The People’s Choice, or how Ukrainians are Learning to Stop Worrying and Love Eurasia

I enjoyed the egg-throwing scenes from Ukraine’s Rada on the ratification of the gas-for-fleet deal with Russia as much as anyone. It also reflected the polarized commentary on the interwebs. The Ukrainian patriot-bloggers get their knickers in a sweaty twist. The academic beigeocrat Alexander Motyl (he of “Why Russia is Really Weak” fame some four years back) now warns of the “End of Ukraine”. Ukraine’s (self-styled) intelligentsia writes open letters condemning the Kharkov deal and Yanukovych’s sellout of the national interest. 2000 protesters stage a demonstration against his pursuit of closer ties with Russia in Kiev, a city of three millions. Alexander Golts, liberal Russian military analyst, argues that the asymmetric nature of the exchange – “with the lower gas prices to take effect immediately, Ukraine can now save roughly $4 billion annually, whereas the lease extension will only take effect only after the current agreement expires in 2017” – means that Russia was duped. In my view, these screeds are ideologized, or approach the issue from a set of false or incomplete assumptions.

Let’s start from the “banderovtsy” who despise the “sovok” Yanukovych for selling out Ukrainka to the Moskali Horde. (Yes, I’ve grossly caricatured three complex groupings in that sentence). Their problem is that they believe the “Ukrainian people” share their own rigid conception of Ukraine as a rigid nation-state, rejecting opposing views that stress its civilizational commonalities with the Orthodox, Slavic, or Eurasian spheres. This manifests itself in a particularly antagonistic attitude to Russia and Russianness, which are perceived, not inaccurately, as the greatest enemies of Ukrainian nationhood yesterday, today and tomorrow. Their biggest problem and frustration – indeed, their predicament – is that by and large, the Ukrainian people simply do not buy into their efforts to imagine into being a narrow, militantly Ukrainian vision of Ukraine*.

I’m not saying this as a Russian chauvinist**, but as someone who actually bothers to find out what Ukrainians themselves believe, as mediated through opinion polls. And the Ukrainian nationalists would not like the lyrics Ukrainka is singing. As of April 2010, some 63% of Ukrainians supported Ukraine joining the Union of Russia and Belarus, while only 27% spoke out against. This is not the whole picture, of course: 53% would also like to join the EU, although 63% speak out against NATO membership. But it does destroy the Orange myth-making that seeks to portray Yanukovych’s policies of deepening relations with Russia as some kind of treasonous, nefarious plot against the Ukrainian people.

How can they be, when 56% of Ukrainians themselves support keeping the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol? In direct opposition to the opposition’s narrative, only 28% of Ukrainians support their accusations that Yanukovuch betrayed the interests of Ukrainians, while a much larger majority of 63% disagree. Still denying what Ukrainians are saying for all to hear? Then explain why if elections were held today, the Party of Regions and its allies would take 42% of the vote, while the combined opposition forces would net just 32%. Or try to rationalize Yanukovych’s 12% point jump in approval ratings during the first four months of his (pro-Russian) Presidency.

[Source: Approval ratings of Ukrainian politicians – Yanukovych; Timoshenko; Tihipko; Yatsenyuk; Simonenko from 2007 to 2010. Note Yanukovych’s sharp jump from December 2009 to April 2010].

Second, what about the analysts like Golts who claim that Russia has been duped? On the surface, it does have a great deal of credence. Neither Russia nor Ukraine has a history of keeping their promises to each other. As Craig Pirrong pointed out:

So, my view is that this is just an interlude in the ongoing battle of bilateral opportunism between two fundamentally corrupt and unprincipled states. Remember the old Soviet joke: “We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us”? Well, I’d characterize this deal as “We pretend to give them a price break, and they pretend to extend our lease.” All this deal does is create more promises to be broken. And broken they will be.

And too bad for Russia its 4bn $ in effective annual gas subsidies kick in immediately, whereas Ukraine’s obligations to not kick out the Russian fleet in 2017 can be annulled by the next administration, should an Orange coalition come back to power.

However, this all rather misses a vital point. The process of Eurasian reintegration is, in my view, a self-sustaining process. Once it passes a critical point, it cannot go into reverse, even should politicians like Tymoshenko or Tihipko “win back” the country.

Take the example of the Baltics. Despite their substantial Russian minorities, the indigenous populations were strongly pro-Western and this was reflected in their foreign policies. They joined Western institutions like the EU and NATO, their economies were integrated with Europe, and their financial systems taken over by Swedish and German banks. As a result, they successfully “anchored” themselves into the Euro-Atlantic world and Russia can do nothing about it, short of a military intervention whose consequences cannot be foreseen. Much the same can be said of Ukraine, but in reverse. It’s cultural, economic, and political ties to Russia didn’t snap even during the Russia’s period of collapse and relative weakness. Now Russia is resurgent, while the Atlantic world order faces fiscal ruin and imperial overstretch. The conditions are in place for a rollback of Western influence across the post-Soviet space. It is already proceding at an accelerating pace. Ukraine lies at the center of this rollback – and the majority of Ukrainians are either supportive or apathetic about it.

