The recent violence in Odessa, a southern port of Ukraine, marks a new low in the fast escalating conflict. The death of close to 50 pro-Russian agitators in the fire set to a government building during the riots in Odessa has woken up Kiev to the fact that it is facing a civil war. But it is not this home truth alone that is making Kiev edgy. Its failure to contain violence not only endangers the much-touted presidential elections of May 25, but also gives Russia the alibi to invade Ukraine. Over the past weeks, Ukraine has seen mayhem spread from Donetsk to Luhansk, with city after city falling to separatists. Russia has steadfastly denied provoking the unrest despite evidence to the contrary. More recently, it has admitted to ‘losing control’ over separatists in eastern Ukraine (that can only mean an indirect acknowledgment of its exercising some form of control earlier). But Russia has made it clear that it will not remain a disinterested spectator to the violence against pro-Russian agitators in Ukraine. In other words, Russia has vouched to defend the interests of Ukraine’s separatists, who are also keen on a federal union with Russia.
There can be little doubt over Russia’s imperialist designs in Ukraine or its chosen modus operandi. Russia’s shadow warriors are laying the ground either for an outright military intervention or a long-drawn conflict in Ukraine and perhaps other Baltic nations that have historic ties with Russia. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is supposed to have recently made several references to a ‘Greater Novorossiya’ that seeks to revive an older sphere of Russian control stretching right up to the borders of Romania and Moldova. Unfortunately, none of the world powers seem to have the energy to question Mr Putin’s grand plans and the effect these might have on world politics. Closer home, China has maintained a studied silence and so has India. But if Mr Putin is allowed to have his way, it will soon become difficult to restrain chaos merely within the borders of Ukraine or even the Caucasus.