02/26/2014 12:30 EST | Updated 04/28/2014 05:59 EDT

Let the Ukrainians Vote On EU or Russia Once and For All

There is no question that Ukraine is divided along east-west, ethnic and demographic fault lines. Young people are western-oriented, and the Russian-ethnic minority is enormous and dominates the eastern and southern half of the country.

This division has dogged the country forever and been aggravated by the Russification policy during the Soviet era that swapped out locals for Russians in order to "integrate" Russia's "near abroad" with the Kremlin.

Interestingly, Russia is home to the biggest Ukrainian diaspora in the world, an estimated 20 million or so persons of Ukrainian descent live there. The Russian minority in Ukraine is estimated to be as high as 40 per cent of its 45 million population.

Frankly, if a division along EU versus Russia lines exist the country as now constituted is untenable. I don't believe -- nor do polls across the country show -- that Ukrainians would favour Moscow's control over joining the European Union. And I don't believe that the residents of Ukraine believe in the status quo either.

The only solution to this rhetoric by Russia -- that protesters kicked out a legitimate leader and that half the country wants to join with Russia -- is for the international community help Ukraine stage a referendum to determine the wishes of the people once and for all.

This referendum should be separate from politics and concern only the question: Should Ukraine join the European Union or the Russian customs union?

Results, meticulously audited and transparent, would determine support and regional differences, if any. My guess is that 60 per cent of all Ukrainians will opt for the EU because all things are now equal: The country has bailout offers on the table from Brussels and Moscow.

An adjudicated poll -- in December polls showed support for the EU in all regions -- is the only way out of this situation. Worst case scenario would be to allow the rhetoric and allegations continue, divide the people and be used by politicians for their own ends.

Ukrainians, after a general of incompetent and corrupt democracy, must be given an opportunity for self determination in the over-arching sense. This situation is too dangerous and tenuous to allow politicians to manipulate or cash in on sentiments.

Let the Ukrainians vote on EU or Russia once and for all. The bailouts will follow and the leaders will have their marching orders once and for all.


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