Robert Jackman's 1993 book, Power without Force, speaks directly to the conflict raging in Ukraine. As he notes in the preface, "regimes and institutions are legitimate insofar as they are able to resolve conflict without the overt use of force. But legitimacy is a two-way street, and we need also to focus on the degree of compliance or consent exhibited by those who are governed."
Ukraine's authorities have chosen violence as a means to coerce citizens to obey, or perhaps to turn citizens into subjects. No matter how this conflict is resolved, the stakes have been raised as the costs to "losers" are likely to be higher than if a political resolution had been reached.
For the Ukrainian people, the costs will be high regardless of the outcome. If the regime prevails, they face repression; if not, they face retribution. As I noted in an earlier post, large-scale repression extending beyond Maidan will be required to quell protest. Ukrainian citizens will resist the Azerbaijan- or Belarus-style solution. If the regime crumbles and Russia perceives the successors to oppose its interests, Ukraine is likely to face economic costs with restrictions on natural gas, trade across borders, and movement into Russia where many Ukrainians work. Regions in the East and South are also likely to use tactics of resistance similar to those currently in play in the West (especially in Crimea which already has autonomous status).
Ukraine's moneyed interests also face stark choices, and the potential to lose either way. Ukrainian oligarchs, large and small, have accumulated and maintained wealth in ways that do not conform with European rule-of-law standards. Movement closer to Europe threatens their resources. Russia's moneyed interests are more integrated with the state, and are positioned to raid and overwhelm their Ukrainian counterparts. However, if European governments follow through on veiled threats of sanctions, these oligarchs could find their assets frozen and movement restricted; they seem to prefer European destinations for travel, investment, education, and asset storage to Russian ones.
The state security apparatus faces critical choices. For those individuals who have already engaged in violence or ordered it, the possibility of punishment now looms behind defeat. Those who have not engaged in violence are confronted with the choice of committing violence against unarmed civilians of all ages. Further, the military, which tended to avoid politicization from the Soviet period onward (perhaps with the exception of the 1991 coup attempt), is facing the choice of participating in activities that the Interior Ministry has "led."
President Yanukovych and his closest allies are now "all in," but victory and defeat are costly. If additional Russian assistance is required, Yanukovych risks loss of (or restrictions on) the power and wealth that he has wielded. In any case, more repressive measures will be required. If his supporters waiver, he could once again lose office as a sacrifice by other political actors interested in their own survival (much like what occurred in 2004-5). The opposition is also "all in." The leadership is likely to face imprisonment or exile if the regime prevails. If the regime does not prevail, opposition leaders face economic crisis, the strong likelihood of regional resistance, and the potential for efforts by outsiders to enhance Ukraine's instability.
Russian interests are not fully clear. In some ways, an unstable and chaotic, but modestly democratic, Ukraine serves as a valuable symbol, suggesting what the "democratic" alternative looks like to Russian citizens. Ukraine has been a useful foil for Russian actors who want to discredit their own domestic opposition. A more authoritarian Ukraine does not serve these purposes, but as I noted above, it could financially benefit powerful Russian elites as they accumulate Ukrainian resources. Europe has a rhetorical interest in supporting Ukraine, but does not have a short-term objective of fully including Ukraine in the fold. Russia will always prioritize its interests in Ukraine; Europe and the US occasionally pay attention. Unless Europe's orientation to Ukraine changes quickly and dramatically, and it offers more valuable carrots and more potent sticks, its interests will not advance.
Regardless of the outcome, the regime's actions continue to reveal that a large segment of Ukraine's population considers it to be illegitimate. Jackman concludes his book with the following observation: "Legitimacy... is the quantity that needs to be maximized in the short term for new states. Since decisions to employ repressive tactics are primarily in the hands of regime, maximizing legitimacy means that those regimes should avoid the use of physical coercion..." In other words, strong and legitimate regimes do not need to use force to gain the consent of the governed. Ukraine is a long way from enjoying the benefits of a legitimate regime.