Say what you will of them, but Putin and Medvedev are not idiots. They would not agree to a deal so ostensibly unfavorable to Russia, unless their thought processes were governed by calculations outside the mainstream purview. My instinct is that they do not view negotiations with Ukraine in terms of a set of rational exchanges between two sovereign nation-states. Instead, they view it as a soon-to-be assimilated territory. Not direct political control in the style of a “neo-Soviet Union”, mind (though the possibility cannot be 100% excluded). But what we are looking at is Ukraine becoming a certain type of client state, similar to Belarus, that will enlarge the scope of the Eurasian economic-industrial system back to Soviet levels and provide a lengthy buffer against Western encroachment by anchoring Russia’s effective borders in the Carpathian Mountains. These considerations may explain why the Russian state, now sure of its permanent influence over Ukraine, may not feel particularly nervous about the severely asynchronous nature of the Kharkov agreement.

Besides, by piecing together the other Russo-Ukrainian deals in this period, the gas-for-fleet agreement no longer looks anywhere near as one-sided as it appears on paper. Yanukovych needs the cheap gas to ease Ukraine’s fiscal situation, which is in dire straits. Russia on the other hand is proceeding with a series of initiatives to “lock in” Ukraine into its sphere of influence, such as its proposals to merge their nuclear, aviation, and gas industries.

Not all of them have been met with enthusiasm even by the heavyweights in the Party of Regions. They must recognize that should it be allowed to proceed, the marriage of Russian and Ukrainian economic interests will be near irreversible, and cannot fail to produce political consequences that will lead to a dimunition of Ukraine’s sovereignty, as observed in Belarus or Armenia. But it should be stressed that this is not a new development under Yanukovych. Russian corporations were busy buying up Ukrainian industrial assets, such as the Industrial Union of Donbass steel giant, even under the Orange administration. Whatever the personal reservations of Ukraine’s leaders, this process can only accelerate under a Ukrainian government that is overtly friendly with Russia.

And this brings us to the third class of analysts who I don’t believe have it quite right – those who recognize Russia’s growing influence over Ukraine, like Alexander Motyl, but couch it in the negative and ideologized language of “Russian imperialism” and “democratic rollback”, with all their dark connotations. Their approach conflates democracy with liberalism, economic pragmatism with anti-market neanderthalism, and Eurasian reintegration with Ukrainian subjugation.

If anything, Ukrainians are even less liberal in their views than Russians. This is not surprising considering that it is an economic disaster zone, essentially a post-Soviet fragment that never left the Yeltsin-era state of “anarchic stasis”. Twenty years on, Ukrainians are tiring of it all. They now just want a leader who can get things done. (Interestingly, and very tellingly, even the Ukrainian nationalists tend to respect Putin and wish they had someone like him at the helm). What about the lower gas prices perpetuating Ukrainian industrial backwardness – is it not a short-term fix that will only benefit Yanukovych’s oligarch allies in the Donbass? But Ukraine’s industry won’t flourish at “market” gas prices; the post-Soviet experience suggests much of it will simply collapse, and Ukrainians do not want that. Or in another words, as so often happens to the dismay of Western chauvinists, the people’s choice, as channeled through democracy, clashes with both liberal and market ideals.

Finally, the process of “Eurasian integration” cannot simply be reduced to slogans like “Russian revanchism” or “neo-imperialism” (though this is not to say that they are wholly false). Ukrainian attitudes towards this are actually rather contradictory. The opinion polls indicate that while most are supportive of entering into an economic union with Russia and Belarus, a similar majority insists on maintaining Ukraine’s political sovereignty. But herein lies the contradiction. Economics and politics are inextricable linked, especially in that part of the world. Economic reintegration cannot help but result in a certain level of political integration, and considering Russia’s position of economic dominance in Eurasia, it cannot help but result in “a regathering of the Russian lands” (or what Motyl calls a “creeping re-imperialization”). This circle cannot be squared.

Some Russia-watchers like Nicolai Petro believe that Ukraine Can Have Them and Us.

Few, however, seem to see that there is a third option — embrace Ukraine and turn it to the West’s advantage. Replace the misguided “divide and conquer” strategy that the West has been pursuing in the region with a new one that aims at the simultaneous integration of the Slavic cultural component of Europe into pan-European institutions. Make Ukraine Europe’s indispensable partner for bringing Russia into the European Union. Rather than placing the two countries on different tracks, reward them both for moving along the same path.

