The activists in Donetsk are pro-Russia and disagree about many things with the Maidan folks. Another difference is that there are no hardcore fascists and Nazis among the Donetsk separatists – which is also why they haven't murdered dozens of (pro-Maidan) cops and even more of their own people (at least so far).
The new republic may look tiny but the region has 4.6 million people, just like Ireland, almost matching Denmark, Finland, Slovakia, Norway, and Georgia, and beating Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Moldova, Macedonia, Slovenia, all three Baltic states, Albania, Montenegro, Kosovo, and Luxembourg. So it's not a "ludicrously small" region. Be sure that if you live in a country like mine, with 10 million people, it's a pretty big country. The population is able to cover almost all human activities, in some cases, at the global top level. You must walk for a hundred of miles to get to the border, and so on. So if the Americans think about countries of this size as "tiny specks of matter", they really don't understand what's going on.
The new republic – not recognized by any other state right now – wants a Crimea-style referendum by May 11th and asks Putin to send "peacekeepers" to the region.
By any neutral enough criteria, the legitimacy of the new government is about the same as the legitimacy of the Maidan government in Kiev. It violated the existing constitutional order in the country enjoying sovereignty over the territory; and it claims – to a large extent, justifiably so – some support from something like a majority of the population around (although it hasn't really been verified in Kiev or in Donetsk).
It cannot be excluded that the Kremlin will indeed send "peacekeepers" if the lives of these separatists are threatened. I am no fundamentalist pacifist but I think it would be much better if all the people were able to agree about the arrangement of things without any weapons and intimidation.
Unfortunately, at least one side is showing it is not ready at all to pragmatically negotiate and agree about a meaningful future for the country that's been called Ukraine for some time. The Maidan government is pretending that it may control the whole territory of Ukraine as we knew it while – probably permanently – eliminating parties like the "Party of Regions" and people similar to Yanukovytch from power. But that's not exactly a realistic, democratic, human attitude given the fact that people whom the Maidan want to "eliminate" or "outlaw" represent roughly 1/2 of the population of Ukraine.
There would be so many ways to organize some federation or a "velvet divorce", perhaps one followed by the annexation of some additional parts of Ukraine by Russia, and to create a new country or countries that wouldn't suffer from the divisions and tensions that have paralyzed Ukraine since its independence from the USSR (and, previously, the Russian Empire). But if something like 1/2 of the Ukrainian population and their "heads" refuses to reorganize the territory peacefully, it's very difficult for the other side to make some progress.
And be sure that they want to strip the people from the basic political rights. They don't want anyone in Ukraine to be allowed to point out that the Maidan revolution was largely "made" by some fascist rabble, aggressive unemployed men and angry xenophobic low-paid workers. They don't want to allow the people to point out that the current EU apparatchiks are low-quality amateurs, kids, wet rags, retired Maoists, and similar kind of material. They don't want anyone to be allowed to feel closer to Russia than to the EU – or to allow them to speak Russian, for that matter.
I've lived in People's Republic of Cambridge for 6 years. Its main difference from the post-Soviet Donetsk Region is that the people are much more left-wing over there (in Cambridge) in average.
But a new Ukraine can't work like that yet remain peaceful. You just can't eat the cake and have it, too. The Maidan government will either have to admit that its coup was a mistake and revert it, allowing the Party of Regions and similar groups (perhaps led by different people than those who are in exile) to retake the government sometime in the future; or they must agree that they have to lose some territory where the dominance of voters with anti-Maidan opinions is sufficiently clear.
We have talked about possible splits of Ukraine many times. But I forgot whether I have already posted this map of Ukrainian subdivisions by GDP per capita. As the colors change from dark orange to light orange, yellow, yellow-green, light green, darker green, darkest green, the GDP per capita goes from below $2,000 per year (!) to above $10,000 per year (the highest group is only achieved in the capital, Kiev).
