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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  • Ben

    Z; thugs always loom large; bullies must appear larger than life. What do you make of the popular uprising described in Phil’s email above? Are the thugs aligned as though ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’?

  • Z


    What I think is that the thugs were in control all the time, after the dissolution of the
    Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact.That is, there was no effort at all to create the foundations for proper civil societies and democratic institutions. They went from Scylla to Charybdis, so to speak, with the plundering of state owned property by various former party members and officials, having bigger priority over the transition to a better run society.
    The present situation in Ukraine is a tragic example of this.

    The character who abuses attacks the prosecutor in the video, is supposed to be someone from the “Right Sector”. It is interesting that no-one interferes with this abuse, not even the police officer behind the victim!

  • Kempe

    ” ships or subs are a much more satisfactory base for nuke-tipped missiles ”

    Surface ships don’t carry nuclear weapons. Banned by treaty in 1991.

    Russian warships have been in and out of Cuba on a regular basis since the end of the Cold War. The only difference this time is that the state-controlled press in Cuba has made no mention of it which paradoxically has drawn greater attention from the western press.

  • Kempe

    “I am not some Anti-EU Little Brit, but to see people on demonstrations waving the EU flag in Kiev screams ‘fake’.”

    Why so? I agree you wouldn’t see it in this country but the EU Association Agreement would’ve given Ukraine 20 billion euros of loans and grants and obliged the government to clean up it’s act. Yanukvych was prepared to sign right up until Moscow made him another offer; possibly one he couldn’t refuse.

  • Mary

    E-mail to Jon Snow Ch 4 News from Ed on Medialens.

    Snowmail…McCain and the Ukraine…short email to 6 Pilgers
    Posted by Ed on February 28, 2014, 7:05 pm

    Mr Snow,
    I see from tonight’s “Snowmail”(1) that you are going to talk to Senator John McCain about how the world should react to events in the Ukraine.

    Why on earth have you decided that your viewers should be subjected to the views of a deceptive, warmongering neocon who does little else but spread fear and loathing on his never ending quest to portray foreign countries as some sort of existential threat to the US and its allies?

    America is up to its neck in fomenting and aiding the coup d’état against the democratically elected government in the Ukraine and yet you choose to discuss the situation with one of the worst examples of US political life on earth.

    It just beggars belief when there are so many more honest, qualified, knowledgeable and yes, “humane” people that you could have spoken to for the greater benefit of your audience.

    Maybe you can ask McCain if he has any more “Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran” type jokes for the Ukraine.

    He’s a funny man, no?

    Ed Murray.

    (1)International Editor Lindsey Hilsum was in the Crimean capital Simferopol as Russian troops moved in. Here she is in her own words: “Our team was at Simferopol airport shortly after Russian troops took control. Russian soldiers wore no insignia and were somewhat shy when I asked them to identify themselves. More Russian soldiers seem to be arriving this evening at the airport in Sevastopol, there are Russian troops on main roads and reports that Russian troops have taken over a local TV channel.” Meanwhile, Senator John McCain insists that “this is not the cold war”. As a Russian warship blocks the entrance to the harbour, we go over the options with him tonight on how the rest of the world should react to latest events.


  • Uzbek in the UK


    Thanks for Yats explanation. I feel it is coming hot bakes straight from Lubyanka bakery shop?

    Not heard of it much, but guess it will now be as common as Maydanshik.

    Yes, in fact I do not mind to put Yats on voting ballot too. Could he match the man who had lived in luxury with duck houses and personalised whiskey, while his people were paying increased (by Russia) energy bills?

    Let’s see. Common lefties.

  • Uzbek in the UK


    Interesting email thanks for posting it here. This is something I have been hearing a lot from old connections. It was in fact people of different age (some soviet educated blokes like myself) who stood in Maydan. Like every resistance event this one was tried to get hijacked by radicals but nor were they in majority, nor they got any support from people.

    Russian propaganda on other hand was quick and since then persistent to brand Maydan apprising as crime led by neo-nazis. The fact that this came out of Yanukovich today (in Russia) sounding exactly the same as earlier from Medvedev should one make think the trustworthiness of the claim.