Although I respect Petro as an analyst, I think this assessment is pollyannish, a dream that can only be realized if history truly ends. But history never ended. “Divide and conquer” is the way of states and this remains the case to this day, even though it is now far better concealed and fought with money, not motor rifle divisions. This will become clearer in the next few years. Burdened by an increasingly untenable debt load and global commitments, the US and its allies and proxies cannot help focusing inwards during the next decade; even in the unlikely event that it should it tilt sharply back Westwards, the “Ukraine fatigue” that Pfifer warns about is all but inevitable in Western capitals.

In the meantime, Russia is resurging and seemingly set to become a developed nation by the 2020’s. Despite the popularity of EU membership amongst Ukrainians, it is unreachable. Not only are European countries against Ukraine’s accession, but the EU itself now shows more signs of disintegration than further expansion. On the other hand, Ukraine would always be welcome in Eurasia, and as pointed out above even more Ukrainians want to join the Union of Russia and Belarus than the EU. The attractions of joining (ailing) Europe will diminish, while the pressures propelling Ukraine back into (dynamic) Eurasia will intensify.

[Source: A (feasible) geopolitical forecast from the Italian magazine Limes. Though the details will probably be wrong, the general trends correlate with reality].

In his Presidential campaign, Yanukovych told America that Ukraine would be a bridge between East and West. In the coming age of post-peak oil “scarcity industrialism”, one of the surest predictions I can make is that the world will see the retreat of liberal globalization, more protectionism, and the rising preeminence of regional economic blocs. If Ukraine were to follow Yanukovych’s or Petro’s vision, its bridge would not survive; it would get sucked into a geopolitical black hole. And empires rarely tolerate vacuums on their borders.

Hence the contradictory views of many Ukrainians on how to reconcile Ukraine with a Russified Eurasia, and the profound challenges its rulers face in balancing national interests against the imminent return of history.

* To be achieved by glorifying freedom-fighting pogromists, making an anti-Ukrainian genocide out of a Stalinist democide, changing the Great Patriotic War to World War Two in history textbooks, etc.

** Personally, I am a moderate “Eurasianist” and support (non-coercive) economic, political, and military integration between Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. As I’ve argued on this blog, it would provide manifold benefits to the majority of Eurasian people. Does that make me a “Russian chauvinist”? In my own (unavoidably biased) view, probably not, though that really depends on who you ask.


  1. It seems to me the shift towards Russia by Ukraine will be less permanent than that of the Baltic states towards the West. The Baltics are “anchored” by the deep, venerable institutions that are the European Union and NATO. Eurasia seems bound together by the sort of short-lived “paper unions” that charismatic, personalist regimes always seem so keen on (AKA, the various Nasserist Arab unions, Chavezista unions in latin America).

    • That has been true for most of the 1991-2010 period, but I think this is now going to change because of Russia’s growing relative power vis-a-vis the West which is enabling it to reemerge as a Eurasian hegemon. The Arab unions or the Bolivarian projects aren’t comparable, IMO. Egypt/Syria 1958-61 was more akin to a close alliance, while Venezuela isn’t hegemonic even in northern Latin America.

      • Leonid Makarovych says:

        The Ukrainians threw flowers in the path of the invading Nazis during Operation Barbarossa. After years of Stalin, he looked good. Being Nazis, the Germans quickly revealed themselves as no less murderous than Stalin and the Ukrainians joined the fight against the invaders.

  2. Scowspi says:

    We may finally be seeing the breakup of the Galician nationalist strangehold over Ukraine. It was a classic case of a motivated minority able to impose its will on a passive, ambivalent majority. But that majority seems to be fed up at the inability of the nationalist paradigm to solve desperate real-world problems.

    Today’s Ukraine is a great success – if your definition of success is forcing students to read Gogol in a language he never wrote in. However, ordinary people are more concerned about poverty, corruption and exploding coal mines. Foaming at the mouth whenever some English-language journalist writes “the” in front of “Ukraine” does nothing to address these problems.

  3. Ukrainian nationalism isn’t just a Galician phenomenon, or an Austro-Hungarian legacy–Kiev and the north played equally important roles. Just FYI.

    That say, yes, the election was legitimate.

    • That’s true, though I would also note that Kievan-Ukrainian nationalism and West Ukrainian nationalism are fairly distinct phenomena.

      • Sure. Andrew Wilson’s The Ukrainians: Unexpected Nation seemed like one of the better books on the Ukrainian situation in the English language, and his conclusion still seems valid to me. (Pardon the extended quote, but I think it’s useful.)

        Wilson noted that data from the Soviet censuses that divide Ukrainian citizens into fixed ethnic groups overlook an important segment of Ukrainian national identity. He suggested a more complex model of Ukrainian identity–one that includes a substantial middle group between Ukrainians and Russians. It is this middle group, or “other Ukraine,” that Wilson feels is the key to any potential majority in Ukrainian society.

