War in Ukraine?

Russian Armored Personnel Carriers and a truck are observed outside the town of Bakhchisarai, Ukraine, on February 28th. (Photo Courtesy of Bloomberg.com)

Following a vote by Russian lawmakers giving President Vladimir Putin the ability to send troops into the pro-Russian Crimean region of Ukraine, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has declared that his country is ready to fight for its sovereignty. The former Soviet nation’s army is on full alert for the possibility of armed conflict, while in the Ukrainian south unidentified quasi-military forces have installed a pro-Russian premier, Sergey Aksenov. With the Ukrainian government already facing social instability and severe economic constraints, surrounding nations and the international community are now worried about the prospect of civil war in the current highly polarized environment.

The U.S. has accused Russia’s recent intervention as a series of calculated steps intended to make the use of force appear legitimate in the eyes of the international community. While such maneuvering has certainly backfired among Western nations, it is unclear whether Russia’s allies have any role to play in Ukraine’s rapidly deteriorating situation. Scarily, the prospect of warfare under the cover of protectionist intervention has been applied by Russia before: 2008′s brief conflict between Russia and Georgia saw concentrated fighting over breakaway ethnic territories, a pattern now repeated in the Crimean attempt to separate itself from Ukraine’s new government.

Perhaps the biggest question to ask in this mess is what Putin’s final objective may be in the event that war occurs. Does he merely seek Russian military dominance of eastern Europe, as his most virulent critics are wont to say? Or, within the ethnic tension and governmental instability of a former Soviet Republic, is there a comprehensive geopolitical strategy yet to be drawn out by analysts of foreign policy? At this rate, let’s hope someone is able to discern the correct solutions before Europe once again sees the darkest side of Great Power politics.


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