  • Uzbek in the UK


    I do not think you believe in representative government. Your point (from what I understand) is anything is good as long as west is not meddling. Even so if it is bad.

    For instance you do not support people in Kiev (most of the dead ones much younger than 30), but you support ‘democratically’ elected president who left Ukraine as soon as he could and reappeared in Russia calling Putin to intervene (read kill Ukrainians) to return him his duck house. People who stood against this man and died you branded neo-nazis. Your lack of knowledge about deeply rooted conflict, oppression and genocide of Ukrainians allows you to ignore everything else but Russian propaganda. You hatred of the west (in which you live and which benefits you use) is allowing you to turn your blind eye on violation of Human Rights in Russia and (with Russian blessing) in many other parts of former USSR. And when Ukrainians are trying to brake away from it, you brand them neo-nazis.

    Hardcore lefties like you make whole lot of noise when police in London cattle student demonstration, BUT keep shut when Berkut use real bullets and aiming at organs of human beings in Ukraine. Are you RACIST? Do you think just because Ukrainians are not Brits they could be called neo-nazis for standing up for their rights? Or do you only support those who are oppressed (or were oppressed) by British Empire? Can I then remind you that British Empire is no longer but Russia still exists in pretty much its imperial boundaries? Is this matter to be ignored?

  • Uzbek in the UK


    Lets know make whole lot of shows about people who died and (will likely die if Russian intervention into Crimea starts) in Ukraine? It is amusing is not it?

  • Uzbek in the UK


    Interestingly, but the video looks like well staged play put on youtube with Maydan being emphasised. Other videos from Crimea looks lot more real though.

    Talking about criminal thugs running former ussr you carefully managed not to mention the largest and richest criminal enterprise (Russia) and emphasised on Ukraine instead. You also fail to mention that most of the businesses in Russia are controlled by former KGB officers and criminal authoritets who have submitted to KGB (so called Sukas). It is only sky high oil and gas prices that allow Russian GDP to grow as for everything else (from cars to textile, from IT to general household goods) are still being imported to Russia despite being made of components large bought from Russia as raw materials.

  • Dave Lawton

    Remember this ? Violation of international law by US. They cannot help themselves ,they plant CIA
    agents everywhere causing trouble ,in the the 1960`s as soon as we uncovered one in our University
    they would be replaced in a couple of months and the game would start again. It very nearly became a régime change in the UK when Harold Wilson was Prime Minister.
    I bet your boots they were behind the Ukraine coup.


  • Phil

    Our enemies enemy is not our friend. Beware sucking up Russian propaganda just because you don’t like some clips of EU flags being waved (anyway I keep noticing red and black flags which reminds me of Ukraine’s radical history).

    Are these people fascists? These? Check out the nerve of these people. Is Ukraine so full of fascists they can kick out a Russian backed government. That would take a lot of fascists. Doesn’t seem likely to me. I know some Ukranians and they are not fascists. And they are saying this is not a fascist coup. Who am I to know better? Who am I to call them idiot CIA fascist stooges? I’m an armchair commentator on political blogs that’s who!

  • ben


    Your reply indicates you have no understanding of my poverty. Kindly hugger off.

  • angrysoba


    But is your point-of-view an informed one?

    If you have a serious interest in learning about the situation, I would recommend reading Uzbek’s posts with a more open-mind rather than through the usual lens of conspiracism.

  • Ben

    “But is your point-of-view an informed one?”

    I’m writing my pov in english so maybe that’s the problem. I see only anecdotal info from Uzbek and my question to you is; have you read my posts? How could Uzbek draw the conclusion I was racist unless he is deranged. I have no need to defend what needs no defense and I’m through with this episode.

  • Clark

    Uzbek in the UK, respect to you for pointing out the plight of Ukrainians standing up against Russia and their government.

    Various people, please remember that the disgusting Karimov regime in Uzbekistan is a Russian client government, and Uzbek in the UK knows what it is like to live under such a system. Alisher Usmanov is part of that system.

