I have procrastinated in writing about this last part of Ukraine’s revolution because it is painful to contemplate its outcome and see only bad endings. It is hard to read about an uprising that began with such high hopes and was so sadly derailed.
Putin came wooing Ukraine with smiles and flowers. He and his flowers were sent back to Moscow and he is not a man to accept rejection.
When President Yanukovich lost to the protesters in Maidan Square and fled to Russia, a new provisional government was installed and it is still fragile, very tenuous…and Putin’s rage is ominous. Vladimir Putin is still a very Soviet man and does not take kindly to the toppling of Lenin statues. The first manifestation of his rage was the annexation of Crimea and the very ease with which it was accomplished only whetted his appetite for more.
And so we now see masked thugs in many parts of Eastern Ukraine. They look very menacing with their arms at the ready but they say nothing. Were they to open their mouths they would speak Ukrainian with very heavy Russian accents. Their faces are covered with ugly masks. Were they to remove them one would see many “locals” which had already been “locals” elsewhere in the country. They carry huge Russian flags with which to decorate all official buildings as they seize them one by one.
The choices facing the new Kiev government are both bad. Either they do nothing and the Crimean scenario will unfold again and again. Or they try to retake the occupied buildings by force. This is what Putin hopes they will do. In that event many Ukrainians and Russians will be killed and the people will have the same reaction as when Yanukovich fired on his own people. Anger. This will be Putin’s cue to intervene militarily and Ukraine will be dismembered.
What about the US and European reaction? America will not respond. We have grown tired of invading nations whose mentality we do not understand. We are disinclined to embark on yet another failed mission. Putin knows this and he has been heard mocking Victoria Neuland’s distribution of donuts in Maidan square. We are good at such gestures but they are futile.
The US is deeply entrenched in disengagement. Europe is too close to Russia and dependent on its natural gas. It has also grown too fond of peace. But it takes only one person to disrupt peace.
And so Putin‘s Russia will have won in the short run. How will it swallow this victory? Will it endure? We really don’t know.