        He noted that the “other Ukraine” could be better captured by adjusting the census model to include the potential for dual identities or by adding the element of language to that of ethnicity. According to Wilson, surveys that are sensitive to dual identities suggest that some 27 percent of Ukrainian citizens identify themselves as both Ukrainian and Russian. Adding language as an element creates a similar middle area of 30-35 percent who consider themselves ethnically Ukrainian but whose language of preference is Russian.

        Wilson went on to distinguish eight possible identities within this middle group. The first is the Soviet identity, to which up to 30 percent of the population identifies (at least in part). Wilson noted that these people regret the passing of the USSR and oppose Ukrainian independence. However, he suggested that “Soviet” may function as shorthand for other sorts of identities, such as Eurasianism or pan- (East) Slavism. Eurasianists see Ukraine as historically part of the Eurasian economic and cultural space. Pan-Slavism goes further, focusing on Ukraine’s contribution to Russian culture and disregarding the west Ukrainian experience.

        Wilson posited that a form of “Dnieper nationalism” may arise from this position. He described this as nationalism that is Ukrainian but based on Kyivan rather than Galician traditions. People ascribing to this identity are able to at once express the idea of a common east Slavic origin and still maintain their separate existence. This can be distinguished from Kievocentrism, in Wilson’s view, in that the latter emphasizes a pan-Slavism centered on Kyiv as the inheritor of Rus’ culture.

        [. . .]

        According to Wilson, questions on the inclusiveness of the state and on language use showed more moderate views. While 22 percent supported a state built on ethnic principles, 31 percent preferred a civic state, and 37 percent fell between the two extremes. The survey did show a widespread belief that Ukrainians continue to speak Russian because they were forced to do so in the past. However, Wilson noted that this was outnumbered by responses emphasizing voluntary Russian language adoption.

        Wilson claimed that according to this analysis, rapid Ukrainization based on the narrow traditions of west Ukraine is unlikely to occur. He emphasized that this broad middle group could be a swing vote in Ukrainian politics. He concluded by outlining three possible scenarios for Ukraine: a Canada-like state with its own Russophone or Ukrainophone Quebec; slow Ukrainization leading to a consolidation around Dnieper nationalism; or a continuation and redefinition of the overlapping identities that currently make up the “other Ukraine.”

        The idea of a “Ukrainophone Quebec” doesn’t seem plausuible to me, and not only because the idea of Ukrainian territories seceding from Ukraine to become Ukrainian seems nonsensical to me. The idea of Russophone secessions in the east and south are somewhat more plausible, I suppose, but not very with most of the people who claim Russian as their main language identifying themselves as ethnically Ukrainian. “Muddling through” seems most likely to me. All IMHO, of course.

        • Scowspi says:

          “The idea of a “Ukrainophone Quebec” doesn’t seem plausuible to me, and not only because the idea of Ukrainian territories seceding from Ukraine to become Ukrainian seems nonsensical to me.”

          Yet there are people who think that way. How seriously they should be taken I don’t know; but it’s worth paying attention as they tend to be dedicated nationalists.

          Here are some excerpts from an article in the Kyiv Post, pushing exactly this idea:

          For an independent Western Ukraine
          Mar 07 2007

          After 15 years of independence, there is not a single clear reason for Ukraine to remain one country. The existence of “Big Ukraine” makes less and less sense, because the only thing its different parts still have in common is… football.

          Let’s go back to 1991. At that time, our independence came out of the blue and nobody really knew what to do with it. Apart from a few dissidents locked up in Siberia, we Ukrainians never dreamt of, or fought for, this independence. If anyone doubts that, I strongly suggest looking up the results of the March 1991 referendum. The next referendum, in December 1991, when the majority supported Ukraine’s independence, was nothing more than an indicator that society was confused and did not really know what it wanted.

          In this aspect, little has changed since 1991. Ukrainian society remains confused, which is evident from the various opinion polls that almost always paint an odd picture: the majority’s support of Ukraine’s further integration into European institutions, while favoring closer ties or even reintegration with Russia and the former republics, at the same time. All kinds of “awareness campaigns” (with a great deal of money spent on them) have generated little or no impact.

          [commentary on then-current political situation snipped]

          Even if introduced tomorrow, Ukraine’s federalization would no longer help to keep the country united. Because now, wherever in Ukraine you may be, there will always be us and them, and what we want is totally different from their wishes.

          Secession of Western Ukraine – and not just Galicia – will allow us, Western Ukrainians, to achieve what can no longer be achieved by “Greater Ukraine.” It will make possible a smaller Ukraine as an integral part of Europe. Our small compact country will not be called just “Ukraine” anymore, but we will still be Ukrainians. European Ukrainians, that is.

