At first glance, this seems like a minor event. The resignation of a non-president of a non-state in a small and poor region of the Caucasus is not the kind of thing that generally grabs headlines. The broader context, however, suggests that we should pay a bit more attention to these events, particularly as the West is increasingly concerned about Russian aggression.
A Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine would put Putin’s assertions about Ukraine to the test; conversely, the Ukrainian state and society would be put to the test as well. If the Ukrainian people rise up in an insurgency, the occupation would fail, leaving Russia either stuck in a long and unwinnable conflict or forced to retreat. The outcome of such a conflict could also threaten Putin’s own hold on power within Russia. On the other hand, if there is no insurgency following the invasion, then Putin could claim vindication that, despite more than twenty years of de jure independence, Ukraine was never really a state.
The debate in the U.S. about how to respond to the Russian invasion has shows the complete self absorption of much of the American political establishment. Russia invaded Crimea primarily because of Russia's interest in Ukraine, domestic political issues in Russia, and as a reaction to recent political events in Ukraine. However, the response in Washington, particularly from the right, has suggested that Russia acted because of America's, and specifically President Obama's, weakness. This assertion was, of course, more about politics in the U.S., than anything happening in Ukraine, but it nonetheless demonstrated that for many what happened in Crimea had to be attributable to something that the U.S., and the Obama administration, did or did not do.
Russia's invasion Ukraine has set off paroxysms of frustration, anger and incredulity in the west, not least in Washington. Some policy makers and pundits are struggling with ways to constructively address the problems raised by Russian action, others struggle to ensure that somehow President Obama is blamed for these events, and many are trying to figure out the complexity, context and background of these events. Understanding the conflict in Crimea, and the best way forward for the US, requires holding several, conflicting, and often unappealing, ideas in one's head at the same time. These are four of the most important of these ideas.
These are serious challenges blocking Ukraine's hopeful path to stability - never mind democracy. They are not insurmountable, but it remains as likely as not that Ukraine's next chapter will resemble the lost years of 2004-2010 - minus a few eastern territories. If the country is to remain united, powerful passions in Kiev, however righteous, must be tempered in favour of pragmatism.