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.




357 thoughts on “Why Should Ukraine Not Split?

1 2 3 4 12
  • craig Post author


    Ben is quite entitled to his opinion – I think he is wrong, but my article already makes that plain.

  • Ben

    My point was not to dismiss Stalin’s bloodlust, craig. The rhetoric around his deeds sometimes reaches mythical scale, and it’s easy to dismiss the complex circumstances around Holodomor. Collectivization was unpopular in the Ukraine, and the switch from grains to other produce was traumatic. Stalin certainly did little to assist the famine relief, but he did rely on the production of crops which had to be done by People, so I wonder if genocide was his intent. That is all.

  • N_

    At least in Poland before 1990 millions of people weren’t obliged to leave the country to find work, just to be able to feed their families, as they are now.

  • AlcAnon/Squonk

    O/T But just spotted this.



    (London) CAGE is outraged by the arrest of our Outreach Director, Moazzam Begg. A former Guantanamo Bay detainee, he has been campaigning for due process and the human rights of victims, despite suffering over three years of torture and abuse by the US government with the complicity of the British security services.

    This latest action is designed to ensure that any travel to Syria is deemed suspicious. It follows a concerted campaign of harassment against Muslim individuals and charities involved in providing humanitarian aid to the victims of the Syrian crisis. Moazzam Begg is just the latest individual drawn by the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria who has been labelled a terrorist .The purpose is to intimidate and vilify the wider Muslim community so that they are prevented from delivering much needed aid to the Syrian people.

    Moazzam is an internationally recognised figure on issues relating to due process and human rights. His advocacy on behalf of the Guantanamo Bay detainees has been recognised across the world, resulting in various governments accepting detainees who could not be returned to their countries of origin.

    Cerie Bullivant, Media Officer of CAGE said:

    “Moazzam has been very open about his international travel and his objectives, including importantly exposing British complicity in rendition and torture. The timing of Moazzam‘s arrest given his travel to Syria took place in December 2012 requires a detailed explanation. The timing coincides with the planned release of a CAGE report on Syria and a major news piece that was due to be televised soon. As with David Miranda it seems those who are engaged in exposing abuse of powers are targeted and smeared to prevent disclosure of vital evidence.”

    Full Press Release at http://www.cageuk.org/press-release/press-release-moazzam-begg-arrested-uncovering-western-complicity-rendition-and-tortur

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Don’t you love the armed minority in the Ukraine getting its way, thanks to the rabid support in the name of democracy by all the similar elected representatives in the USA!

  • nevermind

    This from Shiva, blogging on the Pink’un, it is obviously from the Ukraine.

    “Finding Yanukovych, thought to be hidden on a Russian Navel vessel in Sevastopol Crimea, is important. He has to answer to many crimes, but more import is the breakup of what became known as the ‘Family’, headed by his son, Oleksander the denist.

    This is a seriously large ‘group ‘who over rules all the over mafia clans in Ukraine. Yanukovych’s son Oleksander has organised it by giving a group of his mates all the key positions in Ukraine from which they amass hundreds of millons of $ for themselves and dad. Also Ukraines richest man Rinat Arkmetov, the owner of Shakhtar Donetsk and the main sponsor of Yanukovych Party Of Regions, gain great amounts of state cash, boasting his wealth to around 15 billion mark! Much of this money is invested in London and the UK, Arkmetov paid the highest price for a London apartment . It is also thought that Oleksander fled to London last week. There are many more in England.
    The runners and riders for the next elected Ukrainian President; Poroshenko, Turchinov, Yatsenyuk, Klitchko, Tyagnibok, Lutsenko, Tymoshenko.

    The name Turchinov is a strong contender, he is the acting Speaker and now President, has a lot of experience as has Yulia Tymoshenko, however my personal choice at the moment would be the World Champion boxer Vitali Klitchko.

