The future of Ukraine as an independent state-nation
Intense violence inside a state, still falling short of civil war, can go two sharply different ways. It can tear the state apart, as in Syria and the former Yugoslavia, or, if people join hands to retreat from the brink, it can weld a state-nation together, as in South Africa. A state-nation has a shared civic national identity rather than a single ethnic national identity.
The future of Russia as a state-nation — or an empire
With Ukraine, Russia is still an empire; without Ukraine, Russia itself has a chance to become a state-nation. The future of Ukraine is more central to Russia’s national identity than Scotland’s is to England’s. Centuries ago, people who lived in the territory that is now Ukraine were the original Russians. In this century, the people who call themselves Ukrainians will shape the future definition of what is now Russia.
The future of Vladimir Putin
Konstantin von Eggert, an independent Russian journalist, once observed that the most important event in Russian politics over the last decade did not happen in Russia. It was the Orange Revolution of 2004 in Ukraine. That seemed to Putin’s regime to be the most threatening in the 15-year wave of velvet or color revolutions that started in central Europe in 1989.