Eastern Ukraine’s New Reality

Will President Vladimir Putin stop at Crimea? While it appeared that the Russian leader was ready to accept a diplomatic solution to the situation in Ukraine, with civil unrest still pervasive in the country coupled with knowledge of Russian history and Putin himself, it appears that the answer to that question is a resounding “no.”

Some Background

After centuries of being ruled and divided by a variety of different entities, it wasn’t until 1991 that Ukraine became an independent country. That independence, while recognized amongst the world community, was always questioned by Russia.  Russia exerted control over the Crimean Peninsula despite it being recognized as an autonomous republic in Ukraine by other countries. All of that tension came to a head last month, when a vast majority, more than 90 percent, of Crimeans voted to join the Russian federation. (It did appear that the Russians were poised to take control of the peninsula regardless of the vote, as troops were deployed in the area.)

While U.S. President Barack Obama declared the vote “illegal,” Putin said that the actions were democratic and should be respected and honored. Critics of the move say it would be the same thing as, for example, Arizona and New Mexico voting to leave the United States and join Mexico.

More Cities to Secede

After Crimea’s decision to join Russia, other cities in eastern Ukraine seem desirous of rejoining the fatherland as well. Recent reports indicate that the city council of Donetsk is moving toward hosting a referendum to determine whether it too should secede from Ukraine. While Crimea was an autonomous region inside Ukraine, Donetsk is a city that is geographically in Ukraine.

Unlike Crimea, where a majority of inhabitants are Russian, the residents of Donetsk are mostly Ukrainian. With that in mind, should Donetsk vote to secede, it’s unlikely that Ukrainian leadership in Kiev would be as complacent in allowing that separation as Crimea was. While the rest of the world condemned Putin’s actions in Crimea, it appeared as though he got what he wanted and the world was ready to let him have it, if he would stop there.

So What?

Those who believed that Putin would stop there should read up on Russian history. Only through continued education on the subject matter can one really see the Russian desire for empire is the beginning of a reestablishment of the USSR.

Of course, it will be interesting to see how the whole situation unfolds. Russia certainly doesn’t want to risk isolating itself from the world anymore than it already has. Economic sanctions have already adversely affected the country, and further sanctions could cripple it. Furthermore, Putin most likely doesn’t want to engage in combat with the United States or any European countries. At least that’s an educated guess, no one really knows what the man is thinking.

To Intervene, or to Stay Home?

President Obama has already expressed his reluctance when it comes to taking up arms against the Russians. So does Putin have his eyes set on recapturing Kiev? If Donetsk votes to secede, what happens next and how does the world community respond?

The truth of the matter is that words have meaning, and when you fail to follow through with words, you lose all credibility. With American officials repeatedly telling Moscow that their actions would be met with “serious consequences,” and those consequences subsequently never coming to fruition, Putin knows almost exactly what he can get away with if he so chooses. At the very least, Putin knows that he won’t have to deal with the most serious of consequences, taking up arms against the U.S. military.

So will Donetsk follow in Crimea’s footsteps? If Donetsk chooses to join Russia, what will happen to the rest of the country? Will other cities follow suit? If Donetsk votes to secede from Ukraine and be governed by Russia, will anyone intervene?

Putin has the Power

Personally, I feel as though there are two main factors at play here.  There’s Putin’s desire to reestablish the Russian federation in its full glory, and a domino theory effect of sorts.

Putin knows that he isn’t up against much physical resistance. Sure, economic sanctions could have drastic effects, but until they do, there’s not much reason for him to change course.

Changing the Map

On the other side of the coin, change can be exciting. Crimea joined Russia willingly, though not all Crimeans were happy with it. Some voted against joining. Others abstained. If Donetsk falls, it’s certainly within the realm of possibility that other Ukrainian cities will follow suit due to excitement and inevitability.

Maybe Luhansk and Kharkiv will follow suit. After all, Russia already moved troops into Crimea prior to the vote. Nobody saw what those troops were prepared to do, but one could certainly imagine. Maybe Ukrainian voters will choose Russia over what appears could be the almost certain loss of lives, whatever the scale may be. With troops placed nearby, Russia appears ready to strike if need be.

What Will Happen Next?

Either way, the situation in eastern Ukraine is volatile to say the least. Only time will tell how the situation resolves, and in the meantime, all we can do is speculate. But the fact of the matter remains that the new realities Ukraine faces are complex and in need of resolution.

So what are your thoughts? Share in the comments below!