Skip to comments.Donít expect Ukraine to end up divided
Posted on 02/28/2014 8:14:46 PM PST by Tailgunner Joe
The last time Ukraine was separated into competing states was in 1917 when Ukrainian national leaders proclaimed the Ukrainian Peoples Republic in Kiev and the Bolsheviks established a rival Soviet republic in the eastern city of Kharkiv. When the Red Army finally secured Soviet rule over Ukraine after a prolonged civil war, Bolshevik authorities placed the capital in Kharkiv, viewing the eastern, industrialized part of the republic as more hospitable to Soviet rule. After wartime additions of western territory, Nikita Khrushchev reassigned the Crimea to Ukraine from Soviet Russia in 1954, acknowledging Ukraines geographic and historical economic ties to the peninsula (and possibly as a reward for Ukrainian Communist support for his leadership).
But Ukraine in 2014 is not the Ukraine of 1917 and 1954. The Soviet government restricted (but did not curtail) Ukrainian national culture and could be brutal towards the republics population, but residents of the Ukrainian republic nevertheless increasingly recognized the reality of a Ukrainian territorial identity regardless of their ethnicity, language use, or views on the imperative of statehood. Twenty-three years of post-Soviet Ukrainian independence have only strengthened this sense of identity.
Talk of possible civil war and the division of Ukraine into pro-Russia and pro-West territories has taken place ever since the country achieved independence in 1991. Those who suggest this view are fond of reproducing maps suggesting a Ukrainian and Russian linguistic divide.
A more recent innovation has been the insertion of a map of the 2010 presidential elections that is supposed to bolster evidence of a politically motivated linguistic split (majority Russian-speaking provinces in the southeastern and southern parts of Ukraine are correlated to provinces whose electorate voted for the now ousted president Viktor Yanukovych).
When deputies of Ukraines eastern provincial assemblies met in Kharkiv on Feb. 22 to defend the constitutional order against what they viewed as a radical, nationalist opposition in Kiev, their assembly brought to mind the history of the 1917 divide. Recent demonstrations in Sevastopol, the naval base of the Russian Black Sea fleet in Crimea, in favor of the territorys union with the Russian Federation also prompt reminders of Khrushchevs gift to Ukraine.
Ukraine is perhaps closer to a split than it has ever been in the post-Soviet period. The interim president, Oleksandr Turchynov, an associate of former prime minister and jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, has warned of the dangers of separatism in Ukraine and suggested anyone fomenting secession will be held criminally liable. But there are multiple reasons to think this will not come to pass.
First, the linguistic divide of Ukraine is vastly overplayed. Russian is widely spoken on the streets of Kiev and among protestors on the Maidan (Independence Square). Leaders of the opposition, such as former heavyweight boxing champion turned politician, Vitali Klitschko, are Russian speakers first. To speak Russian does not mean a rejection of Ukraine. Turchynov and Tymoshenko, both hail from predominantly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.
Second, a vote for Yanukovych in the 2010 elections was not a vote for union with Russia or even a vote for membership in a Russian-led customs union. After all, Yanukovych ran on a platform backing integration with the EU and many in eastern Ukraine took him at his word.
Finally, although the demonstrations in Crimea in favor of a union with Russia are significant, they are not new. Crimea has long seen a history of such protests. Crimea is different from many parts of Russian-speaking Ukraine in that ethnic Russians form an absolute majority of the population. But Ukrainians and ethnic Tatars constitute a not insignificant 24.4 per cent and 12.1 per cent of the population respectively and a Tatar political movement supporting the maintenance of ties with Kiev is particularly well organized.
Furthermore, Crimea is recognized as an autonomous republic under a 1998 constitution for the territory that guarantees protection for the Russian language. There is nothing to suggest that the ousting of Yanukovych will alter Crimeas autonomy and it arguably enjoys greater rights than any autonomous territory in the Russian Federation. While announced Russian military maneuvers near Ukraines borders and the recent seizure of the Crimean parliament and major airports in the territory by an unknown, well-armed militia are rightly alarming to Kiev, Russia does not ultimately covet Ukrainian territory or want to own Ukraines problems.
Perhaps the greatest evidence of Ukraines integrity is the very border that Yanukovych had difficulty crossing. Yanukovych fled first east to Kharkiv, then to his home base in Donetsk, but was denied further transit to Russia by border guards at the airport. He then traveled to Balaclava, outside of Simferopol, where his security detail left him. Although he has since resurfaced in Russia, Yanukovych sought and failed to find initial refuge in the very parts of Ukraine that are said to be on the verge of splitting away.
Ukraines new leaders must address very real regional tensions that persist. Mykhailo Dobkin, the governor of the Kharkiv province, has warned that the Ukrainian parliament, cajoled by the anti-Yanukovych opposition, has passed laws that threaten all those who do not accept fascism and Nazism and warned against possible new strictures on the use of the Russian language. It seems highly unlikely that the Russian language would ever be under threat in overwhelmingly Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine.
What Dobkins comments speak to is a different history, the legacy of the Second World War, which remains a politically contentious issue in Ukraine. Some of the hardcore protestors in Kiev represent the extreme political right; they claim Ukrainian nationalist organizations of the wartime era as their antecedents and paradoxically have little regard for integration with the EU. But these groups are still a minority among the vast majority of the hundreds of thousands who have taken to the Maidan since the protests first begin in November. And the protests were not limited to Kiev. Similar protests, in smaller numbers, took place in predominantly Russian-speaking Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhya and Odessa.
