For several months now we have been treated to the spectacle of Ukraine imploding into crisis, largely - but not entirely - as a result of external agencies: EU, US and Russia have all played their part. With increasing numbers of cities and regions falling to the Eastern separatists it is fair to say that Ukraine no longer exists as a functioning nation. It is without effective government, police or army and its economy is in freefall. The question looming would appear to be how to formally divide the country so that the basic functions of Statehood can be reinstated. It is very much in
the interests of the EU and US to seek Russia's co-operation in this - it is abundantly clear that this cannot be achieved by sanctions, threats or by NATO menace, which are simply aggravating a sensitive situation. It is also clear that the 25th May Presidential elections are devoid of purpose and that holding them would neither shore up the Kiev government nor improve the legitimacy of the authorities there. It is surely time now for the West to accept the situation and to support the right to self-determination of the people of the East of Ukraine.
It is astonishing how the narrative of dissent has unfolded in Ukraine in recent weeks - and how ill-prepared and inept the US and EU has been at managing the crisis. The stock in trade of Kerry, Obama and their various acolytes in Europe has been to hurl a seemingly endless fund of violent rhetoric to warn off Moscow from involvement in Ukraine. It has been as ineffective as it has been misjudged. Accusations, counter-accusations, empty sanctions, military manoeuvres and the most outrageous propaganda (by any standards) has in equal mix, bewildered and entertained the world. We have been treated to dodgy photos purporting to show Russian Special Forces in Ukraine, more dodgy photos purporting to show Russian troop movements; comparisons of Putin to Hitler and Catherine the Great; to dire prognostications concerning the resurrection of the USSR and to wild claims from Kiev's self-appointed government that Russia is trying to start WW3! All is fair in love and war it would seem, of which there is precious little of the latter on all sides at present.
Of course the willing accomplices in all of this has been the mainstream media, ever ready to feed such misinformation to the masses, however improbable such claims may be - in fact, one of the most disturbing features of this crisis has been the willingness of the media to act as a government conduit for conveying misinformation to the public. The vernacular of the propagandist here is instructive: the rebels are known variously as "terrorists", "pro-Russian separatists", "self-defence volunteers", "armed gangs", "masked thugs" etc depending on whose viewpoint is being expressed. How quickly and easily the truth and all restraint that goes with it is lost when "national interests" are invoked! And yet the truth is seldom more important on such occasions. Indeed, it has become increasingly difficult to establish what is going on when the protagonists are competing to disseminate entirely different narratives. At the outset of the crisis the BBC produced a fascinating and chilling documentary for its Panorama programme detailing the rise of extreme right wingers in Kiev, whose Nazi affiliations had infiltrated the government. That stream of honest information was quickly snuffed out as the narrative progressed and this has become the pattern of suppression and complicity in much of the mainstream media since.
The situation is, of course, more complex than this and the fault lines running through Ukraine's society always required careful management, not gunboat diplomacy, sabre rattling or furious rhetoric. But the conduct of those in Moscow, Washington and EU capitals has often appeared to mirror that of the groups within Ukraine. It is facile and patently absurd to represent the struggle in Ukraine as a "land grab" by Russia intent on re-establishing the Soviet Union - or to anoint all western Ukrainians as "fascists", but these are the chosen perspectives of the EU/US and Russia, respectively. It is an unhelpful caricature of the true situation. What is indisputable is that east and west of Ukraine, roughly divided along ethnic and linguistic lines, have hugely different allegiances, historical perspectives and visions of the future that have been cruelly exposed as a result of a squabble between the EU/US and Russia. Latent differences are now laid bare for all to see.
Of course, huge egos are invested in this crisis; global reputations are at stake. There is much muscle-flexing between the major powers, like 2 beach bullies vying for the pretty girl. To an extent the situation is the product of 2 ancient historical ideas: first, the ambitions of the EU to extend its economic and political borders to the widest possible expanse of Europe (excluding Russia) and second, the military ambitions of NATO - which is essentially a European phenomenon, controlled by the US - seeking containment of the East. Both traditions carry the age-old fear of the East, of the hordes and the need to insulate Europe from Eastern military and economic threats. This threat is deeply ingrained in the European psyche: Roman Emperors, Charlemagne, Napoleon, the Victorian British and Hitler have all sought to contain Russia. More recently the Cold War has served a similar purpose. Nor has this age-old enmity ceased with the collapse of the USSR: the dismemberment of the ethnic republics traditionally aligned with Russia has been the prevailing pre-occupation of NATO and the EU: to attempt to push Russia militarily and economically into an Eastern wilderness. Finland, the Baltic States, Georgia, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and the Balkans have all been drawn into the EU and Nato fold, driving Russia economically and militarily further adrift and seeking to surround it on as many fronts as possible.
