The Wall Street Journal released an article today about the shelling of a refugee convoy attempting to leave the combat area. The media is covering this (and every other) episode in the Ukrainian conflict breathlessly, including the finger-pointing that inevitably follows these episodes. The Journal’s coverage, however, gets at something bigger:
Ukrainian officials insist that they do all they can to avoid civilian casualties, and that the rebels often fire directly into residential areas to stir up the local population. But the broadening trauma of war presents a challenge for the Kiev government as its offensive against the separatists makes gains. Even if it defeats the pro-Russia rebels, Kiev will still have to wage a concerted effort to win hearts and minds.
As we have written before, the question about Ukraine is not whether the current government has the capacity to win a war. Rather, the real question is whether Kiev’s current leadership can set up a real state that can maintain fair and transparent political and judicial systems, build up an economy that is not at the mercy of kleptocratic oligarchs, and generally manage the day to day drudgery of governance.The Journal sheds some light on that question. If the war goes Kiev’s way, recovering from it is still going to be a tall order:
The United Nations says at least 117,000 people have been internally displaced inside Ukraine, and that an estimated 168,000 had crossed into Russia as of Aug. 1. It said at least 2,086 people were killed in the conflict from mid-April to Aug. 10.
Those figures are in themselves news, and they represent a human tragedy on a grand scale. They also do not bode well, to say the least, for Ukraine’s state-building prospects. Even a politically and socially strong nation would struggle to deal with this degree of chaos.