Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych is now a fugitive – missing since fleeing Kiev, the capital, on Friday. Oleksandr Turchynov, a close ally of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, and a key player in the protests that overthrew Yanukovych, has been named interim president.
The big question “now haunting” the West and Ukraine is how far the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, will go to keep the splintering nation within his own sphere of influence, says The Sunday Times. Russian troops neighbouring the country have been put on high alert.
Meanwhile, the Russian-speaking people of Crimea in southern Ukraine are “clamouring for Russian protection and possible reintegration”, while those in the west of Ukraine (and the Tatar minority in Crimea who support them) want to join the European Union. Putin’s advantage is that he has a “clear goal”: he wants either a “client state” or a “weak, divided neighbour”.
If Ukraine “eventually finds its way to some form of stable democracy, it will have been with precious little help from the West, which seems to be either uninterested (America) or useless (the EU)”, says Janet Daley in The Daily Telegraph.
Putin has become the world’s most powerful head of state as a direct consequence of the “vacuum” left by America’s retreat from the global stage. Over Syria, “every crackpot and despot” in the world watched America “dither”, then do nothing.
“Every rebellious dissident” in despotic regimes now knows that he and his fellow protestors are alone, “with only the feeble attempts of a collective European negotiating machine standing between them and annihilation”.
Things aren’t that bad, says Adrian Wooldridge in The Sunday Times. After all, it’s Putin’s allies in Ukraine who have just had to “beat a sudden retreat” from protestors. And Putin’s power depends on a handful of extractive industries that allow him to hand huge sums to a gang of Kremlin dependents – this system’s demise is inevitable, and will be hastened by fracking in the US. Once the US starts exporting energy, Putin’s power will be undermined.
But Ukraine still desperately needs help, particularly financially, says The Independent. The “immediate origin of the crisis” was economic: Yanukovych’s decision to accept Russian aid rather than a trade agreement with the EU. Russia has now suspended a $15bn loan pledged to the Ukrainian government.
If Ukraine partners with the EU, Russia will punish it economically. Ukraine’s Finance Ministry says it needs $35bn to survive 2014 and 2015. The West must help, for economic as well as political reasons, says Roger Boyes in The Times.
Just as the Marshall Plan – US aid to Europe in the wake of the Second World War – was “never just about economics”, but rather was intended to prevent Stalin from picking off small, weak European states, so the recovery plan now “bouncing” between the EU, the US and the IMF, is ultimately about self-interest. A “big European market, free of corruption and open to safe investment is a serious boon”.