The separatists have given up extending their territory, Russia has given up sending them heavy reinforcements, and Ukraine has given up trying to defeat them.
A chance to resolve lingering disagreements will come on October 2nd when the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany meet in Paris.
Although Western powers are surely tempted to turn their attention elsewhere, that would be a mistake.
The shooting war was never the only conflict in Ukraine—nor even the most vital one.
The Maidan revolution was an attempt to replace a corrupt post-Soviet government with a modern European-style one based on the rule of law.
Ordinary people challenged Vladimir Putin’s vision of a distinct “Russian World” unsuited to liberal democracy.
What is at stake in Ukraine is thus the future of the entire post-Soviet region.
Get clean, Ukraine
As yet, Putin does not have much to worry about. Ukraine’s reformers have tried, but their war on corruption is not going well.
The Ukrainian state, like the Russian one, still resembles a giant mafia.
It administers the country (reluctantly), but its main purpose is to generate graft and it governs largely by dishing out the proceeds.
Oligarchs and their political cronies still dominate Ukrainian life.
Should the government do too much to fight corruption, the oligarchs may use their private armies to stage a coup.
Should the government do too little, angry Maidan veterans might stage one themselves.
That could leave Europe with a failed state on its borders contested by rival militias—a European Syria.
What Ukraine requires is more direct help from outside.
The government has already brought in technocrats from across central and eastern Europe, and members of the Ukrainian diaspora.
The West should urgently send more.
The notion that foreigners can solve a country’s corruption problems sounds dubious, but it has worked elsewhere—in Guatemala, for instance, a UN-sponsored agency staffed by expatriate lawyers has brought justice, even indicting the country’s former president.
Ukrainian civil-society groups are begging for outside help.
Western donors now propose to top up the salaries of Ukrainian officials in an attempt to curb the temptation to take bribes.
Some officials will take both the top-up and the graft.
Better still to send in outsiders.
Information is needed, too.
Putin’s vision reaches Ukrainians through Russia’s slick television channels.
Ukraine’s stations, mostly owned by oligarchs, are dreary by comparison.
The budgets of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the BBC World Service have been cut since the cold war; their Ukrainian- and Russian-language services now need beefing up.
Ukraine’s other needs, such as infrastructure, are more expensive—though less so than coping with the cost of a failed state.
But liberal democracies have a stake in Ukraine’s success.
To bring down their president in the winter of 2013, roughly 100,000 Ukrainians braved gas canisters and bullets not because they wanted war with Russia, but because they wanted to live in a “normal” country.
The Maidan demonstrators wanted a reasonably non-corrupt, reasonably effective, liberal democratic system like the ones they saw in Europe.
So far they have not got what they sought.
If liberal democracies cannot help such people realise their dream, then they should not be surprised when the discontented masses conclude that liberal democracy has nothing to offer them.
Source: The Economist