          There will be another state – right next door to us – bearing the name “Ukraine,” its capital will still be Kyiv and its national symbol, just like ours, will still be Taras Shevchenko. Let that Ukraine go wherever it wants to – or not move at all. Let that Ukraine be proud of its huge industrial potential; have Russian as a second – or first, or the only – state language; retain an overregulated economy permanently feeding total corruption; have laws that only deepen lawlessness; shout a strong “NO” to NATO and “YES” to Moscow’s chokingly tight embrace. Let those Ukrainians be happy the way they want to be – in their permanent crisis of identity and blind belief that government always will and should take care of them – after all, they have their rights, too!

          But right now, in today’s “Unified Ukraine,” it is we who are losing our country, which is rapidly becoming theirs. They outnumber us, and many of them hate us. Some of this hatred is historical but most of it is actively fueled these days. To see it, all you need is connection to the Internet and a browse through Eastern and Southern Ukrainian web forums, and please, don’t underestimate the number of their visitors.

          In our part of Ukraine, we may have often misunderstood them; we may have always overestimated our ability to spark that Great Resurrection of national self-consciousness in their minds. One thing is sure: we never ever hated them. We have always thought that what all our brothers and sisters from the East and South really need is us being out there for them in the name of our common and suddenly independent Ukraine. They did not, and we are still unable to fully appreciate this fact.

          It is time for Ukraine’s elite to climb down from the Hills of Pechersk, shake off their permanent state of denial and face reality. This country looks, acts and sounds ridiculously artificial. It is time for us, Western Ukrainians, to realize that if we want to save our Ukraine and everything we know, feel and call “Ukrainian,” we need to move on and break free from this country. Otherwise, it will drag us forever into the permanent Eurasian “yesterday.” If we ever want our Ukraine to join Europe, then we have to stand up and peaceably, but strongly raise our voice for full independence for our Ukraine from theirs.

          Dmitry Koublitsky is a co-founder and former president of the EuropeXXI Foundation (Kyiv) and a Lviv native. He has been advocating fullindependence for western Ukraine since 1996.

          • He exists, but how representative is he of western Ukrainians? Admittedly I’m not familiar with the Russian- and Ukrainian-language discourses, but the only significant regionalist and potentially secessionist–potentially secessionist–movements I’ve heard of in Ukraine relate to Crimea, Russophone southern and eastern Ukraine, and among the Rusyns of Transcarpathia.

  4. Eduard Antonovich says:

    The gas conflict between Russia and Ukraine may be over, but the row has strengthened Azerbaijan’s image as a potential alternative source for large-scale gas supplies to Europe, local experts believe.

    In this geo-strategic chess game, international attention is zeroing in on the planned Nabucco pipeline — a 3,300-kilometer-long gas line that would run from the Caspian Sea region via Turkey into Eastern and Central Europe.

    Ankara, Baku to Sign Nabucco Deal
    17 May 2010

    Jelenkovic said there were indications that under the agreement, Azerbaijan — not Turkey — would control the sale of transit gas from Turkey’s border with Europe.

    As Azeri relations with the West deteriorated over its backing for the Armenian-Turkish thaw, Azerbaijan struck deals to sell small amounts of gas to Russia and Iran, tapping supplies courted by Nabucco.

    The gas deal with Turkey, Jelenkovic said, “reaffirms overall what Azerbaijan’s energy strategy and what their goal is — to remain a largely pro-Western energy supplier, but with a priority on controlling their gas supplies to Europe.”

  5. Eduard Antonovich says:

    Timeline: Iran’s nuclear program

    May 17 – Iran, Brazil and Turkey sign a nuclear fuel swap agreement.

    TEHRAN __ Head of Nabucco Gas Pipeline GmbH consortium, Reinhard Mitschek, says Nabucco pipeline could transport Iran”s natural gas by 2017.

  6. olivegreen says:

    I keep being struck by just what degree of nationalism seems to be seen perfectly acceptable as mainstream in say Ukraine or the Baltics. Anything remotely resembling this as the official Russian doctrine would cause a huge outcry and accusations of all kinds of things. In fact, it seems rather depressing that “building a modern nation state” these days seems to result in “Latvia for Latvians”, “Abkhazia for the Abkhaz”, “Ukraine for Ukrainians” etc. Which is a huge step back historically and does not seem acceptable in the modern world. This rather turns me off the idea of a nation state.

    • To be honest that’s kind of understandable, since unlike those countries Russia has nukes and actually matters at the global level, hence a party espousing “Russia for Russians” taking over would be of some concern. Though yes, as you say they are double standards nonetheless.

