Back from the Edge?
Tony Wood on the situation in Ukraine
After six months of a rolling crisis that has brought mass street protests, the fall of the Yanukovych government, the annexation of Crimea and pro-Russian rebellions in the east and south of the country, Ukraine seemed by mid-May to be poised on the brink of a far deeper disaster. With fulsome backing from the West, soldiers loyal to the interim government in Kiev were engaged in what it called an ‘anti-terrorist operation’ against pro-Russian militias in Donetsk and Lugansk provinces, where referendums were held on 11 May laying claim to virtual independence, as a first step towards secession or even union with Russia. But having encouraged pro-Russian sentiment in the east, Putin then seemed to pull back, offering only lukewarm support for the outcome of the referendums – an overwhelming but dubious Yes vote. The immediate threat of a rerun of the Crimean annexation has receded; but Russian troops are still massed near the Ukrainian border, keeping alive the possibility of a Kremlin-sponsored ‘humanitarian intervention’, in ‘defence’ of its co-ethnics. The tense situation in the east, and disturbances elsewhere – Odessa, Mariupol, Kharkiv – have stoked antagonisms of a previously unsuspected intensity, lending substance to the spectre of civil war.