    He has so far come through this crisis very well, always leading from the front, being with the crowds, keeping his cool when attacked even by his own side and fronting the meetings with the ruling Yanukovych Government. It might seem strange that a boxer could become the President of a very large and important country but rest assured he is no ordinary boxer and being able to speak many languages, German fluently, and well as a high education, I’m confident that he can act as the head statesman and help unit the country. Its going to be a great picture if he gets to greet Mr Putin, standing a foot above him! If Reagan the actor can lead America, why not Klitchko the boxer?
    We know where Klitchko made is money, there was no hiding in the ring.
    Thanks for your time. ”

    No I just read the Klitschko email saga from Ukraine anonymous, accusing him of having his accounmts in Germany, what a crime, he boxed out of Germany, an international athlete. Nobody moans that F! driver pay taxes in switzerland or have off shore accounts.

    He deliberately plotted to overthrow Yanykovych, well, yes he did, and so did many other MP’s, Yanukovych after all was involved in awarding large state contracts to mafia dons.

  • Ben


    “The Social-National Party of Ukraine (SNPU) was registered as a party on October 16, 1995;[1][24] although the original movement was founded on October 13, 1991, in Lviv. The name of the party is said to have been an intentional reference to the Nazi Party in Germany.[25] Membership was restricted to ethnic Ukrainians, and for a period the party did not accept atheists or former members of the Communist Party. The SNPU’s official program defined itself as an “irreconcilable enemy of Communist ideology” and all other parties to be either collaborators and enemies of the Ukrainian revolution, or romanticists. During the 1994 Ukrainian parliamentary elections, the party presented itself as separate from both communist and social democrat platforms.[26][third-party source needed]
    In the 1998 parliamentary elections the party joined a bloc of parties (together with the All-Ukrainian Political Movement “State Independence of Ukraine”)[27] called “Less Words” (Ukrainian: Менше слів), which collected 0.16% of the national vote.[24][28][29] Party member Oleh Tyahnybok[30] was voted into the Ukrainian Parliament in this election.[30] He became a member of the People’s Movement of Ukraine faction.[30]
    The party established the paramilitary organization Patriots of Ukraine in 1999 as an “Association of Support” for the Military of Ukraine. The paramilitary organization, which continues to use the Wolfsangel symbol, was disbanded in 2004 during the SNPU’s reformation and reformed in 2005.[2] Svoboda officially ended association with the group in 2007,[31] but they remain informally linked,[32][33][34] with representatives of Svoboda attending social campaigns such as protests against price increases and leafleting against drugs and alcohol.[35] In 2014, Svoboda was noted for clashing with the far-right group Right Sector, a coalition which includes Patriot of ”

    Igor Myroshnychenko, and Svoboda sound a lot like the Tea Party. I’ve been trying to get a handle on ‘Neo-Nazi’ references on RT/SKY/IBT etc, and it’s starting to ring true, per Craigs comments.

  • Mary

    Just the same as they said about Saddam there Ben, the one time friend of the US.

    How the Media Got Played … Again

    The US Played Hardball Against Ukraine…and the EU

    The author speaks of Obama’s new found fondness for street riots.

    The author – Peter Lee edits China Matters. His ground-breaking investigation into the NSA, The NSA and Its Enablers, appears in the October issue of CounterPunch magazine. He can be reached at: chinamatters (at) prlee. org.

  • craig Post author


    Absolute tosh – there is no starvation in Poland, and ordinary people are much better off than they were in 1990. The idea that Polish immigration in the UK is driven by starvation is risible. And before 1990 they weren’t ALLOWED to leave, at all. Another way the current situation is massively better.

  • Ben

    the clergy have been quite activist, and that is a new wrinkle too. Putin and the Russian Orthodoxy have been in deep alignment.

