04/18/2014 11:18 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Future of Ukraine -- Civil war?


Co-authored by William Witenberg a contemporary artist focused on abstract painting

Ukrainian, Russian and Western diplomats are holding talks in Switzerland on Thursday in hope of resolving a deepening crisis that has seen armed pro-Russian protesters seize swaths of Ukraine. Pro-Russian groups make a mockery of Kiev's attempts to stop them from taking over buildings, airports, and transit routs and moving towards secession of thein Eastern Ukraine region. European calls for "clear and united international response" and President Obama's continuous threats to increase sanctions on Russia are falling on deaf ears. If there is one common thread throughout this crisis it is that the Ukrainian people are becoming acutely aware of the fact that America's and Europe's words do not match their deeds.

West has not given defensive arms to Ukraine. Instead, it imposed meaningless sanctions and despite its rhetoric it appears to be leaving Ukraine to its own devices to deal with the pro-Russian secession movement.

The reality is that Ukraine is unable to militarily engage with the pro-Russian protestors. Ukrainian senior military officers served most of their careers in close collaboration with the Russian military. Understandably, in light of the latest events anti-terror "elite" units of Ukrainian army defected to the pro-Russian side. The elite Berkut ("Golden Eagle") police were used by then President Yanukovych to attack demonstrators, and were blamed for the killing many peaceful bystanders during his overthrowal. If their members were arrested for their role in preventing the revolution, naturally, they are now unlikely to be willing to fight against the people they were defending before. So in effect the non-elected new government in Kiev has no muscle to back up its threats to the pro-Russian Eastern Ukrainian movement.

No matter how much unhappiness exists in Ukraine over the failure of the interim government in Kiev, which was created to replace pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, it is clear that America and Europe has done nothing of substance to help this government to stop pro-Russian groups. While Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown because of his refusal to make closer relations with the EU, it is possible that the new elections may show a rapidly changing view of Ukrainian people. Results of the coming presidential election in May are likely to be heavily influenced by the West's non-action. European Union link was believed by the people of Ukraine to lead to a brighter economic future than Russian control offered, instead Ukraine is getting no tangible support in its time of need. If America and Europe want to assist Ukraine they must do more than issue empty threats and promises.

The interim government's inability to respond militarily to the secession movement, the absence of tangible support from the West for the interim government, and continued dependence on Russian gas, foreshadow a new Ukraine that will be weaker and poorer than it was during Viktor Yanukovych's regime. While there are many issues in Eastern Ukraine making it the center of the secession movement, the biggest fear among Eastern Ukrainians is that the economic consequence pro-Western Ukraine will result in loss of jobs in the eastern cities that depend on exports to Russia. It isn't the 40,000 Russian troops on the border of Ukraine which are causing this continuing unrest , it is the paralysis of the new government and the non-involvement of the European Union and the United States.

For this Thursday meeting to be able to assist in building a stabilized Ukraine it will require that the "interim government" is recognized as legitimate by not only the parties at the table but by the people of the Ukraine. For this to happen at a minimum its military has to be willing to follow government's orders and be bolstered to be able to stop seizure of land, airports, and government buildings. Russia has to tell its Eastern Ukrainian supporters to stand down. It is a fantasy to expect the interim government to be able to survive without support of the west just as it is a fantasy to expect pro-Russian supporters to stop their movement, unless Russia rejects them or the Nation of Ukraine has the power to stop them.

In the end, the result will depend how much support West it is willing to give the interim government as well as on the amount of influence Russia will use to use to slow down the secession movement. Absent an agreement between the West and Russia, Putin's concern that civil war will break is not a threat as much a description of closer to reality.