Listening to one of the always great The Duran talks, having as guest Robert Barnes, my mind began to wander on the realm of… what are the ifs for ‘what if’?
The partition of Ukraine will happen along the strategic lines which are the most close to a balance between military power and achievable strategic objectives.
Historical rights always go hand in hand with adequate military power and favorable ethnic and religious configurations on the ground.
Poland has strong historical claims in the Lvov area, as Romania has in Northern Bukovina. The ethnic configuration isn’t so strong (anymore). The religious affiliations are somehow favorable. There are also recent, from a historical perspective, strong national resentments which complicate the picture and are or can be fueled by aggressive ideologies.
The historical justification plays a role for Western Ukraine in a more indirect manner.
Russia doesn’t have strong historical rights over territories there, being a newcomer in the area – unless we invent for the Moscow principality a direct political inheritance going back all the way to Kiev Rus. (It would be a forced one, suffice to say that the Polish state practically didn’t exist then, but this doesn’t mean that the next 1000 years didn’t create a strong enough ‘precedent’ with Poland becoming one of the strongest states in Europe for 2-300 years – about the same length in time as, let’s say, the Russian empire; the American one being just a toddler when looked at from a historical perspective.)
Assuming, as it would be reasonable, that Russia doesn’t really have legitimate historical rights in west Ukraine and based on the fact Putin actually signaled something on those lines a ‘void’ was created.
Russia doesn’t know what to do with a big chunk of Ukraine. On one hand, there’s a need to control it for strategic reasons, but, on the other hand, it would generate a long term headache. A part of this chunk isn’t even so strategically important for Russia, but it could represent a bargaining chip.
The West knows that it can’t stop Russia militarily and, in fact, already counterattacked somewhere else – in the Scandinavian north, where apparently it can grab some advantageous forward position.
Finland’s NATO admission calendar illustrates not only NATO’s need to hurry, but offers also a hint to the anticipated duration for an Ukrainian resistance on a somehow favorable (for the West) frontline. Timeframe: July-August.
NATO suspects that sometime in midsummer Russia will begin ‘phase 3’, the development which will establish the final configuration on the ground, possible one for decades to come.
Russia would have no problem to accept as valid any kind of historical legitimacy for Poland (or Romania, for that matter) upon bits of Ukraine. On the contrary, these claims would conveniently justify Russia’s flimsier claims the further to the west its armies advance.
The possible existence of a future Ukrainian reduced state depends entirely on Russia’s strategic calculations, but the chances are slim, controlling it outside of full integration would remain problematic.
In this light, Kiev will go to Russia under the banner of an Ukrainian autonomous republic or some other kind of distinctive formulation which will certainly be found.
‘Phase 3’ implies a different legal (for internal use) justification than the ‘special military operation’ used until now. Scott Ritter is right when he points out Russia will have to expand the military intervention’s scope, in both the legalistic and military realms.
In Ukraine, the West can only react within the margins Russia sets. Hence the slow but ineluctable slide from both directions towards full partition due to objective limitations the Russian strategic expansion will continue to expose.
It is not a matter of what both sides want or don’t want, but what it is workable in the long run. If the partition(s) line(s) are going to coincide somehow with historical claims, while not entirely random, it’s only one dimension, somehow made to look larger than actually is. The dark shadow the two confronting blocks, caught in a precipitated process of consolidation, cast over the national interests and historical claims of the various countries involved takes precedence.