    “The protesters represent every group of Ukrainian citizens: Russian speakers and Ukrainian speakers (although most Ukrainians are bilingual), people from the cities and the countryside, people from all regions of the country, members of all political parties, the young and the old, Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Every major Christian denomination is represented by believers and most of them by clergy. The Crimean Tatars march in impressive numbers, and Jewish leaders have made a point of supporting the movement. The diversity of the Maidan is impressive: the group that monitors hospitals so that the regime cannot kidnap the wounded is run by young feminists. An important hotline that protesters call when they need help is staffed by LGBT activists.”

    But who are the identifiable secular activists? I noticed even after Y. had fled, balaclavas and face coverings were common. Everyone knows it’s not safe to come out yet.

    If truly a popular movement, I do hope the right wing does not dominate. I think they comprise 10% of the electorate, kinda like the Tea Party.

  • N_

    @Craig – you’re building a straw man. If people leave the country because that’s the only way to feed their families, that doesn’t mean they actually choose to do so rather than starve – except in a literal-interpretation sense. I do admit that I was exaggerating. But the basic fact for most Polish people in Britain is that if they stayed in Poland they’d have a worse standard of living and they’d have even less security and more problems making ends meet from week to week than they do in Britain. Most Polish people here haven’t come to Britain to make their fortunes or with the ambition of rising into the middle classes.

    Many Polish people living in Britain or Ireland (most of whom plan to return to Poland) take shitty jobs in the building industry or in hotels etc., getting wages that in Britain are low but which are a lot higher than they’d get in Poland – and of course they’re sending money back to Poland. They are low-paid guestworkers, economic migrants. They come to Britain in response to poverty in Poland. Yes of course there are some exceptions.

    “ordinary people are much better off than they were in 1990.”

    Did you consider social security before you wrote that?

    Do you think Polish workers in their 20s who are sleeping half a dozen to a room in Britain are better off than they would have been if they’d been in Poland in 1985?

    And before 1990 they weren’t ALLOWED to leave, at all.

    I take your point, but it’s unfortunate that you over-egg the pudding by shouting and then using the amplificatory modifier “at all”.

    I’ve admitted I was exaggerating, but now you’re doing the same.

    There was a lot of emigration from Poland between the 1950s and 1980s – mostly of people classified as ethnically German but many people adopted that label for convenience only. And some Jews too were more or less kicked out. A lot of them were working class non-graduates who weren’t at the level of physical fitness that would have been demanded by the Zionists had any of them expressed a desire to settle in Palestine. Passport restrictions were tightened in the early 1980s at the time of martial law, but they were relaxed shortly after the middle of that decade. Some workplaces in Sweden had considerable numbers of Polish emigrants and seasonal guestworkers before 1990.

  • Uzbek in the UK


    But somehow Poles are dreadful when remembering those times (before 1990). What a f…king bulls..it. I guess when Russian tanks were rolling over Budapest in 1956 was good times too?

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella!


    Now that – in response to Craig’s rejoinder – you’ve admitted twice that you were exaggerating, would you let us know WHY you were exaggerating?

  • Uzbek in the UK

    Interestingly, I presume most of the people discussing this issue (in Ukraine) have either never been to Ukraine or been there for short time, not enough to have any understanding of its society. So discussion on this blog about future of Ukraine and causes of this conflict reminds me debates European colonial powers had in 1940th-60th when colonialism in its classical term was crumbling. 1 in 7 murdered by stalin is culmination of what was happening in Ukraine since raise of Moscow kingdom. Russian chauvinism has many crimes to answer to and not at least genocide of other Slavs including of who is now known as Ukrainians. Those who have even little understanding of stalins national policy would understand all the background of crisis in Ukraine. Ans yet majority of well intentioned by narrow minded individuals here propose that Ukrainians (or at least their right wing) are the ones who are to be blamed in this crisis.

    Shame on you bloody leftists. Shame on those who see no grater enemy than west and who from their comfortable British armchairs prefer to give no toss about struggle of those who have been oppressed for centuries.

  • НУ ДА

    And before 1990 they weren’t ALLOWED to leave, at all. Another way the current situation is massively better.