  7. georgesdelatour says:


    I know Russia – never mind Ukraine – is a Eurasian nation. But Russia is indispensably European too. Russia has been actively involved in Europe since at least Ivan The Terrible. And not just politically. It’s been an active participant in the European cultural conversation too. You can’t write a history of European literature and leave out Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky or Chekov; can’t write a history of European music and leave out Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky or Shostakovich.

    And this is very different from, say, Turkey, which is also Eurasian, has been deeply involved in European politics, but which played no comparably active part in European high culture. Not until very recently, at least.

    Of course politics and culture are separate spheres. Just because Tchaikovsky wrote great symphonies doesn’t mean Russia should be in the EU. But culture matters to me. It’s what we leave behind, after all.

  8. georgesdelatour says:

    A friend told me about a Soviet guidebook to Lviv written in the 1980s. In the chapter on the history of the city, the first sentence mentions the mammoth tusks in the local museum; the second abruptly jumps forward to Nikita Khrushchev. Apparently nothing newsworthy happened in Lviv between the time of the cavemen and Khrushchev. All those beautiful baroque buildings just sprang up overnight in the 1950s.

    That’s the almost comical thing about such Soviet-era propaganda. It’s so gauche, even the dumbest reader knows some dark secret is being hidden. And of course, Lviv’s had a rich but fraught history of different identities and cultures: Polish-Lithuanian, Habsburg, Jewish, Ukrainian etc. It only became part of the USSR as Stalin’s booty under the Hitler-Stalin pact. Most of the city’s pre-war inhabitants were subsequently either expelled or murdered by order of one of the two men with moustaches. I guess if the Soviets hid this information from visitors they must, on some level, have felt ashamed of Stalin’s alliance with the devil. At any rate, they obviously weren’t proud of it.

    For the present-day inhabitants of Lviv, I wish you peace and prosperity whatever political affiliation you choose – Ukrainian, Eurasian or whatever. From the photos your city looks ravishingly beautiful. Why isn’t it already one of those must-see European cultural cities, like Prague or Madrid?

    Maybe I’ll come and visit.

  9. Doug M. says:

    “Not only are European countries against Ukraine’s accession, but the EU itself now shows more signs of disintegration than further expansion.”

    1) If polled at the popular level, a majority of European countries would have been against every new EU member since Austria, Sweden and Finland joined back in the ’90s. The big-bang accession of 2004 was not broadly popular; the accession of Romania and Bulgaria, even less so. (Eurostat polls this pretty regularly.)

    Both expansion and integration have been, to a great extent, programs of a technocratic elite imposed upon largely apathetic publics. That’s not exactly an inspiring vision, no. On the other hand, it’s worked out pretty well so far, and is likely to continue. The only candidate whose membership arouses serious opposition is Turkey; the countries of the “western Balkans” are likely to join in much the same manner as their neighbors, starting in 2011 or 2012 with Croatia.

    Ukraine is not currently a candidate, nor likely to be for many years. But I think it’s a big, big assumption to think that Ukraine will be immune to Europe’s charms over the long run.

    2) Reports of the EU’s death are greatly exaggerated. But that’s a topic that deserves a thread of its down.

    Doug M.

  10. Doug M. says:

    Whoops, not Eurostat. Eurobarometer:

    Warning: if you’re into this sort of thing, their archives can be a serious time sink.


    Doug M.

  11. Doug M. says:

    Ukraine really isn’t my field. I find it interesting, but I’ve only visited the country once and I don’t claim any sort of expertise. I’ll babble on all day about Armenia, Romania, or the former Yugoslavia, but Ukraine? Not so much. I just don’t know that much about it.

    That said…

    …I’m just a little skeptical of the whole idea of “civilizational commonalities with the Orthodox, Slavic, or Eurasian spheres” driving Ukrainian policy. Part of this is, no doubt, driven by having lived in Yugoslavia. Watching the wild enthusiasm with which Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks and Montenegrins rose up to murder each other gave me a lasting skepticism of Slavic commonality.

    (Not just war, either. Serbs and Montenegrins didn’t fight a war with each other… but the Montenegrins split off anyway, despite speaking the same language, having over a thousand year of shared history, and being basically the exact same people.)

    Orthodoxy? Well, Georgians are just as Orthodox as Ukrainians. (Arguably more so, as they don’t have significant non-Orthodox religious minorities.) So are Romanians, and Romanians tend to be pretty Russophobe (and fiercely Europhile). For that matter, shared Orthodoxy hasn’t stopped the Bulgarians from fighting four wars with the Serbs and three with the Greeks, nor has it stopped the Greeks from being jerks to the Macedonians.

    Eurasia: I just can’t help but think “Eurasia” means “USSR 2.0 — the Cool Kids Soviet Union”. Yah, get rid of the Baltics — bunch of ingrates — and the useless smaller Stans, and what’s left? The three Slavic republics, loyal Armenia, and docile, biddable Kazakhstan. Woo! Eurasia!

