Why Should Ukraine Not Split? 357

There had never been an Ukrainian nation state until the last twenty five years.  The boundaries of the old Soviet Socialist Republics were never intended to define nation states, and indeed were in part designed to guard against forming potentially dangerous cohesive units.  The Ukrainians are a nation and f they wish are certainly entitled to a state, but that its borders must be those defined, and changed several times, by the Soviet Union for the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic is not axiomatic.

It is not true that there is a general desire for secession for Ukraine on the linguistic and broadly West East split.  It is true that key political attitudes do correlate closely to the linguistic split, with Russian speakers identifying with the ousted government, and favouring closer ties with Russian over closer ties with the West, while Ukrainian speakers overwhelmingly favour EU integration.  But that does not translate into a general desire by the Russian speakers to secede from a Ukraine that goes the other way.  The key to this is that two thirds of Russian speaking Ukrainian nationals view themselves as ethnically Ukrainian, not Russian.  Only a third of Russian speakers, a sixth of the general population, regard themselves as ethnically Russian.  It does appear to be true that among those who view themselves as ethnically Russian, there is a significant desire for union with Russia, and that there is probably a majority in some Eastern provinces for that idea, probably including Crimea.  But the area involved is far smaller than the linguistically Russian area.

Ethnicity is of course a less tangible concept than linguistic identity, and has little claim to objective reality, particularly in an area with such turbulent history of population movement.  But it is futile to pretend it has no part in the idea of a nation state, and is best regarded as a cultural concept of self-identification.

The historical legacy is extremely complex.  Kievan Rus was essential to the construction of Russian identity, but for Russia to claim Kiev on that basis would be like France claiming Scandinavia because that is where the Normans came from.  Kievan Rus was destroyed and or displaced by what historical shorthand calls the Mongal hordes, almost a millennium ago.  Ukrainian history is fascinating, the major part of it having been at various times under Horde, Lithuanian, Polish, Krim Tartar, Galician, Cossack Federation, Russian and Soviet rule.

Still just within living memory, one in seven Ukrainians, including almost the entire intellectual and cultural elite, was murdered by Stalin.  An appalling genocide.  Like Katyn a hundred times over.  That is the poisonous root of the extreme right nationalism that has rightly been identified as a dangerous element in the current revolution.  Pro-western writers have largely overlooked the fascists and left wing critics have largely overlooked Stalin.  His brutal massacre and ethnic cleansing of the Krim Tartar is also relevant – many were forcibly deported to Uzbekistan, and I have heard the stories direct.

Having served in the British Embassy in Poland shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, I regard as blinkered those who deny that membership of the European Union would be a massive advantage to Ukraine.  In 1994 there was very little difference in the standard of living in both countries – I saw it myself. The difference is now enormous, and that really means in the standard of living of ordinary working people.  Poland’s relationship with, and eventual membership of, the European Union has undoubtedly been a key factor.  Those who wish Ukraine instead to be linked to the raw commodity export economy of Putin’s Russia are no true friends of the working people. Ukraine’s accidental boundaries include, of course, the great formerly Polish city of Lvov.

Ukraine is an accidental state and its future will be much brighter if it is a willing union.  It needs not just Presidential and Parliamentary elections, but also a federal constitution and a referendum on whether any of its provinces would prefer to join Russia.  That can give an agreed way forward to which Russia might also subscribe, and defuse the current crisis.  It would suit the long term interest of both the Ukraine and the West.  I fear however that the politicians will be too macho to see it.




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357 thoughts on “Why Should Ukraine Not Split?

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  • Mary

    No surprise here.

    The ex-Israeli soldier who led a Kiev fighting unit

    ‘Delta’ has headed ‘the Blue Helmets of Maidan’ of 40 men and women – including several IDF veterans – in violent clashes with government forces.

    By JTA | Feb. 28, 2014


  • Ben

    “Before giving needed historical justification for my applying the F-word to current circumstances, I wish to pinpoint two practical implications of the fascism-totalitarianism distinction: one alarming and the other quite hopeful. The alarming part is that fascism can fool a nation’s people and have them deeply in its grip before they’ve even noticed–largely because they’ve confused fascism with totalitarianism, and falsely conclude they’re fascism-free because daily life isn’t (yet) totally under their government’s thumb. The hopeful part is that because fascism can exist for some time without totalitarianism, people can (if sufficiently awakened) still retain enough freedom to fight back and reverse their nation’s fascist course. I think ALL these characteristics–except, scarily, the sufficient awakening–exist in today’s United States.”


  • Resident Dissident

    From behind the FT’s paywall today – Gazprom are now threatening to increase the price of gas to the Ukraine by 50%. Nothing like a bit of blackmail and extortion. We tend to here rather more here about rather lower energy price rises in the UK.

