The conflict with eastern separatists and the Russian threat reduces the rivalries inside the Ukrainian elite – first things first. That’s why there is some risk in too much peace.
Let’s assume two extreme scenarios of war and peace and compare the outcomes. The outcomes’ comparison is reduced to the dimensions of territorial integrity T, economy E, governmental institutions I and the Ukrainian elite C. The payoffs are good = 1, medium = 0, bad = -1.
War: Defined as escalation (Intensity, expansion) of the conflict between Ukrainian Government and associated paramilitaries vs separatists in the east S and/or with the Russian government R. (Yes, there are lots of intersections between S and R but in respect of the scenario’s general outcome this can be neglected, so let’s keep it simple.)
- Further violation of territorial integrity -1
- Economic breakdown, shift to war-economy -1
- Erosion of legal institutions and civil society due to martial law and militarization of society -1
- Increased autonomy of (some) volunteer battalions, going along with concessions towards Kiev (like implementing their vision of society) or even secession -1
Makes -4 for this scenario if S and R are involved or -2 if only one of them.
Peace: The Ukrainian Government and S/R come to a substantial understanding. Possible outcomes:
- Securing the status quo in respect of territorial integrity + 1
- Economic growth, foreign investments and rebuilding infrastructure, more jobs +1
- De-militarization of society, abolition of martial law, easing chain of command +1
- Commanders of volunteer battalions and its sponsors ask for substantial concessions towards Kiev (rescuing privileges from wartime into peacetime), accompanied by disagreements between oligarchs and commanders on power sharing. Eventually regional uprisings based on networks of civil society (‘we want rule of law, end of corruption’) and later instrumentalized by whoever is able to and can afford to do so -1
Makes +2 for this scenario. That’s way better than escalation. But…
So far it was ignored that the variables T, E, I and C interact. My assumption is if rivalries within the elite become significant (0 > C), it overrules the effect T, E, I. Without the unifying effect of a common enemy (rally around the flag) the rivalries within the (armed) elite including the new actors can become contentious and escalate. Legal institutions or civil society could moderate .such a process, but in light of corruption and a polarized society, I wouldn’t count on it. The people in charge would have difficulties to appease such a process since they would be most probably part of these internal rivalries.
The battalions wouldn’t let down their weapons, there are various indications for this. Some of them wouldn’t be happy or simply ignore the agreement between the Ukrainian Government and S/R. – Giving an another unhappy actor on the other side (DPR/LPR) the opportunity to strike back. In such a case war goes on, not necessarily full escalation (-4) but payoffs would be lower than 2. Let’s say the overall the outcome in this case would fluctuate over time between 1 and -3, or a mean of -1. This would be called low intensity war, constant crisis or armed politics.
war: -4 to -2; mean = -3
armed politics: +1 to -3; mean = -1; present = 0
Peace has a nice outcome but it wouldn’t go without territorial concessions (Crimea) and this is why it’s domestically fragile (C < 0 overruling the other variables). Escalation is no good choice, even if NATO would show more engagement it would be late and not necessarily successful. Fighting Russia in long run would only guarantee that Russia cannot control Ukrainian territory but neither could the Ukrainians for sure. Freezing the status quo would be good but this might be very difficult after elections. Some kind of armed politics seems not bad in respect of predictability and outcome, additionally it would help to keep C above zero.
I am not claiming that this ‘model’ and scenario is accurate, I’m simply questioning to what degree it is wrong. Or to put it differently: On which possible outcome would you bet your life or all your savings if you had to… There is limited chance that politicians, commanders, oligarchs and civil leaders would bet differently. – And act based on such expectations. We should be afraid of us.