AMSTERDAM, April 25, 2014 — The situation in Ukraine is quickly moving to a point of no return. The tone on both sides has hardened and is becoming more and more belligerent.
Today it reached a new level when Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accused Russia of intending to start World War III. Those words came shortly after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov condemned the Ukrainian government for its operations against separatists yesterday, resulting in at least three dead. Lavrov called the action a “bloody crime” and stated that the responsible persons in Kiev will feel the consequences.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called the action against the pro-Russian groups a “serious crime against the own people.” He also repeated his statement that he will take action whenever he thinks that the Russian minority in a country is threatened. Russia’s parliament already gave Putin approval for military action weeks ago, opening the possibility of sending more troops to Ukraine.
Events are now moving rapidly. In the last few hours, Russian troops have started maneuvers on the border with Ukraine, there were explosions at a pro-Ukrainian checkpoint in Odessa and a helicopter and plane near Kramatorsk exploded. Additionally, the Ukrainian government started the second wave of actions against pro-Russian groups in the Eastern parts of Ukraine.
Both sides are also increasing the propaganda war. It is becoming increasingly difficult for outsiders to tell what is really going on.
But it is clear that Ukraine is on the brink of a war. In the current situation, almost anything could trigger a war between Ukraine and Russia.
The government in Kiev is between a rock and a hard place. If it takes no action against the pro-Russian groups, it will likely completely lose control. That would give way to independent armed groups to pursue their own goals and would likely result in a civil war.
On the other hand, action against the pro-Russian groups will also result in violence, as the past 24 hours showed. Those groups, backed by Russia, are not willing to accept the government in Kiev and will fight back, resulting in more people being killed. With that Putin would have an excuse to intervene and to send troops. Once Russian troops are in Eastern Ukraine, the division of the country will be unavoidable. Based on Putin’s words and actions over the last weeks it is unlikely that he would order his troops back without Eastern Ukraine being at least independent from Kiev.
Meanwhile all efforts from the Western countries are still slow and half-hearted. Talk about sending more OSCE observers are only slowly moving forward, sanctions against Russia are far from tightening. But without an independent force – as a serious number of OSCE observers or even an U.N. mission – it is increasingly unlikely that Ukraine will come to a rest soon.