It seems these last few weeks Russia and the US have decided to continue their perennial stand-off over a fresh geopolitical morsel: Ukraine. There is something wearisome about this continued check-list of proxy conflicts the two old rivals continuously butt heads over. Georgia in 2003, Ukraine 2004, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, all serious crises worsened by the two giants nipping at each other like hungry dogs in cyclical show of strength and dominance. The stereotypical posturing is by far the most worn-out. One side champions 'the right of the people' to self-determination, the other calls for stability and calm. Which does which depends entirely upon whose sphere of influence the country in question belongs to.
Because of my rather cynical approach to the whole problem, I attempted, as usual, to keep out of this and was going to pick something more pedantic and judicial to write on today. This, however, was not to be as my inbox continuously chirps with queries about Crimea and my stance on where this is all going. For the uninitiated, I hail from Sevastopol in which I spent the better part of my youth until 1995 when I sailed to the brave new world of Canadia (eh?). Combine that with my international relations (IR) background and my semi-annual visits to the place, and my opinion begins to almost carry some weight above and beyond my usual rumblings of an ivory tower lunatic. Almost, if not for two problems.
First, I ask all who pester me thus the following question: in what deranged world has IR ever been good at predicting anything? The collapse of the USSR caught everyone in Western academia by surprise, to say nothing of trying to gauge the nuisances of racial tensions and chronic corruption at the heart of the Ukrainian crisis. The only solid prediction I think the field can make is this: there will be war. When, how, and why? We'll tell you once its over, with many books and articles on how it all went wrong and what a tragedy it was. In this regard IR is almost as bad as economics, if not quite. (A few economist friends of mine will fume but ultimately agree.)
Second problem is that meaningful political change takes decades, if not centuries, to set in. Until there is a grassroots civil-society battle against corruption, Ukraine will continue to be ruled by robber barons who will court whichever external power guarantees them their safety. For the foreseeable future it is going to be Russia who is much more tolerant of their shenanigans than the West. From this perspective, asking where this is all going is like querying where the sun is going to rise. Just as it is sure to rise in the east, Ukraine will surely remain firmly in Russian grasp. For anyone doubtful of this, please see the Orange revolution in Kiev of ten years earlier.
I could of course be completely wrong about all this. NATO might accept Ukraine into its warm embrace, Putin might loose his cool and invade, at which point NATO is bound by its own law to protect its member, and lo and behold, we have ourselves a World War III in the making. But the simple fact of life is that Ukraine is not that strategically important to the West while Russia's goodwill is, especially to EU which depends so heavily on its energy exports. Being a realist is really boring sometimes...