    My point is, I don’t see any of these as compelling reasons for Ukrainians to feel bound to Russia, or to a greater “Eurasian” entity dominated by Russia. Geography, maybe; economics, quite possibly; but shared religion, similar language, and “civilizational commonalities”? Historically, those have consistently proven a lot less powerful than people seem to think.

    Doug M.

    • Re-Romania: shared religion with Russia, but have their own Dacian identity, language, race (on the other hand its projection of influence into Moldova make perfect sense). Re-Georgia: shared religion, but very proud, distinctive own nation with an autocephalous Orthodox church, 2000+ years of statehood, different language & race. Re-Yugoslavs: yes, they are Slavs, but they religiously splintered, and faith is thicker than blood.

      But with Ukrainians, there are far, far more commonalities than there are differences – same race, (similar) language / Russian, religiously-inclined to Moscow Patriarchate, common Tsarist (post-1654) & Soviet (esp. GPW) heritage, etc … Even its etymology is from the Russian word “okraina”, which means “borderland” (of Russia, against the “wild plains” of the steppe). In a way the very existence of a truly independent “borderland” is a bit of a contradiction. Now I suppose one can try to reconcile this by being a “bridge” between Russia and the West (i.e. the borderland between two civilizations), but that is a very precarious and in the long-term probably unsustainable position.

      It’s not only a matter of economic rationality or historic and cultural ties, though. One must also bear in mind 1) the declining allure of the EU, 2) the partial discrediting of Ukrainian nationalism as a guiding principle of state in 2005-2010, 3) Russia’s increasingly visible resurgence. As in all human societies, nations are repelled by weakness (e.g. Russia in the 1990’s) but attracted by strength. It’s a matter of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. So many factors are now working to increase the gravitational attraction of Eurasia that I don’t see Ukraine withstanding them in the next decade.

      • Doug M. says:

        Romania’s “Dacian” identity is a recent construction; it was developed by 19th century nationalists, in part as a reaction to Russian occupation and influence.

        Serbs and Montenegrins are even closer than Ukrainians and Russians — they speak exactly the same language and, until recently, considered themselves the same ethnicity. (If you want a fascinating real-time example of the construction of ethnicity, watch Montenegro. They’re moving at startling speed from “Mountain Serbs, different country but same people” to “we Montenegrins are a separate and unique race!”) But that hasn’t stopped Montenegro from separating (albeit peacefully) and from taking a number of positions inimical to Serbia (i.e., recognizing Kosovo).

        Etymology: Austria “Eastward-Reich” is much the same, reflecting the country’s origin as a borderland of the Holy Roman Empire against the Avars and then the Magyars. This has exactly zero effect on Austrian nationalism.

        Our sharpest difference, though, is on “the declining allure of the EU”. I don’t think it’s declining at all. Again, this may be shaped by my own experience; I lived in Romania pre-accession (where they were almost desperate to join and “become a normal country”) and then in Armenia for a couple of years (where they were loudly pro-Russian, but were quietly doing things like shifting their industrial standards from Soviet to EU.)

        If you’re an average Ukrainian, and I offer you either a Russian passport or a Schengen passport, which are you going to choose? I think the answer is usually going to be “Schengen”, and I don’t think that’s changed much.

        Doug M.

        • Scowspi says:

          “shared religion, similar language, and “civilizational commonalities”? Historically, those have consistently proven a lot less powerful than people seem to think”

          Indeed; they are not nearly powerful enough to have any value in making predictions. Going a bit farther afield, one can mention the British-descended elite in the American colonies who decided to split from Britain; “civilizational commonalities” not only didn’t hold them together, they might have contributed to the split, since the colonists had firm ideas about the “rights of Englishmen” that were being violated.

          Other examples: the Spanish-descended elites in Latin America who split from Spain; the fact that the Irish independence movement was largely the work of Anglo Protestants; Bismarck’s drive to marginalize the “other” German state, Austria; and of course any number of civil wars.

        • Sorry Doug, your knowledge of ethnicity of the SEE region is not 100%. The Montenegrians are indeed a separate ethnicity, which only numbers perhaps 200-300.000 people. Very specific people and a long history. For reasons of power brokerages of the great powers of the past, plus the opportunistic benefits, the Montenegrians and Serbs did appear to be one nation. As long the economy and the perks were there. The language is the same, much of the recent history is the same, yet, it are distinctively different people. With the total population of some 600k, of which only 50pc are actual Montenegrians, they did hold up to 50% of key governmental posts in their federation with Serbia, and Serbia nobody knows by now, but has plus 10 million souls. Thus, it was a good deal for the Montenegrians, don’t you think so? As long the economy is good, everything is good. Bismarck quoted this well in his way.

