Wither Ukraine?


From the comments to this morning’s post about Russian mobs in Crimea:

Is a shrunken Ukraine necessarily a bad thing? It can be argued that the Czech Republic and Slovakia both benefited from the breakup of Czechoslovakia. Likewise for a Ukraine relieved of its Russified parts.


And my reply:

It’s part of the sometimes tragic nature of the human condition that ethnic cleansing works. That’s not an endorsement of, say, the horrors of Bosnia 20 years ago, but it is a simple observation. Eastern Europe is now at peace in no small part because Stalin cleared Poland and Czechoslovakia of Germans, and he also cleared Ukraine and Belarus of Poles. As one historian noted, Stalin drew the borders he wanted, then moved the people to fit.

I’m not sure Ukraine will ever find peace until it is more ethno-linguistically homogenous. There are only three ways for Ukraine to accomplish that.

• Kill all the Russians.

• Remove all the Russians.

• Surrender the Russian-majority areas contiguous with the Russian border, plus Crimea (or at least Sebastopol).

None of these options is good. But the third one is clearly the least bad.

But then there’s this comment from Max:

“Russian-speakers” is a total and complete misnomer. I’ve been visiting Kyiv a few times a year for the last 4 years due to business interests and can tell you that literally everyone there speaks unaccented fluent Russian and something like half the population speaks it by preference. They are still Ukrainians — in the sense that they don’t care a whit for Putin or unity with (read subjugation by) Russia. I am Russian by birth and can’t help but support this sentiment.

The internal split in Ukraine exists nevertheless, and in a sense it’s probably tripartite: “pro-European independents” vs “great Russia holdovers” vs “west Ukraine nationalists”. The first group not only has no enmity towards Russians, it is likely half-Russian ethnically. The second group is largely dependent on Russia economically and the areas where they are dominant — the two easternmost provinces full of heavy industry — would likely join Russia by referendum if given half a chance. Crimea would be the same if not for the Tatars.


Lots of White Russians speak Russian, too — but that doesn’t make them Russian. It’s just that when you have a massive neighbor like Belarus does, with which you have historic and commercial ties, it makes sense to speak their language. Max is spot-on however about Ukraine’s tripartite split. Western Ukraine has more in common with Poland (other than language) than it probably has with the easternmost part of the country. Don’t forget too that during the interwar period, western Ukraine was even a part of Poland.

Crimea is where it really gets tricky. Moscow fought hard in a series of wars to take it from the Tatars, then settled it with probably as many Russians as could be herded onto the peninsula. The locals never did acclimate themselves to Russian rule, so much so that Stalin (there’s that name again) deported them to Central Asia in 1944 — for allegedly collaborating with the Nazi invaders. When Soviet Union collapsed, the Tatars returned. Understandably they maintain something of a “never again” attitude towards Russian (mis)rule. Any border adjustment between Russian and Ukraine will have to take that under serious consideration, or merely create heightened tensions between different players.


There are no easy outs here.

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