Ukraine is now a pile of dry straw, waiting for Vladimir Putin to decide whether he will douse it with gasoline and set it alight, or leave it dry and trembling in the wind.
Ukraine is not the only crisis to emerge from the former Soviet Union. It’s the most immediate and most immediately dangerous. But beyond the stunning images of boiling demonstrations in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, there is a less vivid but as potentially destabilizing danger growing greater by the week. It is the threat of a Slav crash.
To lose Ukraine — as the Russians and the President of Russia Vladimir Putin would see it — would be a huge blow. For Russians, it is part of them; of their history, of their economy and of their kin. If Putin were to “lose” Ukraine it would hurt him with the large part of the Russian population who have supported him and even more with the circle of military and security people who are his closest and most critical colleagues. The specter of being deposed like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, or, even worse, Libya’s late dictator Muammar Gaddafi, hangs over him.
Ukraine’s people are radicalizing by the hour. The estimates of at least 60 dead, the flow of blood, the images of snipers on both the government and the security side taking aim, the shrouded bodies being blessed by priests, and the incendiary rhetoric all point to a country where tensions, suppressed for decades, could take militant, armed form.
Civil wars, those raging and those yet to come, present the largest immediate threat to human societies. Some have similar roots, but there is no overall unifying cause; except, perhaps, a conviction that the conflict is a fight to oblivion. Victory or death.
MOSCOW – There’s a joke in Europe, the making of which is credited to Lord Chris Patten, Chancellor of Oxford University who in the 1980s was the EU’s Commissioner for External Relations. Adapting President Theodore Roosevelt’s advice to “speak softly but carry a big stick,” Patten said that the EU’s attitude to foreign affairs was to “speak softly but carry a big carrot.”
President Viktor Yanukovich of Ukraine must have thought he was opting for an easier life when he decided last week to renege on his decision to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union. Staying connected to the Russian-dominated former Soviet Union had seemed a better choice. Ukraine is the second-largest Slavic-Orthodox state after Russia, and Russians have long looked to Kiev for the eleventh-century origins of their state and religion.