    Phil, thanks for the message from your friend in Kiev. Could you ask him to post here on this blog?

    Others, we have some Russian speakers here; can any of you translate from the videos that have been linked, or listen to them and explain what’s going on etc?

    We need to remember that the EU is not the US, and in any case, just because the US supports protesters doesn’t mean the protesters are bad. The US will support something if it’s in US interests, whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing.

    I’m a bit worried that in the videos some of the protesters seem to be quite well equipped, for instance all those shields and helmets. Some of the protesters seem to be wearing things that almost look like uniforms. But even if we assume that this indicates US support, that still doesn’t mean that the protesters are wrong. If you were involved in protests that turned violent when attacked by state forces, you’d probably accept shields and helmets no matter which country gave them to you.

    Regarding extremist elements, we should assume that authorities will use such elements for the authorities’ own propaganda advantage. For instance, in the student demonstrations in the UK a small minority of students acted either violently or stupidly. This was used to justify police violence against the student protesters as a whole. There are also always the possibilities of infiltrators and agents provocateurs, whose actions are intended to discredit legitimate protesters. We’ve seen this in the UK and in Canada, so why not in Ukraine?

    I fear for the protesters if the Russian military intervenes.

  • Clark

    Ben, chill out, friend. I know from Squonk that you’re under a lot of stress at present. If I were Uzbek in the UK, I too would be likely to feel angry at people in the safety of the West accepting Russian propaganda. We object to our own establishment’s propaganda, but we have to remember that other establishments do exactly the same thing.

  • Ben

    WTF, Clark? Where in hades have I swallowed Russkie propaganda?

    Really. You are out of line.

  • Clark

    Ben, sorry. When there are a lot of comments coming from different people, it can get confusing. I’ll read the comments a bit more and then post again…

  • Clark

    Ben, having looked back, I don’t think you were, but some of your comments are less than clear; for instance: “I hope the maligned far right is not so vocal…” – eh? The far right are malign, so I don’t know how they could be maligned. If I don’t understand this, it’s likely to confuse Uzbek in the UK, whose first language isn’t English.

    Ben, my advice is to just put it down to misunderstanding all round, and move on. I don’t think you’re racist.

  • Mary

    Obama said:

    ‘Any violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilising, which is not in the interests of Ukraine, Russia or Europe,” he said.

    “It would represent a profound interference in matters that must be determined by the Ukrainian people. It would be a clear violation of Russia’s commitment to respect the independence and sovereignty and borders of Ukraine – and of international laws.”‘

    What a hypocrite. How dare he preach to Russia. Substitute Iraq or Afghanistan for Ukraine at the beginning of the first sentence. Does he not admit that the US wars in the region have destabilized the whole area and caused mayhem and chaos?

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella!

    Ben’s feeble response:

    “I’m writing my pov in english so maybe that’s the problem. I see only anecdotal info from Uzbek and my question to you is; have you read my posts? How could Uzbek draw the conclusion I was racist unless he is deranged. I have no need to defend what needs no defense and I’m through with this episode.”

    Yes, Uzbek gave you a really good kicking, didn’t he. You managed to brush aside the smaller kickings I’ve given you from time to tome, but the best you can do against Uzbek – who’s really told it as it is and shown you up – is to whine “I’m through with this episode”. As far as I’m concerned, this blog’s through with you.

  • Resident Dissident

    I agree almost entirely with what Craig says on this matter. Those of us who have spent time in that part of the world (and I have worked in Poland, Ukraine and Russia) know that culturally, economically and geographically that Poland and Ukraine, the vast bulk of the Russia population, are part of Europe – that needs to put back together after the splits of the 20th century.

    I should also add that while there is a lot of historical evidence to support the view that one of the favourite pastimes of the various Slavic tribes is fighting each other – my personal experience is that their common characteristics are a lot greater – and after a few drinks in the right surroundings those similarities and unifying characteristics usually come to the fore.

