Ukraine’s independence day is upon us.
It was fun while it lasted.
They say that history doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes. Whatever the truth of this axiom, Vladimir Putin is proving that in his own backyard, he understands history better than anyone in Brussels or Washington. While this isn’t exactly the greatest accomplishment in the annals of human history, it is enough; and today, the Ukraine that existed from 1991 through early 2014 is an historic memory as two rump states engage in a fight the end of which everyone already knows.
In the West, which we might — as Putin has suggested — call Poland East, Western values, traditional cronyism and corruption, and Very Important Meetings still happen. One might still enjoy a nightly stroll through Lviv, or enjoy the resurgent cuisine in Kyiv, or get shaken down by police officers when trying to drive between the two; it could in some ways as easily be 2006 or 2012 as today.
In the East, which one might call Russia West, artillery holes and constant if intermittent battles have destroyed infrastructure and lives; Kyiv’s writ is a joke; and now one can get shaken down by both armed men in fatigues and police officers. Sure, there’s plenty of cronyism, but the corruption just isn’t the same without Ukraine’s thriving industrial heartland having meaningful GDP. Today could be 1944 or 1990, if the late Soviet Union had taken to spontaneous infrastructure demolition and (more open) executions.
But in no sense is there any longer one Ukraine. That Ukraine died in 2014, and the West helped kill it and — as importantly — stood by and had Very Important Meetings as it was murdered. Oh, there were sanctions, and oh, second-tier Russian oligarchs (and first-tier Ukrainian ones because why not) where sanctioned or even charged with crimes; and now, Poland East enjoys some of the best night-vision goggles in the world with which to see incoming, long-range Russian artillery shells obliterating them.
By 2017, one of two things will have happened. The Donbass will be gone from Ukraine as a matter of law, either through de jure autonomy or de fact independence; or Kyiv will have found the organizational strength, material, and doctrine to push back against a Russia cowed by the threat of actual war with the West into letting Russia West fall.
One of these things is likely. The other ends with a united Ukraine celebrating its twenty-sixth independence day.
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