I mean doomed to lose its autonomy as a nation-state, whether or not its borders remain formally in place. Here are some reasons for thinking that it is:
1. Russia has placed 40,000 troops along its borders. The West has made clear that Ukraine is not worth a war. In the president’s words:
Of course, Ukraine is not a member of NATO, in part because of its close and complex history with Russia. Nor will Russia be dislodged from Crimea or deterred from further escalation by military force.
2. NATO is “suspending cooperation” with Russia, meaning:
Russia could not participate in joint exercises such as one planned for May on rescuing a stranded submarine, a NATO official said.
But, never mind–
Russia’s cooperation with NATO in Afghanistan – on training counter-narcotics personnel, maintenance of Afghan air force helicopters and a transit route out of the war-torn country – [will] continue.
3. Ukraine is deeply in debt to Russia among other countries, and is on the brink of economic ruin. Russia has just increased natural gas prices for Ukraine from $268.50 per 1,000 cubic meters to $385.50.
4. The $18 billion IMF package will help Ukraine pay its debts to Russia, and pay for gas from Russia, at the newly high prices. Think of the IMF package as a subsidy to Russia that counteracts the picayune sanctions.
5. Russia has announced an economic development plan for Crimea that ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine will look at with envy.
6. Ukraine is deeply divided between East and West. Russia has argued that Ukraine should be given a “federalist” structure, and this proposal may be sensible. As Ilya Somin explains:
Federalism has often been a successful strategy for reducing ethnic conflict in divided societies. Cases like Switzerland, Belgium, and Canada are good examples. Given the deep division in Ukrainian society between ethnic Russians and russified Ukrainians on the one hand and more nationalistic Ukrainians on the other, a federal solution might help reduce conflict there as well by assuring each group that they will retain a measure of autonomy and political influence even if the other one has a majority in the central government. Although Ukraine has a degree of regional autonomy already, it could potentially would work better and promote ethnic reconciliation more effectively if it were more decentralized, as some Ukrainians have long advocated.
But it is predictable that a federal system in which Ukraine effectively consists of two regions–a Ukrainian region and a Russian region–will produce a weak country whose eastern half is dominated by Russia and whose western half will be isolated and alone.
7. Most important, Ukraine has never shown itself able to exist as a viable independent nation. Throughout nearly all of its history, it has been a province of Russia, or divided between Russia and other neighbors. The major period of independence from 1991 to the present–a blink of an eye–has been marked by extreme government mismanagement that has resulted in the impoverishment of Ukrainians relative to Poles, Russians, and other neighbors. In the 1990s, many experts doubted that Ukraine would survive. Now that Russia is back on its feet, their doubts seem increasingly realistic.
Russia has considerable leverage; it will use it.