Ukraine faces a trilemma of challenges

Ukraine faces a trilemma of challenges

Ukraine and its new government face enormous challenges and an almost impossible war-like situation with possible disintegration and a failing economy, writes Prince Michael of Liechtenstein.

The very real threat of rapid disintegration of the eastern parts of the country is one challenge. Russia values this geostrategic position and is fearful of losing Ukraine to Western influence. Crimea and its naval base is crucial to Russia’s plans. To lose this would mean the end of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s vision of regaining superpower status and would reduce the Eurasian Union to a farce.

Russia is challenging the legitimacy of Ukraine’s new government and recognizes Viktor Yanukovych as Ukraine’s legitimate president. Direct military confrontation cannot be excluded.  Russia is using the pretext of legitimacy to protect the Russian population and is starting with the Crimea. The regions of Kharkiv, Donetsk and probably Odessa could follow.

The catastrophic state of Ukraine’s economy and public finances is less discussed. Corruption and mismanagement has made the country insolvent and unable to meet its obligations, including payments for pensions and salaries. This is exacerbated by the fact that Ukraine depends almost entirely on Russian gas for its energy and cannot pay for this or serve its external debt.

The new coalition government can claim wide support. But it requires statesmanship to balance the overall needs of the country with the wishes and desires of different interest groups. To maintain its credibility the government has to prove that it is and will remain clear of corruption.

Unfortunately it appears that Ukraine has little chance to solve its own problems. It has become a piggy-in-the-middle of competing global interests.

President Putin privately proposed dividing Ukraine between Russia and its western neighbors in 2012, according to an interview given to the Financial Times by former President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili (2008-2013) on March 4, 2014. There is however a difference between rapid disintegration and a controlled process of mutual independence based on the wishes of self-determination as happened in the peaceful separation between Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

There is also a world of difference between a country being divided among its neighbors and a peaceful separation of two entities to become sovereign states.

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