Will Ukraine Break Apart?

tags: Europe, Ukraine, Kiev



Masha Lipman is the chair of the Carnegie Moscow Center’s Society and Regions Program. She is also the editor of the Pro et Contra journal, published by the Carnegie Moscow Center.

...Ukraine is balancing on the brink of a large-scale armed conflict. The announcement of the truce on the Presidential Web site cited “the start to negotiations with the aim of ending bloodshed, and stabilizing the situation in the state in the interests of social peace.” But it was preceded, a bit earlier, by the alarming announcement of a nationwide “anti-terrorist operation” and the replacement of the chief of the general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces, who was reported to have raised his voice in opposition to the use of the military against the people....

Ukraine is a nation divided, and this dramatically exacerbates its other problems. During the two decades since it gained independence, it has struggled to build a nation but has not got far. Ukraine’s divide is commonly described as being between, on one side, its east and south, which are linguistically and culturally closer to Russia, and its west, which has strong ties with Poland and historical roots in Austria-Hungary.

In fact, the divisions are more diverse and complex, but Ukraine’s eastern regions are indeed more similar to Russia and share its decades of Soviet history and memories, including pride in defeating Nazi Germany, in the Second World War, which is a key event in holding the Russian nation together. The western parts were annexed to the Soviet Union in the course of and following the Second World War, and had a history of resistance to the Soviet occupation; nationalistic, anti-Russian sentiments are fairly common there. Western Ukrainians have long loathed Yanukovych, whom they see as an unambiguously pro-Russian figure, dragging Ukraine “back under Russian occupation.” From that perspective, it is no wonder that Ukrainians of the western regions have actively joined the Kiev protests. And yet the western parts are also less urban and less industrialized than the eastern territories. Kiev, which has increasingly turned into a battlefield, is not part of Ukraine’s west, either geographically or historically; it’s a cosmopolitan and European city, and this defines its culture and politics. To give an idea—still a fairly superficial one—of the dangerous diversity of Ukraine, there’s the problem of the Crimean Peninsula, a mostly pro-Russian region with formal autonomy, where existing separatist sentiments appear to be further incited by Russian emissaries....



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