KIEV, April 30 (Xinhua) — While tensions continue to rise in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russia militants are engaged in conflicts with government troops, arguments are abound about the possibility of the Crimea scenario being repeated in another part of the country.
Citing similarities between developments in Donetsk and Lugansk regions and the tensions experienced in Crimea, some analysts are concerned that protests in the eastern region may lead to Ukraine’ s further break-up as a united state.
NEW WAVE OF CRISIS
A new wave of unrest erupted in Ukraine early April, when pro- Moscow activists seized government buildings in several eastern cities, demanding a referendum on autonomy and closer ties with Russia.
The country’s industrial Donetsk and Lugansk regions became the epicenter of the eastern protests. In Donetsk region, rebels waving Russian flags have proclaimed the creation of a sovereign ” people’s republic” independent from government in Kiev and announced plans to hold a referendum on seceding from Ukraine.
Lugansk region experienced very similar situation after pro- Russian demonstrators seized government buildings there and declared a separatist republic.
Those developments have evoked memories of events that led to Crimea’s affiliation with Russia last month.
“An anti-Ukrainian plan is being put into operation. Under the plan, foreign troops will cross the border and seize the territory of our country,” the country’s Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk warned.
Ukrainian acting president Olexandr Turchynov described the demands of pro-Russia protesters in Donetsk and Lugansk as evidence of a “second round of Russia’s operation to play out Crimean scenario” in the eastern Ukraine.
Although Moscow has fervently denied accusations that it is involved in the escalating unrest in Ukraine, local analysts say there are evident similarities between the situation in eastern Ukraine and Kremlin’s maneuvers in Crimea.
The demands of protesters, including referendums on more autonomy for the regions, also sound similar.
RISKS OF FURTHER SPLIT-UP
Although officials in Kiev and some Western countries implicated that Moscow was orchestrating events in Crimea and now the unrest in eastern Ukraine, some experts here blame the crisis on Ukrainian authorities.
“Russia has not stolen Crimea, but just picked it up. The fault for the loss of Crimea rests with the government,” said Nikolai Zagoruiko, a member of Donetsk regional council.
Zagoruiko said the government should immediately start dialogue and consultation with pro-Moscow protesters to prevent repetition of Crimean script in eastern regions.
Taras Chornovil, former Ukrainian lawmaker and international relations expert, said the government is unlikely to avert the country’s further split-up and more regions could break away from the east European country.
“Ukraine has virtually lost Donetsk and Lugansk regions after Crimea’s separation,” Chornovil said, adding that Kiev has shown neither diplomacy nor enough strength in the crisis, which had led to the unrest.
The expert expressed his concern that the government could not control the situation in eastern regions, saying the authorities’ relatively passive actions are a signal that Kiev has come to terms with the possible loss of the economically weak east.
Lugansk and Donetsk regions, whose economy is dominated by old- fashioned energy-intensive coal and steel industries, are subsidized by the state budget.
According to the Kiev-based analytical group Da Vinci, last year the two regions received around 1.27 billion U.S. dollars of financial assistance from the government.
Moscow’s equivocal statements on the situation in Ukraine also raise concerns among experts here.
On April 23, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia would “retaliate if its legitimate interests are attacked directly. ”
Experts warn that Moscow’s statement means that Russia may militarily intervene in Ukraine.
“Until May 25, Russia at any time of the day and night can bring its troops into Ukraine,” said Victor Nebozhenko, director of the sociological service “Ukrainian Barometer”.
Nebozhenko said Russia’s possible intervention may be the start of Ukraine’s further split-up.
CONSTRAINTS TO SEPARATION
Despite those assertions, the majority of analysts here believe that the picture in Ukraine has changed since the unrest in Crimea in early March.
The Ukrainian government, which had some responsibility for what occurred in Crimea, appears to become stronger in terms of ability to ensure law and order in eastern regions.
It was able to recapture control of some buildings seized by protesters in eastern Ukraine, whereas in the Crimea, the authorities did not even attempt to resist the demonstrators.
Experts say that the government has realized that the possible loss of eastern regions may cost them dearly.
“If today the current authorities would give up their positions in the eastern regions, tomorrow there might be new authorities,” said Taras Beresovets, head of “Berta” analytical center.
It is also important to remember that Crimea was an autonomous republic, attached to mainland Ukraine only by narrow strips of land, but the eastern regions are an integral part of the country, having deep economic ties with Kiev.
Although the majority of people in eastern Ukraine are Russian speakers, ethnic Ukrainians make up over two thirds of region’s population, unlike Crimea, which is home to ethnic Russians.
“Crimea scenario is unlikely in eastern regions, because few people there support integration into Russia,” said Eugene Minchenko, head of the International Institute of Political Expertise.
Experts here also doubt that Russia would accept eastern regions, which are subsidized from Ukraine’s budget as part of its territory. Russia will have to heavily invest in the region to modernize it after the possible takeover.
“The issue on possible accession of Ukrainian regions into Russia is not on the agenda, as Russia would not be able to ” digest” this piece of territory,” said Dmytro Tumchyk, head of the Center for Political and Military Studies.
Despite the prognosis of some experts, any premature optimism could be disastrous for the country.
Analysts here agreed that the Ukrainian government must respond seriously to appeals of protesters to preserve the country’s unity and territorial integrity.