By Periklis Deligiannis
Russian-speaking combatants gather ammunition from the place of crash of a Ukrainian fighter aircraft.
Many of us remember the classic book “Clash of Civilizations” (1996) of Samuel Huntington, the main successor to the geopolitical school of the British historian Arnold Toynbee, and his remarks on the bipartition of the cultural identity of Ukraine and Turkey, which is dramatically verified for both of them in the last twelve months. Yet Turkey, despite the dramatic events taking place in the country during the last year, does not wobble as much as Ukraine.
Let’s see how things have developed for the Ukrainian crisis and then some scenarios on its solution. The terms of the recent agreement were not really implemented and the Ukraine is possibly moving towards a more violent confrontation. The “big players” (Russia, U.S., E.U. and China) are rather cautious preferring keep waiting, except the rapid Russian annexation of Crimea.
The Western media have probably overstated the financial dependence of Russia from the Western economies, although the American financial reprisals on her have already been felt in the country. Neither Russia can seriously threaten the U.S. in retaliation, but can push to a certain extent the European Union using energy reprisals. Of course the latter did not have any serious problems of energy supply before the energy agreements with Russia, but it now appears to depend a lot on the inexhaustible Russian gas resources, especially Germany, France and the other Northern European nations.
The Ukrainian crisis is the outcome of the constant attempts of the U.S. and the E.U. to penetrate a geopolitical region which Russia considers exclusively her own since at least 1793. However it seems that they have not anticipated the extent of the internal struggle in Ukraine.
What are the reasons of the current embarrassment of the “major geopolitical players”?
The Russian Federation remains a state of imperial dimensions and capabilities, but has not fully achieved the socioeconomic stability still seeking after the collapse of the USSR. She does not want to be isolated because of a new Cold War.
The U.S. seeing that they are rather losing the game in Syria in favor of Assad, an ally of Russia and Iran, led a successful distraction in Ukraine at the end of 2013 still going on. But further escalation of the Ukrainian crisis is not really desirable for them, because of their known internal problems (fears of a new financial crisis, reactions to President Obama’s choices, etc.) and external as well: Iraq is now seriously threatened by the fundamentalists; Afghanistan remains a constant “boiling cauldron”; in Syria the civil war has bogged down in favor of Assad; etc. Moreover, the European support to the US on the Ukrainian issue is rather theoretical than practical.
We have seen the position of the EU in the crisis. The Europeans have a more vital reason for not wanting the escalation of the Ukrainian crisis: their own ongoing financial crisis in the Eurozone, although somewhat limited. Greece, Spain, Portugal and other countries are still facing large economic problems, and some others are seriously threatened by financial crises including Italy and France herself. The last thing that Germany, France and the other countries desire is a financial war with Russia, after trying so hard together with the latter to achieve effective energy agreements.
It seems that if the U.S. choose the escalation, their main allies in the region will be Poland, Romania, Hungary and the Baltic republics, rather not enough. It must be also noted that all of them except Poland face serious internal problems. Ukraine is bordered mainly by the always dreaded Russian Federation and is too far from the North American Continent.
China is a distant player who keeps some distance from those directly involved, but covertly leans towards Russia and in the event of further escalation will probably support it openly. China’s problems with the Muslims in Sinchiang-Uighur and the Tibetan separatists in Tibet which are fueled by the U.S. at the expense of her territorial integrity, and the Taiwan issue push the Chinese to this direction.
Gas pipelines in eastern Europe (source: GIE, Gazprom (BBC))
In conclusion, it seems that no one wants the escalation of the crisis. Here, I will attempt to make an estimate on three probable, possibly the most likely, scenarios for the future of Ukraine.
The first scenario is the permanence of the current situation, i.e. the state position of the Russian-speakers to remain unchanged in a pro-Western Ukraine under an anti-Russian government. They are probably not going to accept this, which also will hurt mostly the prestige of Russia. The latter will be exposed as impotent to protect her interests and her own Russian-speaking people in her vital space.
The second scenario is a confrontation that will result in the split of Ukraine in two new states (a pro-Western Ukrainian state and a Russo-Ukrainian one). Many analysts predicted this development and still do. However my view always was and constantly is that this is the less likely scenario, because as we saw none of the global powers (and the leadership of the pro-Western Ukrainians) do not want the escalation. However, the split into two states within the coming decades remains a possibility.
The third scenario and maybe the most probable for the time being, is the progressive federalization of the country (perhaps as a temporary solution). This possibility is reinforced by the visit a month ago in Kiev, of a senior official of Switzerland (a federal country, traditionally neutral in global conflicts) to provide expertise to the Ukrainians on the federal state system. Namely a solution on the recent basis of a Bosnia-Herzegovina formula is possible (Bosnia-Herzegovina consists of two federal states: a Serbian and a Muslim-Croat which is also federal). In this case, the Ukrainian administrative districts will become federal states (Länder) of a Ukrainian Federation i.e. like the states/Länder/cantons/autonomous republics/etc of Switzerland, USA, Russia, Germany, Canada, Australia etc. This hypothetical Federation will be composed of the mainly Russian-speaking federal states of Kharkiv (Kharkov), Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Zaporozhye, Kherson, Mykolaiv (Nikolaev), Luhansk and Odessa and the mainly Ukrainian-speaking states which are all the other regions except Chernihiv (Chernigov) and Transcarpathia. Chernihiv has mostly mixed population (Ukrainian-speakers and Russian/Byelorussian-speakers) thereby being at an ‘intermediate condition’, while the pro-Russian Transcarpathia in the western end of the country is mainly inhabited by Ruthenians (pro-Russian).