Can Anyone Stop the Unrest in Ukraine?

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A pro-Russia activist guards a barricade outside the regional state building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on April 15, 2014.
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The escalating tensions in Eastern Ukraine are being called Russian incitement by the West and a crackdown on free speech by the Russians.

“We're very concerned about Russian support for a concerted, orchestrated campaign of incitement and sabotage to undermine and destabilize the Ukrainian state," said State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki yesterday. 

Can anyone stop this unrest, or is Ukraine already essentially lost?

Ian Bremmer, president and founder of Eurasia Group, a global political research and consulting firm, weighs in.

"If the Ukrainian government actually follows through on militarily trying to roust these occupiers in Southeast Ukraine, they're probably going to lose a big part of their country," says Bremmer. "If they don't, they're probably going to lose a big part of their country—it's gotten to the point that they don't really have any good options."

Bremmer says that United States has made its position clear: There is no military assistance coming to the Ukrainians. Though military action appears to be off the table, the White House continues to push sanctions—Bremmer says that President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke yesterday for the sixth time, and there is no reported progress on easing the tensions.

"The United States can certainly hurt Russia (with sanctions) over the long term, but none of that is going to help the Ukrainians over the course of the coming weeks," says Bremmer. "The question for the Americans right now is how much do we want to continue to support Kiev as they lose Eastern Ukraine? As they lose it, do we want to try and ensure that there is something that remains of the Ukrainian government that tilts to the West? If there is, the Americans and Europeans need to focus all of their efforts on that."

Bremmer adds that Eastern Ukraine is "falling by the moment," despite the fact that only about 20 to 25 percent of those currently residing in East Ukraine want to join Russia—a very different situation from Crimea.

"If this breaks into violence, it's likely to escalate very quickly and it's hard to imagine the Russians just stopping with interference in East Ukraine at that point," he says. "That means the level of support the U.S. provides for the Ukrainians would have to grow very significantly to keep that government in tact. Right now, I just don't see that happening."

Bremmer says the United States will stick to its current plan for the foreseeable future, which includes tougher economic sanctions on Russia and increased economic aid for Ukraine—measures that Bremmer believes fall short of what is necessary.

"This situation has spiraled out of control very much beyond that," he says.

Though the stakes are high for Ukraine, Bremmer says that Russia is like under enormous pressure as well.

"Long-term, everything that Putin has done here is a loser for him and his country," he says. "They've been in decline economically, politically, diplomatically, and demographically for 20 years now. They can take Ukraine, and if they really want they can get rid of this Ukrainian government."

Though Russia could likely move into takeover Ukraine, Bremmer says the move would be incredibly risky. For starters, it would economically isolate Russia and ensure that China would be its only trading partner. Since Russia would be economically shut out from the global community, Bremmer says that China would "drive an incredibly hard deal in price" because they are Russia's only option.

"Long term this is a disaster for Russia," he says. "But in the near term, if they want to bring the Ukrainians down with them they certainly can. Unfortunately, that is the scenario that is now playing out."