Except for Kiev, you may see that the wealthier regions are generally those in the East; and the poorer ones are those in the West. Dnipropetrovsk Region is the dark green spot in the Central Eastern Ukraine – it got above $5,000, as the only region except for Kiev. It is surrounded on the Eastern side by four light green ($4,000-$5,000) regions, including the Donetsk Region which is the Southeastern one among these four. After the Europa League double match in which my hometown's FC Viktoria Pilsen eliminated the much wealthier FC Shakhtar Donetsk a month ago (that club is owned by the wealthiest man of Ukraine – who switched from Yanukovitch to new Maidan friends in recent months; a remarkable flexibility), I tend to think that Donetsk is in some sense "analogous" to Pilsen although Pilsen is about 6 times richer (by GDP per capita).
As long as the new Kiev rulers will continue to be incapable of seeing that their naively pro-EU, hatefully anti-Russian attitudes and policies resulting from them simply cannot be imposed on the whole territory of Ukraine (minus Crimea which is already a fully solved problem), there won't be any chance of a stabilization of the conditions in Ukraine. The more the Maidan rulers will threaten and harass the millions of citizens who find the Russian influence to be more legitimate over their lives than the influence by the new self-appointed rulers in Kiev, we will be seeing an increasing probability that the Kremlin will have to reintroduce some order to the region with its authority backed by a military force.
Do the Maidan rulers and their EU and U.S. "pals" really lack any pragmatism and rationality that seems to be richly available to the Kremlin? Or are they just scared of admitting that they have screwed everything by their hopeless attempts to achieve something by the illegal acts that threw Ukraine into chaos? Whatever the answer is, it is very clear that if it's impossible to agree about a future peacefully, the future will have to be eventually established not so peacefully.
The amount of war propaganda on both sides is kind of staggering these days. A trivial example. Current Czech president Zeman was giving an interview to the Czech radio on Sunday. He often speaks in witticisms and in many cases he doesn't really care about much, he offers – seemingly contradictory – assertions that cover "both sides" of an argument. But look how his interview was summarized in the West and in Russia. The BBC wrote:
The crisis has heightened nervousness in many other eastern European states, with Czech President Milos Zeman saying Nato should deploy troops in Ukraine if Russia invades.So a BBC reader had to conclude that Zeman is one of the hawks who would send NATO armies whenever Putin makes an uncomfortable motion with his hands. However, the very same interview was cherry-picked very differently by the Russian media, e.g.:
"If Russia decides to extend its territorial expansion to eastern Ukraine, the fun is over," he told Czech public radio on Sunday.
EU should accept Crimea becoming part of Russia – Czech president (Voice of Russia)So Zeman is pretty much on the same frequency as the Kremlin, the Russian readers may conclude. Just to be sure, he has said both things. But the way how completely differently the interview was cherry-picked on both sides simply looks worrisome to me. Couldn't the journalists on both sides simply try to do their job honestly?
Incidentally, this is what Russia Today did, with some extra information about the interview that I haven't mentioned. I think that Russia Today is the most objective major source of information about the ongoing events in Ukraine.
But this exception notwithstanding, I am very worried about this dishonesty and the obsessive need to hurt the other side even if it means to lie and violate various moral rules, laws, and human rights. No one important is quite a saint here. But when I look at the whole situation, I still think that Putin is vastly more likely to do new additional rational steps that actually make some sense, that are likely to improve the situation or prevent it from further deterioration. I think he's been doing these things so far. Of course that his own country and his personal approval rate were slightly more important for him than the well-being of others – it's normal and I do think that this is how things should be (those who think that people should generally act against their interests are dystopians whose victory would completely cripple the civilization). But at the same moment, he doesn't want the rest of the world to be destroyed or seriously hurt because it's against his interests, too.
As a politician, Putin makes sense. Nigel Farage – whose UKIP is likely to win the elections to the European Parliament in the U.K. next month – said that he had more respect for Putin than for the kids who run the U.K. these days, and I agree with him – and the claim could be generalized to kids at many other places, too.