A map tells the story better than a thousand words. This is "New Russia" or Novorossiya the way it was after Catherine the Great had extended her empire all the way down to the Black Sea at the end of the 18th century:
This is a map of the Russian Empire in 1850. Ukraine borders are shown with a blue line. The map comes from a geopolitical magazine I just got in the mail, Limes (April 2014). Their cover, titled "Ukraine between Putin and Us", tells it all:
And that of course is the "New Russia" Putin is dreaming of.
The trouble is: he isn't "Catherine", he isn't "great", he's just a small KGB-trained man with Soviet nostalgia.
What does all this mean in terms of the Ukraine crisis?
Obviously, that he won't stop until he's grabbed all of Russophone Ukraine, or at least where the pro-Russians are a majority, i.e. the East AND South (and that means Odessa where protests have recently exploded causing victims). That leaves Kiev alone in its Ukrainian enclave. And as I recently blogged, Putin may soon get help from the Moldovans in Transnistria ( see here).
The solution? Perhaps federalist, but most certainly along the model the Italians followed in Alto Adige a.k.a. South Tyrol, putting to rest the Tyrol question after World War II right down to this day. What that means in practice is giving those russophone territories ample autonomy and self-determination.
Do the "pro-Russian" rebels really want to fall into Moscow's orbit? Nothing is less sure, as pointed out by the New York Times in an article published today, observing that Russophone rebels hold conflicting opinions as to the future they want (they only agree on one thing: their distrust of Kiev). This uncertainly in their objectives - and the rebels' alledged desire to remain independent from Moscow - is something the West should take into account and use pro-actively in any diplomatic negotiation to arrive at a lasting South Tyrol type solution...