  • Clark

    From Ben’s link – Associated Press
    By DAVID McHUGH and VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV 27 minutes ago

    “Russia’s parliament [,,,] also recommended Saturday that Moscow’s ambassador be recalled from Washington […]”

    That’s pretty bad, isn’t it? Or does it happen all the time?

  • Ben

    In any competition, especially politics, Clark, the thug/psychopath’s ruthlessness assists their rise to the top of the smelting pot making governance a dross metal. I hope my metaphors don’t arouse any untoward attacks on me. 🙂

    “”Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall”. wm shakespeare.

  • Resident Dissident


    All rather goes to show that Putin has been meddling in the affairs of the Ukraine and is prepared to use extortion as a political weapon for rather a long time. I don’t think Craig is the one suffering from illusions about the true nature of Putin.

  • Clark

    Resident Dissident, thanks for posting the news about Gazprom. As Craig has said;

    Only normal business is the last thing Gazprom is involved in. Gazprom is perhaps the most important tool in Putin’s armoury. He keeps a close eye on it. The Chairman of Gazprom is Dmitri Medvedev, First Deputy Prime Minister, close Putin ally and a possible Putin choice for his successor. The Trade, Energy and Foreign Ministers are all represented on the board at ministerial level.

    Gazprom has been the instrument by which Putin has reasserted Russian hegemony over the Former Soviet Union, blackmailing European ex-Soviet countries by cutting off energy supplies in winter, and buying up the Central Asian ex-Soviet countries by taking over the heart of their economies.

    Can you post us some ‘fair use’ snippets from FT please?

  • Clark

    Resident Dissident, YOU are the contributor that has posted this important news about Gazprom. Others have posted other information, for instance:

    In December US senator John McCain travelled to Ukraine to offer his support to the opposition, appearing on stage with leaders of the three opposition parties leading the protests – including the far-right Svoboda party.

    Svoboda is currently Ukraine’s fourth biggest party and holds 36 seats in parliament. It is also part of the Alliance of European National Movements, along with the BNP and Hungary’s Jobbik.

    These various reports do not oppose or contradict each other, so please refrain from such barbs as:

    I don’t think Craig is the one suffering from illusions about the true nature of Putin.

    ..which implies that others are under such an illusion. It just gets people’s backs up, and then they may react by rejecting the information you’ve contributed. All the elements are important information. It isn’t a matter of sides to an argument, or it doesn’t appear so to me. Again, thanks for posting that.

  • Macky

    Resdes; “Gazprom are now threatening to increase the price of gas to the Ukraine by 50%. Nothing like a bit of blackmail and extortion”

    I suppose it was blackmail & extortion when Putin gave them a whopping 33% discount last year ?


    Anyhow it can’t be denied that at least blackmail & extortion seems to be at part & parcel of modern international relationships; and who can argue against it being less destructive than a repeat of Shock & Awe; I’m sure that everybody acknowledges that in preference to twelve years of illegal bombing followed by twelve years of the Genocidal Sanctions, the Iraqis would have rejoiced to have been subjected to some blackmail & extortion !

    I’m curious as to all those who are eagerly championing the events in the Ukraine, ie a bloody takeover, seemingly on the grounds that their elected leaders were all crooks, if they also supported the non-violent Occupy Movements ? If not why not, and would they support a similar violent take over here in the UK, because we all know that those that govern us are indeed crooks !

  • Clark

    Macky, you wrote:

    I suppose it was blackmail & extortion when Putin gave them a whopping 33% discount last year ?

    This too was barbed. Not blackmail, but it could indeed be regarded as bribery, or a precursor to later blackmail. The real point is that Russia shouldn’t wield such power, just as you point out that the West should not have wielded the similar power of sanctions over Iraq.

    Russia’s relationship to Ukraine in fact looks similar in structure to the West’s relationship to the former Iraq; a powerful foreign government wielding unjustifiable power over the corrupt government of a weaker country, followed by military domination. The differences are in magnitude and detail; the overall structures seem similar to me.

    Can any of us reach agreement over any of this? Given the facts of the various cases, it seems to me that we should be able to, if we try.

  • Clark

    Here on this blog, if we treat each other as enemies, enemies are what we shall find. As here, so out there in the world. The corruption we see played out in world-scale events is found in miniature in each of our hearts, as we each blame the other for that which we also do ourselves.

  • Macky

    Clark, you talk about the “West” as a political entity, whereas it should more accurately be described as “ the US dominated West”, which then reveals the unintended irony of your sentence of; “a powerful foreign government wielding unjustifiable power over the corrupt government of a weaker country, followed by military domination”; change everything to the pural, think of all the US military bases all over Europe, that’s your “West”.