    Nope. You’re multiplying one premise into two. The freedom to go to a place that’s worse wouldn’t make the place you’re in any better.

  • Ben

    Uzbek; Though bereft of firsthand experience, I struggle to discover anything more than superficial information, often contradicted by one party, supported by the other, with western Media at the helm of that ship. That’s why outsiders inquire about such matters with interest. I don’t have a local dog in this fight, nor an agenda, except that I don’t necessarily trust sources who might.

  • Ben

    “Last Tuesday’s bloody conflicts tipped the scales. On Wednesday both Akhmetov’s and Firtash’s TV stations changed their coverage of Independence Square: Suddenly the two channels, Ukraina and Inter, were reporting objectively on the opposition. The message of the oligarchs was clear: We’re letting Yanukovych fall.”

    And then what?

  • Macky

    Max Blumenthal can’t help noticing the facist factor;


    Maybe it’s just my perception, but those that like to accuse others of having an anti-West bias, seem to always jump at any opportunity to exhibit a mirror anti-Russia bias; and it’s not just a case of a mirror projection complex, as the visceral language normally employed is very hardly ever used by the those labeled “Anti-Western” ; just an obsevation !

  • Uzbek in the UK


    Understandably limited by use of one although global but still one language many here fall prey to the western media. But then there are many sources other than Sky or BBC. Many sources from Ukraine and even Russia, latter being extremely biased toward pro russian view, are also available in English. Ultimately understanding of present events will be greatly assisted by some research of the history of the preceding events in the past. But when one is viewing events through the prism of obsessive western meddling and something like ‘he is son of the bitch but he is our son of the bitch because he hates the west’ is not the best approach to understand a conflict going back at least 7 centuries. Such approach as biased and limits ones understanding as the one that is fed through western media propaganda.

    West can be right sometimes, and it has been in the past. It is probably one of these times now in Ukraine, which despite self centred selfish western interests and geopolitical rivalry, could benefit people struggling with centuries of oppression which cost them lives and dignity and put them far behind others. It could be a chance for millions of people to associate themselves with whom they want to be associated and not with whom they had to be associated by brutal force throughout more than 7 centuries.

    Just think about it. Why Brits or Scots for that matter can have choice and other have to be denied it, just because their oppressors seem to suit the self narrowed anti western view of many on this blog?

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella!


    You’re right in saying that Ben is quite entitled to his opinion, and I am also entitled to call it bollocks. In what appears to be a justification for his long original post (consisting mainly of a cut and paste from Wikipedia – he would have been better advised to read the main Wikipedia article called “causes_of_the_holodomor”) Ben subsquently wrote “My point was not to dismiss Stalin’s bloodlust, craig.”. In that case, may I ask him what his point was? This would, inter alia, help us establish whether he is a Walter Duranty or merely a Henry Wallace.

    But I digress, because I wanted to thank you for a thoughtful post and an imaginative possible solution (although, like you, I doubt whether that will be the outcome).

    A thread or two ago, one of the regular contributors urged you to offer us your thoughts on the situation in Ukraine. I remember replying that people should be careful what they asked for, as your post might not be quite what many would expect, and might disappoint them. By situating Ukrainian right-wing nationalism in its proper context and by (I presume deliberately) not launching into a denunciation of foreign, ie, US and Western, “interference” (or “fomenting revolution”) in Ukraine, I fear that you have indeed disappointed some. That much can easily be inferred from several of the comments on the thread.

    I should be interested to hear your thoughts on the alleged rôle of the West in this revolution and on the alleged intentions of the West.

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella!

    “Shame on you bloody leftists. Shame on those who see no grater enemy than west and who from their comfortable British armchairs prefer to give no toss about struggle of those who have been oppressed for centuries.”


  • Ben

    ” It could be a chance for millions of people to associate themselves with whom they want to be associated and not with whom they had to be associated by brutal force throughout more than 7 centuries.”

1 2 3 4 12

Comments are closed.