You argue that the secessionist threat being used by Russia and pro-Moscow regions in Ukraine is essentially a bluff. But wouldn't Russia love to have Crimea, for example? And wouldn't a majority in Crimea love to join Russia?
That's the exception to the argument. The half exception. In Crimea, of course, the sentiment of the vast majority of the population is that this is Russian territory, we want out, and we should never have been part of Ukraine. It's a highly nationalistic population. One could even say it's a chauvinist population. It's certainly an intolerant population. It consistently supports integration with Russia, it supports the Party of Regions and the Communists.
I think the problem here isn't the locals. The parties and the locals seem to clearly want this. I think the dilemma is [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's. He has to ask himself a very important strategic question. On the one hand, for Putin to absorb Crimea is, frankly, a piece of cake. It wouldn't require any military aggression because the military is already based in Sevastopol in the Black Sea Fleet. All they need to do is leave the base and declare Crimea independent. Piece of cake. The problem is that for Putin this would set an unpleasant and dangerous precedent vis-a-vis his non-Russian neighbors. If Putin goes into Crimea to liberate it, so to speak, or annex it, he would effectively be declaring that Russia has the right to annex Russian-populated territories in the former Soviet Union. Once Russia declares that it has the right to go in and seize territories that are populated by Russians, he is suggesting to all of these countries that they are in potential future danger of an annexation by the Russian Federation. This will undermine his efforts to regather the non-Russian republics [of the former Soviet Union] through the so-called Customs Union and the so-called Eurasian Union. At this point, it is Belarus and Kazakhstan that are on board. Putin has to ask himself the question: Is Crimea worth torpedoing the Customs Union and the Eurasian Union?
The ethnic and political divisions in Ukraine between east and west aren't so neat. In the event that a split does happen, isn't there a risk of an enclave problem—Ukrainians trapped in the east and Russian-speakers trapped in the west?
Absolutely. There are significant numbers of ethnic Ukrainians who continue to speak Ukrainian in the east and in the south. There are significant numbers of passionate Ukrainians, let's call them patriots, who speak Russian and who prefer Russian culture, and who nevertheless are committed to Ukrainian statehood and Ukrainian nationhood. They too happen to be based in parts of the southeast. You have Russians in other parts of the country, even in Lviv, which, by the way, is a very tolerant city where you can hear Russian spoken on the streets. So it would be very messy. And one of the arguments that people make against the secession, or dismemberment, or lopping off of the Donbas is that there would be a significant portion of the local population that wouldn't want to go. These are people who are primarily located outside the biggest industrial centers, namely Luhansk and Donetsk. So much of the countryside or smaller towns are quite Ukrainian. So what do you do with them?
And finally, with the crisis escalating and becoming increasingly violent, do you think Ukraine is heading toward partition?
No, not really. I think the country is headed toward [President Viktor] Yanukovych's collapse though. I'm not sure if it's a matter of days, weeks, or months. But in cracking down he's essentially signed his own death warrant.
This post appears courtesy of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.