Sunday 8 February 2015

What's the possible end game of the Ukrainian civil war?

As the civil war in the Eastern Ukraine drags on, German Chancellor Merkel and French President Hollande made a last ditch attempt at peace. They travelled to Kiev first, and then to Moscow to consult with Presidents Poroshenko and Putin. The absurdity of this war lies in its lack of purpose for all parties involved. Despite some cold war rhetoric from the US State Department, Russia has no interest in a war at its borders. Almost a million Ukrainians have now fled to Russia and are causing serious problems to the Russian government in terms of provision of food, shelter and medical supplies. Russia has nothing to gain from a civil war, only to lose, as NATO is ramping up the rhetoric and strengthening its defence capabilities in the Baltic.

The worst that could happen now is that the US government, in a move motivated by a lack of interest and public anxiety about perceived weakness, starts to supply weapons to the Ukrainian government. As the German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen recently noted, there is no lack of weapons in the region.

So why the rhetoric on the Russian side? On one hand, Putin has no other option but to support Russian speaking Ukrainians fighting the government in Kiev. His authority is poorly legitimated and based on demonstrating strength in foreign affairs. A fall of the Ukrainian rebels would be interpreted as a sign of weakness. Yet, more importantly, the cause of the Ukrainian rebels is a question of principle. When Kosovars fought against the Serbian government, they were granted autonomy and, eventually, semi-independence by European governments. So it is in this case. Ukrainians in the East of Ukraine will not want to return to live under a government that has shelled their homes indiscriminately and fought a civil war against its own population.

The only feasible outcome is similar to what happened in Kosovo. Autonomy for Eastern Ukraine that gradually morphes into full independence. The earlier the EU and the US recognise this, the better for everyone involved.

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