Co-authored by William Witenberg a contemporary artist focused on abstract painting
Ukraine has been an independent country for only 23 years. It has not developed a national identity. It is self evident that the ethnic Russians of Crimea were unhappy with not being independent, and a significant number of eastern cities (including recently Odessa) have strong separatist movements. While attention has been focused on the May 25th elections to determine the replacements for the interim government, it is clear that no matter who is elected, minds of the separatist pro-Russians will not be changed. Hence, America and its allies are overemphasizing the elections. The belief that the May 25th elections will somehow change separatist sentiments is a miscalculation. The election will allow the "interim" government to be a more permanent representative government but it will not unite Ukraine.
While America and the European Union threaten more sanctions against Russia there is little evidence that sanctions or the May 25th elections will change the hearts of ethnic Russians in Ukraine. This reality drives Putin. While it is impossible to predict Putin's specific actions, it appears that this understanding of the lack of national identity in Ukraine gives a clue to what he can successfully achieve. His plan is foreshadowed by the response of President Dmitry Medyedev to the separatist movements in Georgia in 2008. While neither Georgia, the United States nor the United Nations recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia, President Medvedev in 2008 signed an order recognizing their independence. We can foresee Putin signing a similar order recognizing separatists who have declared themselves as independent of Ukraine.
The referendum planned by the separatists on May 17th is considered illegal by Kiev, America and Europe. The likely scenario is that Putin will respond by recognizing the referendum as legitimate. Then comes May 25th election to replace the interim government and the non eastern part of Ukraine will vote for a pro-Western leader.
The result will be a Balkanization of Ukraine. The area that borders on Russia and the Black Sea port of Odessa will be recognized as separate from Ukraine by Russia and not by the west. Exactly the way South Ossetia and Abkhazia are viewed today.
The problem for the new western leaning government will be that Russia controls their finances by controlling the cost of their energy. This is true whether or not the new government joins the European Union. Because Russia is the largest creditor of Ukraine; Putin will ignore the entry of the non-Eastern part of Ukraine into the European Union. He will just make the economic burden of Ukraine's dependence on Russian gas equal to any benefit that Ukraine gets by joining the European Union.
Ukraine's 23 years of independence is such a short time, it is not surprising that a future Ukraine will look much different than the present. What we are seeing is a new country in evolution. It is likely that over time the Georgian template will be imposed on the Ukraine. In the end, is America really hurt by this?