Monday, March 17, 2014

Will There Be Two Ukraines?

The story comes from Family Security Matters.

Will There Be Two Ukraines?

Ukraine is the largest country in Europe (if we exclude the giant, Russia, most of which is in Asia). The Ukraine is just one more country in the world facing what Robert Kaplan calls "the revenge of geography." The location of a country can tell us if they are protected by two oceans (the US and Japan), mountain strongholds (Switzerland), or wide open to invaders from all sides (Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Germany).

Another geographic issue is fault-lines: countries divided by the differing cultures and religions of their invaders. Yugoslavia, for example, was divided among the cultures of Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Islam. Once its Marxist dictatorship fell, Yugoslavia could not hold together under a democracy; it had no history of religious and ethnic tolerance. It is now four smaller countries.

Ukraine falls across more than one fault line: the lines between Europe and Russia; Catholicism, Russian Orthodoxy, and Islam; and Ukrainian and Russian languages. These are issues can go unaddressed as long as a firm dictatorship keeps the lid on. However, as we have seen elsewhere, when the dictatorship falls, an illiberal sort of democracy, or worse than that, anarchy, emerges.

During the Middle Ages, Ukraine was an independent duchy, but because of its chaotic geography and warfare on all sides, it sought the protection of Russia. That protection became permanent under Catherine the Great. The rest of Ukraine's history is a dizzying run of wars, temporary independence, retaking by the Russian Empire, brief freedom at the end of World War I, and absorption by the USSR. Its new independence was the result of an agreement among the dissolved Soviet Union, The UK, and the US, in which Ukraine surrendered all of its nuclear facilities and was guaranteed its independence.

As a new democracy, lacking experience with liberal democracy, it has not done well. The new Russia was never reconciled to the loss of its empire. President Putin once told President George W. Bush that the Ukraine was not a real country; it had always been a province of Russia. The Russian fleet is housed in the Crimea, the southernmost part of Ukraine, and this is Russia's only warm water port.

The Ukrainians have not enjoyed good governance since their independence. Kleptocracy, Russian bullying, and a succession of leaders not strong enough---or good enough----to behave like modern state leaders, has left them destitute. And when the Ukrainians voted to deepen their ties to the European Union, their president, the Russian puppet Vikor Yanukovich, vetoed the vote. The outraged public demonstrated, and while the Russians were distracted by their Olympic Games, the Ukrainian parliament deposed their theiving president, who fled to Russia.

So far, the Russians have not resorted to overt violence, as they would have done in the past. But they are intimidating, threatening Ukraine economically, and are conducting a clandestine operation to reabsorb the Crimean peninsula into Russia by staging a "referendum." Russia's short term gain in seizing the Crimea could result in long term trouble for them. This illegal assault could influence other areas within Russia today to demand a referendum too.

Even in the Crimea, there are fault lines: Russians, speaking only Russian; Ukrainians speaking both Russian and Ukrainian; and Tatars (Muslims), with valid resentment against Russia, who want to remain Ukrainian. Crimea will not be a happy place.

It is going to take much more skill and wisdom than the Ukrainians have demonstrated as yet If their revolution is to stand. They will need to assure the Russian speakers that they too are Ukrainians and will not suffer state-sponsored persecution. Russian language must be an accepted second tongue in the country, and the Russians must be assured that the Ukrainians will not be their enemy.

Without resorting to force, the EU and the US can help the Ukrainians by providing a financial bailout and governmental training. They need to defuse Russian fears while simultaneously supporting a liberal democracy, not a strong suit of the Ukrainians in their history.

Geography just dictates the framework; but societies still have choices.

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