In the end, the protests in Ukraine have little to do with a West versus Russia split. The prospective trade agreement with the EU represented an opportunity, however optimistic, for Ukrainians to force their government to face the endemic problem of corruption that has plagued the country since independence. Yanukovychs decision to unilaterally back away from an agreement his government had been preparing to sign exposed his disregard for democratic accountability and own political callousness.
The protesters on the Maidan ran ahead of the leaders of the opposition in their ambitions. Unlike the Orange Revolution of 2004, this was a protest movement that resisted orchestration by political parties. The corruption of the Yanukovych presidency is now on view for all of Ukraine to see at his sumptuous residency outside Kiev. The trick now for Ukraines new rulers is to convince all Ukrainian citizens that they have a stake in a change, that further reform will benefit the entire country and proceed transparently according to the rule of law.
This is a formidable challenge, but Ukraines fracture should not be in the offing.
Russia cant let Crimea go not as a matter of geopolitical reality.
Ping good review
Possesion is nine tenths of the law.
Actually its symbolic. Russia could move its fleet to its own Black Sea coast and not have to pay Ukraine billions in rent. Giving up the Crimea would be a blow to the nostaligic Soviet patriot Putin’s wounded pride. He is still mad about how Ronald Reagan beat the EVIL EMPIRE and won the Cold War. Putin still remembers when he was a KGB spy in Germany and the Berlin Wall came down. What a humiliation that was for him.
Article reads as wishful thinking from a liberal academic Obama apologist:
Matthew Pauly is an assistant professor of history at Michigan State University, a former political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, and author of Breaking the Tongue: Language, Education, and Power in Soviet Ukraine, 192334 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, Forthcoming, October 2014).
with a different leadership , America should make common cause with Russia and Putin and really prosecute the world wide war on radical Islam to a suitable conclusion ( Victory!) and also to act as a formidable front to keep China reined in . A US-Russia alliance would be awesome
“America should make common cause with Russia and Putin and really prosecute the world wide war on radical Islam to a suitable conclusion”
Naively, perhaps, this is how I happen to see it. I believe Putin is incredibly smart, though not without some degree of viciousness, and maybe not entirely trustworthy. However, standing in his shoes, an 0bama-led US is, as he said during the period when the US was seemingly primed for an intervention Syria, “a monkey with a hand grenade”. 0bama is not only not trustworthy in an absolute sense, he is untrustworthy from the standpoint of being willing to shift his positions to keep his movement and party in power. I don’t think Putin can take him seriously because he is so unstable. I think Putin is quite nationalistic as far as Russia is concerned and I don’t especially blame him for wanting to hold on to both Ukraine and Crimea.
I also think 0bama really spat in Putin’s face and should have thanked him profusely for his help on Syria. After all, 0bama seemed to offer unprecedented cooperation with his comment during the 2012 pres elections [paraphrasing] “I’ll be able to work with you much closer after the elections/after I am re-elected”.
That said, the US has no business getting involved in either Ukraine or Crimea and given the highly elevated persistent incompetence in all things foreign this admin has bumbled into, I can’t support any moves in that/those directions.
I wish it was different. I think the US and Russia could be good partners on many fronts if they could come to trust each other. As I said at the outset of my post, perhaps and probably that is a pretty naive view.
Second, a vote for Yanukovych in the 2010 elections was not a vote for union with Russia or even a vote for membership in a Russian-led customs union. After all, Yanukovych ran on a platform backing integration with the EU and many in eastern Ukraine took him at his word. champion turned politician, Vitali Klitschko, are Russian speakers first. To speak Russian does not mean a rejection of Ukraine. Turchynov and Tymoshenko, both hail from predominantly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.
I agree ; all Obama is good for is stirring things up , like the Alinskyite ,Chicago community organizer and campus nerd punk that he . He has mucked up every thing he has touched since first elected . Every single foreign policy effort . He is unquestionably the most inept and incompetent President the American people have been foolhardy enough to trust and elect . Of course Putin holds him in contempt , what’s to respect ? We need to impeach this clown ASAP and return to reasoned and strong U.S. leadership at the soonest possible moment . ( hint : it ain’t duffuss Joe either ) Warriors Stand Up ! We need you .
Russian Legislators Present Bill to Facilitate Annexation of Ukrainian Crimea
Why would you think Putin is a good partner for a war against radical Islam. The only thing to go by is how Putin acted in the years 2001-09, he did nothing to help us. Putin actually went out of his way to be a bur in our side while our guys were fighting and dying in the Middle East.
Hey hey hey.
Nerds do their homework, and know answers off the top of their heads without a teleprompter.
Don’t go linking Odumbo with us. He is not and never has been a nerd. He’s a head.
One (add’l) thing I think we might agree on is that 0bama will no doubt take close note of is Putins’ suppression techniques for his rogue territories. The idea of irregular militias and not regular army inserting themselves for intimidation purposes. To 0bama, you know...they are probably “doing God’s work”.
“The only thing to go by is how Putin acted in the years 2001-09, he did nothing to help us. Putin actually went out of his way to be a bur in our side while our guys were fighting and dying in the Middle East.”
Point taken. But maybe Putin needed to see the US learn the lesson Russia (then the USSR) learned in Afghanistan 1979. I think we have. Well, let’s say we went to the same school, whether we learned the lesson is an open question.
I agree, in the terms that were so pupular a few years ago, he doesn’t “rise to the level” of a nerd. Calling him one is very disrespectful to real nerds. Twenty years of continuous schooling would not bring him up anywhere near nerd level.
Putin should go suck an egg.
After our stupid involvement in Kosovo, any chance for future cooperation with Russia, went “Do Svidanya.”