    There are of course those on the ersatz left, who time and time on this blog demonstrate that empty vessels make the most noise, who have a lingering affection for the days when a Soviet Union could stand as a superpower counterpoint to the other superpower and their bête noir. And they have a course now loyally trooped into their old uniforms as fellow travellers and useful idiots for the Putin regime. What they fail to realise is that the best way of countering this superpower nonsense is by developing a federation of European states as a working mechanism for different political ideas and cultures to work alongside each other based on tolerance and respect is a better counter to the superpower model – than just building up a rival superpower or two (just look at how the Chinese are recolonizing Africa for instance)

    What is not recognised is that it is the autocratic and kleptocratic Putin regime that is the main barrier to Ukraine and Russia (and also Belarus) taking their true place within a European family of nations. Not surprisingly Putin likes to surround himself with neighbours who have a similar mindset and of course are prepared to bend their knee to him as the capo de kapos – helped along from time to time with a few monetary incentives and the occasional threat and punishment (e.g. turning off the heating in winter). You can be pretty sure that when Karimov departs, Putin will be looking to appoint a more compliant lieutenant to his Tashkent branch – and indeed there are signs that the recruitment process has already begun. The historically aware will note that this model has a lot of similarities to that employed by the Mongol leaders who controlled this part of the world for many years.

    Well the Ukrainians have had enough and decided that they no longer want an autocratic kleptocrat as their leader – and who knows the Russians, Belarussians, Uzbeks, Kazakhs and Azeris might hopefully join them one day. Others have debunked the idea that this movement is a fascist inspired one. Of course fascists and extreme nationalists that fester in such an environment come to the fore – but if anyone thinks this is a Ukraine only phenomenom they are very much mistaken. In Russia itself the fascists are now pretty much tolerated and even encouraged. Zhironovsky and his party are among Putin’s staunchest supporters. Far right groups have killed hundreds of immigrant and what they view as undesirables – and then the State joins in with similar attacks on immigrants. I have even seen with my own eyes thugs dressed in Nazi like uniforms prancing around unchallenged in the Tretyakov gallery in Moscow. And what does Putin do to actively discourage such behaviour?

    As for the Crimea and referendums – it would perhaps surprise some to know that Ukraine did hold a referendum to confirm its independence back in 1991 and the results were pretty conclusive across the whole of the Ukraine and even in the Crimea the vote went 57% to 43% in favour of independence.

    Craig is right that Lvov was a former Polish city – but he fails to mention that a lot of the population of Lvov moved to Wroclaw – which of course was the former German city of Breslau. Perhaps some thinks just have to be left to settle.

  • Resident Dissident

    Just in

    “The Stop the War Coalition opposes imperialist interventions wherever they occur, and by whatever government carries them out. We didn’t stop the war in Iraq, but we did create a mass anti war opinion in Britain and throughout the world. That tide of anti war opinion has made itself felt in the past few days. We now have to reject all attempts at intervention in Ukraine and call upon President Putin to to develop a foreign policy which is based on equality and justice, and the rights of national sovereignty. We will demonstrate on Saturday against this intervention. It is the aim of the anti-war movement to ensure that Putin is forced to abandon the attack on Ukraine now that the country with which Russia is supposed to enjoy a ‘special relationship’ has carried out an exercise in national self-determination.’”

  • Clark

    Resident Dissident, will you be attending? I can’t tell you how dreadful I feel. I can try to get there.

    Habbabkuk, there is NOTHING good about a “kicking”. But if you’ll be at the demonstration, I’d rather it was me that got kicked than anyone else.

  • Clark

    Is this sort of life worth living at all? Where’s Anon to tell me that I ought not to waste my time and I should be out making money or shooting things instead?

    Of course a demonstration will do no good. When we think of the anti-war demonstrations for Iraq, everyone thinks of London. But similar massive demonstrations happened all over the world.

    I’d best start getting ready.

  • Phil

    Just in

    “A handful of old trots coalition state categorically and unambiguously when it is appropriate to do so that war is bad for you kids. Although we do not intend to take any meaningful action I will soon have a meeting with my comrade and my wife in a secret location in our North London detached home to decide that we will be inviting Tariq Ali to make a speech reiterating that war is bad for you kids. As long as the comrade inspector from the met gives us the go ahead.”

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