    So what’s there to agree or disagree to ?!

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella!


    “Habbabkuk, there is NOTHING good about a “kicking”.”

    Of course you’re right, but you know I was using the word in a non-physical way…

  • Ben

    “Can any of us reach agreement over any of this?”

    It would seem we can’t when emotions color everything we hear or read, or write. I’m in agreement with it, but find it hard to parse my words into pablum so that it is not nuanced into hatred of West, or absolute support for one side only, when the triangulation of special interest agendas trumps a true understanding of events on the ground. I’m here not just to blow my opinion horn, but to learn background which gives me some perspective. I am capable of dealing with facts, but when answered with mere anecdotes and not links to those experiences when I request them, I learn nothing except that somehow I am guilty of muskrat love of Putin and his entourage.

  • Clark

    Habbabkuk, hello. It was a bit early for me; I wasn’t long past my time of dreaming, where all semantics seem as real as life. I doubt you’d write “La vita è bella!” if you were to swap dreams with me.

    Can we all value each other as +contributors+?

    What about my questions earlier:

    “Russia’s parliament [,,,] also recommended Saturday that Moscow’s ambassador be recalled from Washington […]”

    That’s pretty bad, isn’t it? Or does it happen all the time?

  • Clark

    Ben, like many you probably feel anger because you feel that you’re deceived and/or misled and/or misdirected. But the world doesn’t fit into our minds. That’s why we need analysis of structure; it enables us to simplify and classify and compare, without bludgeoning issues into Side-A-are-bad/Ignore-Side-B

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella!

    Can I break into this discussion and ask a question about Gazprom?

    There has been talk of Russia blackmailing Ukraine through Gazprom. Now, as a good capitalist (as are Mr Putin and Gazprom), I do feel that Gazprom has the right to charge Ukraine the market price for gas. So accusations of blackmail are only founded, I think, if Russia is asking (or has asked) Ukraine to pay higher prices than those asked of Gazprom’s clients in Western Europe. Is this the case?

    (I fully accept that threats to restrict supplies of gas – for reasons other than non-payment – can be considered as blackmail)

  • Ben

    “without bludgeoning issues into Side-A-are-bad/Ignore-Side-B..”

    Exactly correct.

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella!


    ” “Russia’s parliament [,,,] also recommended Saturday that Moscow’s ambassador be recalled from Washington […]“

    That’s pretty bad, isn’t it? Or does it happen all the time?”

    I wouldn’t say that the recall of Ambassadors (usually “for consultations”) happens all the time, but on the other hand it’s not something earth-shattering either. Better than fighting and it doesn’t usually lead to a fight either.

  • Clark

    Resident Dissident, Habbabkuk is asking for more details on Gazprom’s prices to various countries. You have a Financial Times log-in…

    Macky, yes, the US-dominated West. I was just economising on typing.

    Habbabkuk, while waiting for any more detailed information, this is from Macky’s link:

    Frankly, Russian President Vladimir Putin – aka Vlad the Hammer – must be grinning like the Cheshire cat. He could simply erase the significant 33% discount on natural gas imports he gave Kiev late last year. Rumor after rumor already state – ominously – that the Aperol Spritz revolutionaries won’t have the cash to pay pensions and public servants’ salaries. In June comes a monster payment to a bunch of creditors ($1 billion in debt will mature). Afterwards, it’s bleaker than north Siberia in winter.

    The US offer of $1 billion is risible. And all this after the “”F**k the EU” “strategy” of Victoria Nuland torpedoed an Ukrainian transitional government – by the way, negotiated by the EU – which might have kept the Russians on board, money-wise.

    Without Russia, Ukraine will totally depend on the West to pay all its bills, not to mention avoid being bankrupt. That amounts to a whopping $30 billion until the end of 2014. Unlike Egypt, they cannot dial the House of Saud’s number and ask for some juicy petrodollars. That $15 billion loan from Russia promised recently could come in handy – but Moscow must get something in return.

    So to remain “a good capitalist”, just provide a discount in advance (a perfectly normal business practice), and when you want to call in a favour, put the price up by 50% – do the sums:

    3 minus (one third of three) = 2
    2 plus (half of two) = 3; back to where we started.

    See? This exactly reverses the “discount” given earlier, so Gazprom aren’t charging over the odds to Ukraine, nothing to own up to. Sorted.

  • Macky

    Clark “I was just economising on typing”

    No you were missing the point & still are; you state that “Russia’s relationship to Ukraine in fact looks similar in structure to the West’s relationship to the former Iraq” & “Russia shouldn’t wield such power”, apparently totally oblivious to the power & dominant relationship that the US exerts over “the West”, otherwise instead of using Iraq as your example, you would have used Europe, the countries of which are effectivly client-states of the US.

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