Before we answer that question though, it should be noted that to date, governments and the media have taken pains to treat Ukraine like a real country. After all, they have a president (interim) and a parliament and a constitution. They have police and an Army. They have a currency and a modern economy. They have diplomats and a potential IMF deal. Everything that makes a modern state seems to exist within Ukraine to date.
So how is it that Ukraine says that Militants Won the East. How did the Crimea detach without a fight? Why is there so much confusion over who is doing what in eastern and southern Ukraine?
“Inactivity, helplessness and even criminal betrayal” plague the security forces, the acting leader, Oleksandr V. Turchynov, told a meeting of regional governors in Kiev. “It is hard to accept but it’s the truth. The majority of law enforcers in the east are incapable of performing their duties.”The reality is that the militants and militias arrayed against the Ukrainian government are not a true threat to the government in their ability to project power or do much beyond hold a government building or two in a city. But the government has shown itself to be non-existent and incapable of even handling that!
It begs the question though, what sort of government is this if it a) can't protect its borders from annexation b) doesn't even fight for its borders c) can't even hold onto the city halls in several provinces and d) has almost zero ability to do much besides issue threats and beg for help.
To me, this makes a lot more sense when you consider that since 2004, there have been two "revolutions" that have ousted the same guy. The man who got ousted in a revolution ousted the ousters, was ousted again then ousted the ouster once more before having a riot in the capital send him packing. Seems a bit too complicated for my blood.
In any event, the message to me is pretty clear. Ukraine has no ability to protect its geographical claims. Ukraine has no ability to police within its borders. Ukraine has a crazy political tradition that is punctuated by political crisis and reversion to the status quo. Ukraine's existence as a country is shorter than that of The Simpsons television show.
If this were Africa, we'd have already declared this to be a part of Africa's instability narrative. If it was Asia, there'd be talks of ethnic and religious tensions. But this is Europe and this is related to Russia, so the narrative is getting pitched sort of sideways in a way that seems to ignore the very basic fact that Ukraine is a mess, Period.
Ignoring that fact allows us to be upset that Russia has taken the Crimea. Ignoring that a country that doesn't have an ability to prevent its dismemberment is not really a country makes this seem much more important.
I don't fully understand why the borders of Ukraine have become so sacrosanct (or the borders of the rest of the world for that matter). Pretty much every border anywhere that existed in the 1950s is a sacred line that was drawn with great wisdom that must not be disturbed. I understand that the rationale was to prevent war and to keep conflicts civil. But the result has been to turn certain areas into conflict vortexs. Areas that just keep conflict as their status quo and spill outwards in unexpected and negative ways.
This tendency to keep collapsed civil order in a nation and not allow for a larger power to take over brings a lot of benefits. The problem is that these civil law deserts spread. Desertification of the political order follows and affects all of a collapsed state's neighbors eventually.
Maybe that's ultimately better than allowing such areas to fall prey to greedy neighbors, but ignoring the very real consequences of a policy that freezes borders where they are and treats geographical countries like political ones has potentially huge ramifications.
*Edited to handle mistake on Metternich's country*