Can catastrophe be avoided in Ukraine?

“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.

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 strategic objectives: “a neutral Ukraine subject to Russian influence; more formal guarantees for the rights of Russian speakers in
eastern Ukraine, and the return of Crimea to Russia. The rest is tactics.”

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 Jenkins in The Guardian. Obama has been criticised for not being tough enough; 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 on local consent. “A new status for eastern Ukraine is vital, but that is Ukraine’s business and given the apparent views of local people, inevitably Russia’s business. When distant powers feel justified in intervening against the will of peoples, motives get mixed and serious wars begin.”