helped start the most brutal European war since World War II.
If something as innocuous as a football match can help start a war, what do military style raids and occupations augur? The militants holed up in Donetsk’s Regional Administration Building are preparing for a fight. There are thousands of Ukrainians ready to fight a war to drive Russia out of the country. The new government is increasingly putting itself on a warlike footing. Maybe all this posturing is an effort to restore dignity in the face of the overwhelming odds the country seems to face. Hopefully, nobody is crazy enough to really want war?
What will happen if Ukraine fails? There will likely be a competition over its carcass, with Poland asserting authority in Lvyv, Hungary in Transcarpathia, Romania in Budjak, and of course Russia in Donbas and beyond. There will no doubt be conflict over these territories and there will also be a Ukrainian response. However, this is purely hypothetical at this point and any predictions would be useless. It is important to understand, however, that a failed Ukraine means a failed European order.
What will the United States do in all of this? Can it even do anything? Nobody in the country wants to start another war, surely not one with Russia which still has nuclear weapons. Sanctions will hurt Russia, but they will also hurt the West. Central Europe is addicted to Russian oil and there are few viable alternatives for the region. Russia could start an even greater hell in the Middle East, a prospect which it uses to push back against Western encroachment in its sphere of influence. All the West can really do is hope for the best and offer as many loans to Ukraine as possible.
As for Russia, the truth is that Ukraine is becoming more democratic while Russia is becoming more authoritarian, according to Professor Alexander Prokhorov of The College of William & Mary. While the democratic revolution in Poland in the 1980s triggered democratic reforms and revolutions in the other countries of Eastern Europe, the Ukrainian Revolution might influence the other Post-Soviet states and start democratic reforms in the region. The Ukrainian movement poses a threat not only to the European order, but also to Russia’s sphere of influence. Similar events could happen in Kazakhstan, Belarus, Armenia, or even Russia itself. It is thus easy to see why the Russian response has been so aggressive.
Nevertheless, trying to predict events in Ukraine is now just a gruesome activity. It seems clear that the country has more challenges than promises ahead and it is hard to be optimistic. Perhaps it is foolish, but sometimes staying optimistic is the only way one can survive. Hopefully, the Ukrainians won’t have to resort to using survival tactics. The national anthem of Ukraine is titled, “Ukraine Has Not Yet Died.” Many Ukrainians will now be singing this song and many other songs with hope that their country survives this crisis, since the vast majority of Ukrainians want a peaceful democratic order, not violence and tyranny.