According to the Financial Times (1 June), reporting on upcoming meetings between Barack Obama and David Cameron and Russian leader Vladimir Putin, "US officials acknowledge that one of the crucial next steps is for Ukraine to devise a more decentralised constitution that satisfies some of Russia’s concerns. That will ultimately involve coming to some sort of agreement with Moscow about Ukraine’s future..."
The Russian minority in Ukraine should have minority rights. That may well mean increased autonomy for the areas in eastern Ukraine where the Russian minority is large. The hitch is that the US officials want to placate not the Russian minority, but the Moscow government.
On 25 May Petro Poroshenko was elected president of Ukraine, with 55% of the vote. The runner-up, Yulia Tymoshenko, got 13%. The turnout was 60%, not bad when pro-Russian militias systematically prevented voting in large areas of the country.
Poroshenko is not a fascist (the far-right Svoboda movement, presented by some as the dominant evil genius in Kiev since the flight in February of the pro-Russian president Yanukovych, got 1.2% in the poll). But he is an oligarch and a neo-liberal.
As yet the Ukrainian left is not strong enough to unite workers across Ukraine, east and west, in a battle for jobs and against the corruption and profiteering of the oligarchs which blights them all.
Putin, keeping his options open, did not declare the 25 May poll invalid. Equally, he is not planning to meet Poroshenko when both of them are in France on 6 June. It looks as if he will talk with the US and EU powers, and try to get them to lever Ukraine into accepting Russian demands in return for Putin winding down the coups in eastern Ukraine.
In Donetsk on 29 May, a paramilitary group, the Vostok Battalion, reported to include many Russian-organised Chechens and Ossetians, ousted the previous pro-Russian ruling group there, and installed a new one, led by Alexander Borodai [see page 9].
A few days before, the group which had seized power in Donetsk and the group in Lugansk declared an intention to unite as "Novorossiya" (New Russia: an old Tsarist term for most of southern and eastern Ukraine, and a term also used by Putin).
Poroshenko is making efforts to regain areas of control in the east, but it looks unlikely that he can do that without causing bloodshed on a scale which would give Putin a good pretext for sending in Russian troops.
Contrary to the story told by some on the left, that Putin is merely responding defensively to US and EU aggression, the drift now is towards the US and EU acting as agents to secure Putin's wishes in Ukraine in return for pacifying the crisis.
Socialists should obviously not wish for the US or the EU to go to war over Ukraine, even apart from the fact that they are not likely to. But we should support the Ukrainian people's right to national self-determination.