One cannot hold the state together by using brute force for long. While Ukraine is still a unitary state as per its constitution, it is split in the minds and hearts of many of its own citizens. Kiev’s new government can claim legal sovereignty over eastern Ukraine, but for many, particularly after the Odessa massacre, its lack of legitimacy makes that claim significantly reduced.
Ukraine reached a “point of no return” twice this year.
The first time was in late February when snipers (who to this day remain unidentified!) massacred more than 100 antigovernment protesters, known in Ukraine as the “Heavenly Hundred,” in Kiev’s Majdan.
From that point on it did not matter who held legal claim to the Ukrainian presidency; what was constitutionally legal became irrelevant in the face of this murder. Mr. Yanukovitch became, while still holding onto the trappings of legal presidency, a completely illegitimate and irrelevant politician. Facts had created new norms. What emerged was a new Ukrainian leadership that, while not exactly legal (as the process of its selection obviously violated the constitution in place at the time), was nonetheless legitimate for many in Ukraine and beyond.
Thus a “revolutionary legitimacy” became a new source of norms (including legal ones) in Ukraine for both those in power and those who oppose them.
The second “point of no return” was reached on May 2nd in Odessa, when more than 30 pro-Russian-cum-pro-federalization protesters were burned alive or died trying to jump from the Trade Unions House building, which they had occupied in protest. For separatists and federalists alike, this group became true martyrs.
From that point on, Ukraine was no longer a unitary country. And one cannot hold the state together by using brute force for long. While it is still a unitary state as per its constitution, it is split in the minds and hearts of many of its own citizens. Kiev’s new government can claim legal sovereignty over eastern Ukraine, but for many, particularly after the Odessa massacre, its lack of legitimacy makes that claim significantly reduced. From this point on, federalization or deep autonomization of Ukraine’s eastern regions, no matter how it will be reached – by negotiations or civil war - is de facto a new reality.
Once people, whatever their reasons for doing so, step on the pathway of creating norms by making “facts legalized”, a new revolutionary logic – mostly destructive but sometimes politically and socially un-avoidable – takes the upper hand over codified norms.
I think that we are still in the middle of chain of events in Ukraine and we may see another “point of no return” – hopefully not in form of a full scale civil war.