The Next Key Step on Ukraine

Roundup: Historians' Take
tags: Ukraine

Timothy Garton Ash is professor of European studies at Oxford University, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and a contributing writer to Opinion.

Vladimir Putin knows that this crisis is about the whole of Ukraine. Ukrainians know it too. And the West must not forget it.

There is nothing to be done to restore Ukrainian control over Crimea. The crucial struggle now is for eastern Ukraine. If what remains of the nation participates in a peaceful, free and fair presidential election on May 25, it can survive as one independent country (minus Crimea). It also will be back on an unambiguously democratic, constitutional path. In everything the European Union and the West do over the next two months, that should be the first priority.

Only the criminally naive or the hardened fellow traveler could maintain that the pro-Russia groups now producing chaos and violence in cities such as Donetsk and Kharkiv are not actively supported by Moscow. Whatever Putin decides to do next, the narrative has been prepared: escalating intervention or, as he would undoubtedly prefer, blackmailing the whole country back into the Russian sphere of influence.

It would be equally naive, however, to pretend that there are not real fears among many in eastern Ukraine. Start by abandoning the labels "ethnic Ukrainians" and "ethnic Russians." They mean almost nothing. What you have instead is a fluid, complex mix of national, linguistic, civic and political identities. There are people who think of themselves as Russians. There are those who live their lives mainly in Russian but also identify as Ukrainians. There are families of mixed origins. Most of them would rather not have to choose sides. In an early February poll, only 15% of those asked in the Kharkiv region, and 33% around Donetsk, wanted Ukraine to unite with Russia....

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