The wooing of Ukraine, ethnically and culturally and politically divided, has proved a bridge too far in this process: the prozeletyzing efforts of the EU in 2013 were stymied by Russia's deal with Yanukovich and this represented a serious blow to EU and Nato aspirations and precipitated the crisis. There can be little doubt that there was genuine disappointment in much of the western part of Ukraine too, but far greater chagrin in Nato and Europe - not only had the march been stopped, but the sudden firm realignment of Ukraine with Russia appeared to turn the clock back. The subsequent efforts made covertly to stir up right wing groups in Ukraine was a well-trodden path for Nato and the EU: this had been employed in many Middle East countries to much (initial) success, in achieving the desired "regime change" across governments who did not comply with the Western orthodoxy or who thwarted Western energy ambitions. True, in Syria the technique had faltered: the situation got out of control and the protesters were suddenly - and alarmingly to Western eyes - overtaken by that other great longstanding European bugbear: ideological Islam. Assad had proved unexpectedly resilient and public opinion in the West was sceptical of government claims. The lesson of Iraq had been learned. But the practice of stirring unrest to bring down a government which was outside the accepted hegemony had not been unlearned: non-compliant Ukraine was subjected to the same treatment. Initially it was successful: Yanukovich was driven from power and quickly replaced by a pro-European and pro-Nato leadership. What was not foreseen was 1) the extent of Russia's resistance to this move and 2) the anger of the pro-Moscow, largely Russian speaking part of Ukraine. Protest was natural enough - a government had been driven from power by right wing groups in Kiev; there was no claim to legitimacy in the new self-appointed government, no proper mandate to govern - and certainly none from the east of the country. Russia appears to have employed the technique that has been used repeatedly by the West in North Africa and the Middle East: that may be the greatest blow to the West. It is as though they have been hoisted with their own petard. Russia, for its part, has used legitimate protest to assert its own interest in Ukraine, playing precisely the same ploy that has for so long been the West's chief modus operandi in pursuing aggressive foreign policy aims. It has enabled it to reclaim Crimea and now the East of the country appears to be slowly but surely following suit.
What is the likely outcome of this? What does the future hold for Ukraine? Division of the country looks to be inevitable: it is the only rational outcome for this difficult situation. There can be few amongst the corridors of Washington or Whitehall or the Kremlin who doubt it, whatever their public pronouncements may be: the positions are entrenched, the protagonists poles apart and Ukraine can hardly be said to be a country any longer. Rather it is a tract of land populated by different people with different aspirations, run by a self-appointed government without any real control over its country or of any of the loose federation of people within its borders. In addition, it is governed or manipulated chiefly by outside influences: EU, US and Russia. Ukraine is a failed State. The question now is: will Ukraine be divided by civil war in which many are killed and atrocities are unleashed on the civilian population - as ever in war; will division be brought about by a Russian invasion (whether contrived or provoked seems scarcely to matter); or will it be brought about by international negotiation and agreement? The latter must surely be the preferred option for all sane people - and it is also the pragmatic one from the point of view of the West: a civil war or a Russian invasion will remove any control of the settlement of borders from the West's control: in an extreme scenario, in which Russia sought to join up with Transnistria via Odessa, it would mean that western Ukraine became a landlocked country. That would be a poor outcome from the point of view of Europe and pro-Western Ukraine. By planning for separation such pitfalls can be avoided and the good relations between the 2 parts of Ukraine can be restored. The alternative will leave western Ukraine with an uncertain, even dubious, future and expose future generations to the antipathies fostered by this crisis: that is not good for the region or for the people of Ukraine.
The threat of conflict in which many could die is very real - and not at all foreseen. This is why the West is now floundering in a narrative it no longer controls. It is time to consider the inevitable: the country is de facto divided along ethnic and ideological grounds - the west favouring Europe and the Western ideal; the east wedded to Russia and long standing loyalties. It is now past the point of a federal solution and only complete separation seems to offer a realistic solution. That outcome now looks to be inevitable. The west of Ukraine can affiliate itself to EU if it desires, the east can establish a republic or join Russia if that is its wish. It is an outcome neither Russia nor the West could have desired but it is now a matter of pragmatism for the West and a matter of self-determination for both east and west Ukrainian people.
What has become clear is that their destinies are no longer inextricably linked. Once the genie of independence is out of the bottle, it is a fool who tries to stuff it back in.