Since independence life in Ukraine
has been "poor, nasty,
brutish, and short," so it
should not come as a surprise to any "student of Ukraine" that many people in
Crimea and Eastern Ukraine support Russian integration.
The kleptocracy that gave birth to the current crisis was nothing new nor was it the privy of one political party. What is new is Putin's attempt to pull Ukrainians toward Russia through state-sponsored destabilization policies. However, Russian integration will not be the panacea that many Ukrainians believe it to be and may destabilize not only Ukraine but the entire region.
A quick look at the wealth of the two major candidates running for President juxtaposed with the average Ukrainians' salary is just one example of the depths of the societal problems. Yulia Timoshenko, a former oligarch, was one of the richest people in Ukraine prior to entering politics. Her opponent, Petro Poroshenko, a current oligarch, has a net worth of nearly 1.8 billion dollars (although his wealth does not have the same dubious origins of Timoshenko's). In comparison the average wage in Ukraine is approximately $US6000 per year, 25% below what it was at Independence and 1/3rd of the regional average.
Ukraine is a country where the fundamental right to life, liberty, and security of person, as outlined by the UN, is not being upheld and western politicians, such as Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister, standing for photographs with politicians, like Timoshenko, who helped bring in this system only adds credence to those Ukrainians who support Russian intervention and integration.
Though rife with corruption, Ukraine, prior to last year's Maidan protests, showed no signs of revolution against Ukraine as a nation or the violent fracturing into East and West blocs - A societal breakdown that is ominously similar to Rwanda 20 years ago, where two groups of people that had coexisted and integrated broke apart on perceived ethnological and cultural differences.
The change from protests for better government to protests demanding to be part of another country had their origins in more than 20 years of political malfeasance, but they only became fractious due to Russia's direct involvement and destabilization - first in Crimea and now in the East. Putin is attempting to pull Ukrainians toward Russia, promising stability and a better life while verbally attacking Europe and unleashing long-forgotten prejudices and xenophobia.
These tactics are nothing new for Putin. Prior to the Olympics he implemented draconian anti-free-speech laws, and promised the people of Sochi new infrastructure and development to avoid any potential problems during the Olympics. However, the reality was that the power and sewage lines stopped at the luxury hotels and the sports venues and now that the TV cameras are gone, even the hotels have been left to their own devices as Putin's attention has shifted to Ukraine.
Crimea was similar to Sochi, in that promises were made and not followed through on, but in addition to promises Russian Special Forces and agitators were brought in to destabilize the region and convince people that their future was better with Moscow. Russia's destabilization worked and the people choose to become part of Russia. When you have little to lose even empty promises sound good, but Putin made no mention, or made plans, for the potential problems with electricity, water, and trade that would occur after integration.
After Crimea voted to join Russia, the 85% of fresh water that it received directly from Ukraine was reduced to a trickle, the Ukrainian electricity company reduced supply and is currently threatening to cut power further over unpaid debts, and Crimea is now facing a potential gasoline and diesel shortage as Ukrainian supply is ending.
Putin has demanded that Ukraine supply Crimea, while increasing the price Ukraine pays for gas, deploying Russian Special Forces in parts of Ukraine, and harboring former President Yanukovych and the billions that he stole.
If the people of Eastern Ukraine decide that more than 20 years of corruption is enough and move toward Russia, the result will not be what they hoped for; the East will have the same issues that Crimea and other parts of Russia have had and Ukraine kleptocracy will simply be replaced with Russian kleptocracy, as Putin demanded in a letter to Yanukovych shortly after he was elected.
There will be no improved Ukrainian Industrial heartland: the targeted economic sanctions and lack of a Russian plan for the area will inhibit growth. This will result in further industrial decay and destabilization similar to what was experienced in the darkest days of post-communism and it will be up to the rest of the world to pick up whatever pieces are left of Putin's Imperial dreams and misdeeds.
Ryan W. Lijdsman is a Canadian consultant, writer, and lecturer on international business. He has worked and written on Ukraine and Eastern Europe for the more than a decade. He can be followed on twitter @ryanlijdsman.