5 reasons the West should care about the protests in Ukraine

If the bloodshed in Kiev turns into civil war, the conflict will have a ripple effect across the European Union

Topics: GlobalPost, Ukraine, Protests, Unrest, Russia, Putin, the west, Globalization, ,

This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

Global PostEditor’s note: This is a developing story. For up-to-the-minute news out of Ukraine, please visit our live blog

LISBON, Portugal — For many watching on television screens around the world, the bloodbath in Ukraine is disturbing but distant.

Seeing how Western governments placed Ukraine’s simmering crisis on the back burner for months, it’s hard not to recall British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s 1938 quote about events in pre-World War II Czechoslovakia: “A quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing.”

Europe in 2014 is not the tinderbox it was in the 1930s, and Ukraine on Friday may just have pulled back from the brink of disaster. But here are five possible scenarios that show why the West should nevertheless care about what happens in this not-so-far-away country.

1. Civil war

Ukraine is a country the size of France. Its population is double that of Syria, and more than 10 times the size of Bosnia’s.

If the bloodletting in Kyiv this week turn outs to be the first stage of a civil war, such a conflict has the potential to unleash a conflagration on a scale not seen in Europe since World War II.

The impact on Ukraine’s 45 million people would be tragic. Historic cities like Kyiv, Lviv or Odessa could be left facing the destruction inflicted on Aleppo or Sarajevo. The European Union would have to cope with an unprecedented refugee crisis that would risk undermining traditional democratic parties as far-right groups exploit discontent over such an influx from the east.

That’s supposing such a conflict would be limited to Ukraine. As casualties mount among civilians and pro-Western forces, pressure would grow for international intervention, perhaps along the lines of NATO’s airstrikes in Bosnia and Kosovo. With Moscow supporting the other side, that would raise the prospect of a direct conflict between Russia and the Western allies.



2. Victory for Yanukovych and Putin

If President Viktor Yanukovych’s ongoing crackdown succeeds in crushing the demonstrators, Ukrainians can expect their country to be sucked back into the Russian orbit. The hoped-for “association agreement” with the European Union setting the country’s limping economy on a Western path would be buried.

Instead Ukraine would likely become part of a Russian-dominated Eurasian Union — along with other authoritarian former-Soviet states like Belarus and Kazakhstan.

The EU’s “eastern partnership” plan to build an arc of Western-style democracies along its borders would be left in tatters. In its place would be a new, Cold War-style division of the continent.

Emboldened by such a success in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin could be expected to pursue a more aggressive foreign policy elsewhere, asserting Moscow’s influence in Central Asia, the Caucasus and even putting pressure on EU and NATO members in the Baltic states and elsewhere in eastern Europe.

A Ukraine locked into a hostile Russian camp could also open EU nations to economic blackmail — given that so many of them depend on Russian oil and gas pumped through Ukrainian pipelines.

3. Partition

A glance at results from the 2010 presidential election that brought Yanukovych to power will show the extent of Ukraine’s divisions. The north and west voted solidly for pro-Western candidate Yulia Tymoshenko, who is now in jail, the south and east supported Yanukovych.

The risk of Ukraine splitting apart is real. Protesters in Lviv — the main city in the west — have already threatened to secede should the Yanukovych regime consolidate its grip in Kyiv. Easterners, encouraged by Russia, could do the same if pro-Western forces gain the upper hand in the capital.

Crimea — a largely Russian-speaking Black Sea region, where the Russian navy maintains a major base — could be a flashpoint.

Russian officials have said Moscow would be prepared to fight to regain it if Ukraine shifts westward. Moscow has history here. It has supported breakaway movements to undermine other westward-leading former Soviet nations like Georgia and Moldova.

In Ukraine, such developments could create dangerous poles of instability on Europe’s southeast flank.

4. Radicalization

Ukraine’s protesters are not all brave democrats fighting for freedom. Among them are hardline nationalists with xenophobic and anti-semitic leanings.

This week’s bloody clampdown risks further radicalizing demonstrators, pushing more into the hardline camp. That risk will grow if Europe and the United States are perceived to be failing in providing support for the democrats, raising the prospect of moderates becoming marginalized as Ukraine’s conflict polarizes between pro-Russian Yanukovych supporters and radical nationalists.

5. Ukraine resurgent

This week’s violence has seriously damaged hopes that Ukraine can emerge peacefully from the crisis as a democracy that maintains good relations with both Russia and the West.

Any deal that emerges from Friday’s negotiations to get Yanukovych to agreed on the formation of a transitional government, constitutional reform and early elections will be fragile. Few in the opposition trust him and many will find it impossible to work with the man they hold responsible for this week’s death toll. Furthermore, Putin could sink a deal he sees taking Ukraine out of Russia’s grasp.

Yet there remains some hope of a solution — if Putin, Yanukovych and the opposition see that the dangers of confrontation outweigh those of compromise; if Russia and the West agree to jointly help rebuild Ukraine’s weakened economy; and if they allow the country to choose its own path which could enable continued economic ties with both.

Should that happen, a stable and prosperous Ukraine could still become an important partner for Europe and the United States and a bridge between east and west.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...