The crisis in Ukraine has sad similarities to what occurred in Syria: in both situations Russia and the US (along with other western allies) supported different sides; civil war has been an outcome in Syria and is threatened in Ukraine; each country is or was a civilised land of historical, geopolitical and economic significance; and the two incumbent regimes have inflicted great harm on their people. What has happened in Syria serves as a stark warning for the players involved in the potential collapse of Ukraine.
At one time there was the likelihood that the US would become militarily involved in the Syrian conflict, which could have escalated the situation dangerously with Russia, Iran and other countries in the region and elsewhere becoming more directly involved too. The situation has calmed but the fires smoulder still, and Syria could explode again.
For every person who has suffered in the tragedy that is Syria, their situation will, to them and their countrymen, be beyond comparison, for all hurt is subjective and seen through the prism of their personal experience. To onlookers, particularly those in Europe and the western world, what is happening in Ukraine is more serious largely because of where it is, and what the conflict is all about – Europe versus Russia, East versus West, another Cold War and with deadly potential. Ukraine has been asked to choose between one side or the other, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the part of Ukraine which faces East wishes to ally itself with its Russian neighbour, and that on the West wishes to be part of a prosperous EU. No matter who wins power in the May election in Ukraine, almost impossible choices will need to be confronted.
Meanwhile, Ukraine has no government and the threat of a continuing breakdown of law and order is strong. Already outside nations are becoming involved as world leaders talk and negotiate among themselves, but too late: as in Syria, if wise counsel and assistance had been offered by the West sooner, this situation of serious crisis could have been avoided, and the EU in particular could have done much more to help Ukraine than it did.
With talk of military intervention in Ukraine by Russia, and thence an escalation which could involve war on European soil, now is the time for active diplomacy and also restraint, and the avoidance of any inflammatory threats or over-reaction. Like Syrians, the people of Ukraine are a noble race who deserve better than to be fought over, pawns in an international game of power-chess. They have the right to decide their future for themselves, with help, not hurt, from we who watch, and care.