Ukraine on the brink
If there’s anything sanguine about the second referendum in Ukraine, it is simply this that eastern parts of the country are experiencing extreme turmoil. Whether or not residents of Donetsk and Luhansk vote to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation, allegations that the fresh ballot has been tainted by pro-Russian rebels are not going to go away. Even though Moscow has distanced itself from the latest poll, nevertheless Kremlin has made it clear that it wants the disputed referendum implemented in a ‘civilised’ manner, brushing of threats from the US and European Union of more severe sanctions, economic and diplomatic. However, what needs to be looked at is what’s at stake and why both the West and Russian camps have set their hearts on this industrial heartland in eastern Ukraine, which, it must be said, has a high population of ethnic Russians, along with Tatars and others. Of course, the political will of the people, whatsoever that is, is likely to be tweaked in either direction so suit the economic agenda of the two factious blocs. Not just the Black Sea oil bed which is being eyed by the warring camps, it is also Ukraine’s bounteous but shaky nuclear resources, including 15 reactors, as well as the geostrategic significance of military bases in Baltic and Black Sea region, which are driving the unrest and not allowing the tormented region to settle down into any sort of amicable agreement between the rivals. Even though the pro-West present government in Kiev, led by interim president Oleksandr Turchynov and prime minister Arseniy Yatsennyuk, vehemently opposes what they dub the ‘Russian-engineered referendum’ to eject the resource-rich eastern provinces of Ukraine, after the Crimean flashpoint, we must also remember how dependent the country was on Moscow in terms of energy needs, particularly the abundant natural gas that has always been Russia’s strong point. Given that the counterrevolution in Kiev’s Independence Maidan which had resulted in the ouster of the democratically-elected Viktor Yanukovych was a hatchet job of pro-Western elements, it seems Moscow has outplayed its Western brethren as far as this hinterland is concerned.