While Yanukovich insisted Friday that he is still the president of Ukraine, the facts point otherwise, and the installation of a Western-backed interim government in Kiev poses a direct challenge to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his position on the global stage.
On a high after the success of the Sochi Winter Games, and seemingly having beaten the West in the battle for Ukraine, after the president decided not to sign a trade deal with the EU, Putin now finds himself having to put on a brave face, the popular protests having forced Yanukovich to leave the country.
Although Putin has stressed the right to sovereignty for Ukraine, the war games he is playing on the country’s border, the takeover of Crimea parliament buildings and airports by armed militants, and the incursion into Ukrainian airspace by Russian helicopters suggest otherwise. Many point to similarities with the runup to the war he fought with Georgia in 2008. Crimea, which has been the site of an important Russian naval base for the last 200 years, is vital to Moscow’s interests, and also has a Russian majority population, many of whom have not welcomed the move toward Europe in Kiev.
And while Russia acts, the West continues to talk. There are no good options left. Russian military intervention could lead to the geographical division of Ukraine. Continuous protests between those who support Europe and those who favor Putin’s fold could lead to increased violence. Or, the West could choose to address the issues which sparked the crisis in the first place, and inject much-needed financial support into the country.
If this latter option is not pursued, and urgently, Ukraine might just become the latest on a list of global U.S. foreign policy failures, following Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Egypt.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 01, 2014, on page 7.