Contrary to appearances, the crisis in Ukraine might be on the verge of resolution. The potentially crucial move came today when interim President Oleksandr Turchynov said that he would be open to changing the country's political system from a republic, with power centered in the capital Kiev, to a federation with considerable autonomy for the regional districts.
That has been one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's key demands. It would weaken the political leaders in Kiev, many of whom want a stronger alliance with the West, including membership in the European Union—and it would strengthen those in southern and eastern Ukraine, many of them ethnic Russians who want to preserve and tighten their ties to Moscow.
If Putin can win this demand—and the political, economic, and cultural inroads it would provide—an invasion would be not just be unnecessary, it'd be loony. War is politics by other means, and a revamping of Ukraine's power structure would accomplish Putin's political aims by less costly means.
It's worth remembering how this crisis got underway. Ukraine's former president, Viktor Yanukovych, was about to form an association with the European Union. Putin offered him $15 billion in aid if he backed away. He took the bribe. Western-leaning activists took to the street. Yanukovych cracked down, prompting thousands more to join the protests. Under pressure, Yanukovych fled, the parliament appointed a new mostly pro-EU government—enticing Putin to exploit the instability, seize Crimea, amass troops on the Ukrainian border, incite (if not formally organize) separatist rebellions just across that border, and squeeze.