Can catastrophe be avoided in Ukraine?

Ukraine is on a knife-edge following the hastily organised referendums in the eastern part of the country.

"The world's newest country was born" last Sunday, but seems destined to "have a brief lifespan", says Kim Sengupta in The Independent. No sooner had the People's Republic of Donetsk declared independence from Ukraine than separatist leader Denis Pushilin was asking Russia to absorb the region.

Meanwhile the Obama administration said that the US would not recognise the "results of the illegal referendums". The British foreign secretary, William Hague, concurred.

For all its "surreal elements" (the total of the announced yes, no and spoilt votes exceeded 100%), the outcome was "deadly serious", says The Daily Telegraph. The most populous region of Ukraine now "stands on the verge" of joining Russia.

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE

Get 6 issues free

Sign up to Money Morning

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Sign up

Ukraine is on a "knife-edge" and it is vital to understand Russian intentions in order to "avoid a catastrophe", says Tony Brenton in The Times. The Western media talk of "a new Cold War", and given that Putin's regime is "brutal, mendacious and corrupt", such fears are understandable. Nevertheless this view is wrong.

The Russians do not see this as the start of a global offensive, but as standing up to a "20-year offensive by the West". They have watched as "country after country of the former communist bloc has slipped into the Western camp".

Putin has been meddling in Ukrainian affairs since 2004, because he believes, as do most Russians, that Russia has"deep and legitimate interests" there, says Rodric Braithwaite,former ambassador to Moscow, in The Independent on Sunday.

He provoked a crisis in Ukraine to achieve three strategicobjectives: "a neutral Ukraine subject to Russian influence;more formal guarantees for the rights of Russian speakers ineastern Ukraine, and the return of Crimea to Russia. The rest istactics."

Putin won't be worrying about what the West thinks;most Russians are "delighted" with his "patriotic successes"and he knows the West needs him.

So what next? We should leave well alone, says Simon Jenkinsin The Guardian. Obama has been criticised for not being toughenough; the EU for being "half-hearted". Nato is "on guard". "But it is not our business."

Russia's behaviour in Crimea and Ukraine has been "crude and belligerent", but it is based onlocal consent. "A new status for eastern Ukraine is vital, butthat is Ukraine's business and given the apparent views of localpeople, inevitably Russia's business. When distant powers feeljustified in intervening against the will of peoples, motives getmixed and serious wars begin."