          • Doug M. says:

            The Montenegrins are a separate “ethnicity” because people are self-identifying as Montenegrin. But that’s a lot more slippery than you seem to think. For instance, the number of “Montenegrins” nearly doubled between the last Yugoslav census and the most recent Montenegrin census. Why? Because a lot of people who’d previously called themselves “Serbs” or “Yugoslavs” changed their minds.

            Similarly, Montenegro is home to large numbers of “Serbs” — but most of these people are not descended from immigrants from Serbia. No, they’re Montenegrins who have lived there for generations, but who self-identify as more Serb than Montenegrin.

            There are thousands of cases where members of the same immediate family have chosen different ethnicities — one brother being “Serb” and another “Montenegrin”, “Serb” parents with “Montenegrin” children, etc. It’s a popular topic for jokes and comedy.

            Doug M.

            • Yes, this is also true. People do tend to change up their minds in accord with experiences and trends. A good point you make here.

  12. Some observations and comments. The opinion polls showing Yanukovich’s support if elections were to be held also include over 20% of people undecided. These are almost all in western and central Ukraine, which means that they are undecided about which of several disliked “Orange” candidates they would choose. Yanukovich is still at his ceiling of slightly less 50% support in Ukraine. There has been no swing in his favor.

    I was recently in Kiev and Lviv. Yanukovich is reviled in the latter place (that is unsurprising) but also hated in the former. His support, if anything, has declined in Kiev, as people who had previously thought of him as harmless have now become alarmed. Many of the 10% or so of Kiev’s voters who voted against all now regret their decision. A Russian-speaking guy driving me from the airport when asked about the situation in the country just told me “bad, because Yanukovich is president.” It is generally assumed by numerous Kievan I spoke to that the saving from the BSF deal with go into the pockets of oligarchs from Donetsk. A major local news story in Kiev described how Yanukovich’s motorcade recklessly speeding through downtown struck and killed a local Kievan taxi driver. I have even seen pro-UPA graffiti in a Kieven perekhod, and a Russian-speaking artist I met even said he would vote for Tiakhnobok (the latter isnj’t a typical case of course…).

    Commentators are correct that Kieven Ukrainian nationalism is quite different from western Ukrainian nationalism. Kievens are Orthodox, they mostly speak Russian (but switch to Ukrainian without any complaints), they celebrate Victory Day. But they are also proud of their country, don’t hate western Ukrainians as traitors (one interesting backlash to Yanukovich’s anti-Bandera thing is that Kievens are now sometiems voicing support for Bandera, something one would not have seen earlier), are western-oriented, and do not want their city to be reduced from a national capital to a mere regional Russian town. I would in many ways compare them to English-speaking Irish from Dublin. Any maps of proposed splits in Ukraine that leave Kiev on the eastern side of the border seem to be naively optimistic from the Russian side and silly when one has been “on the ground” in Kiev itself.

    The big advantage for Yanukovich is not uncreased support for his side but a lack of a credible leader from the other side. People in western Ukraine and Kiev are disenchanted by Tymoshenko. They won’t go out into the streets for her, so for all their grumbling about Yanukovich he is able to push through his minority agenda. Ukraine’s story is not about a minority-pro-Russian-view becoming the majority, it is the story of the majority becoming demoralized and dividied, allowing the minority to push through its agenda…for now.

  13. From a pragmatic viewpoint;

    The people always hope for some best case scenarios, rising life standards and so on.
    The local powers that be change from time to time, each time, just as in case orange, it is just one color of the same spectrum exchanged for another. Often, outside factors who do not have to live there tend to be very optimistic about the outcomes, yet in the end, since all local powers that be share one common trait – self interest and perks, it is in the end the same old story.

    What matters is that the local people who have no other choice but to live there, have to find ways to live and survive. The more the people believe that there is a Shangrilla someplace else, the further away they get from actually living a better life.

    The Ukraine just as all big territories has immense potentials, were it not for themselves and their local feuds. No need to go anywhere but to meditate on the structural changes needed to achieve a reasonably better life standard.

    Once this is achieved, all the other – global, strategic and whatever issues become irrelevant. The deal gas for basing rights is an excellent deal for both sides. Whether the people as such will see any benefit of it will eventually be the key to future case orange events.

    Or, a smart leadership also takes into account the actual needs of the population,
    not only own self centered needs. Better to rule for 20 years, wisely and enjoy the perks, than to deliberately plunder everything and thus loose the power because of whatever case orange events.

  14. Scowspi says:

    Here is an interesting post on “Stalin politics,” written from a W. Ukrainian nationalist perspective:

    I can’t vouch for the accuracy, but the basic thesis (that Medvedev has learned to use Stalin-era disasters in Russia’s favor) is worth discussion.