The weekend’s dramatic events in Ukraine have been hailed as a turning point, but the coming days and weeks will be just as important in defining whether the Maidan Square uprising is remembered as the beginning of something better, or something worse.
For now, Russia is complaining about its neighbor’s lack of political legitimacy. Ukraine faces the prospect of economic collapse and possibly disintegration, unless politicians inside and outside the country can find solutions.
The West believes that it represents the political model for Ukrainians who deposed their president, but it is offering economic assistance – with painful conditions – that could aggravate the situation. In contrast, Russia believes that it holds the economic key to Ukraine’s short- and medium-term future, but it suffers from political bankruptcy in the eyes of many Ukrainians.
Both sides – Russia and the West – will have to work together to treat the potentially explosive situation, because Ukraine could easily be torn apart if it is treated merely as a prize in a revamped version of the Cold War.
Russia might not have a clear-cut idea – for now – of what it intends to do next in Ukraine, after Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev labeled the new leaders “mutineers.” For this part of the world, a more pressing question is whether the Ukrainian uprising will affect the situation in Syria, where two blocs of outside powers have mobilized their verbal and material support for the warring sides. Policymakers should ask themselves whether even more pressure on Russia in Ukraine will harm efforts to arrive at a political solution in Syria, one of the remaining “vital” areas for Moscow.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 25, 2014, on page 7.