Events in Ukraine are in danger of slipping into chaos. There may not be much time left to avert an entirely unnecessary catastrophe.
Anatol Lieven lays things out clearly in a piece published in the NYRB two days ago.
What all this reveals is something that should have been blindingly obvious ever since Ukraine became independent in 1991 and that is deeply rooted in Ukrainian history: Ukraine contains different identities, and cannot be ruled unilaterally by one of them alone, or pulled in a single geopolitical direction, without risking the breakup of the country itself. The huge demonstrations in Kiev this winter showed that Yanukovych’s and Moscow’s hope of taking Ukraine into the Eurasian Union was impossible, because many Ukrainians would literally give their lives to prevent it.
Now, events in the east and in Odessa make clear that a Ukrainian state that defines itself purely in pro-Western and anti-Russian terms is also out of the question, because a great many Ukrainians will not tolerate this either. In these circumstances, it is no good for one side to hope for absolute victory. [ . . .]
Critics of federalization say that it would allow Russia to block Ukrainian moves toward NATO and the EU. What is surely apparent however is that Moscow and its allies in Ukraine have already done this. The goal of the West must be to get all the opposing forces in Ukraine off the streets and back within a legitimate democratic process that is recognized by a majority of Ukrainians, and that will allow the possibility of economic and political reforms by democratic means. Time is short. We saw again and again, in the Balkans, the Caucasus, and elsewhere in the 1990s, that once fighting begins, previously possible solutions quickly become impossible. This would be a tragedy—Ukraine does not need to be Yugoslavia or Georgia.