Conference Talk

Here is my talk to the conference ‘Ukraine and Russia: Prospects for Peace’ held in Toronto on Sunday:

 

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4 thoughts on “Conference Talk”

  1. Concerning the shelling of Ukraine from Russian soil:

    I believe to remember that similiar things happened in Xinjiang and/or Manchuria during the 1979 Chinese-Vietnamese-Khmer Rouge War.

    Soviet units fired on Chinese positions in response to the Chinese invasion of Vietnam, but did not cross the border (this was made murkier due to border disputes).

    I am not certain where to find authoritative sources for this though.

    One should not forget that the rebels in fact used the proximity to the Russian border as a shield for their own artillery positions (making the Ukrainian units risk hitting Russian soil with their artillery fire), and freely admitted to this.

    Nevertheless, Russian shelling of Ukraine from Russia appears highly likely.

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  2. An excellent analysis of how things got to this point in Ukraine. It seems likely to me that two events of last July in particular contributed to the Russian decision to become more heavily involved in the war in eastern Ukraine: the Ukrainian army’s recapture of Slovyansk and the crash of MH17.

    The fall of Slovyansk after weeks of relentless artillery bombardment showed the Russians that the West would be willing to turn a blind eye to whatever means the Ukrainian government would use to suppress the rebellion in the east – even if that involved massive shelling of major cities with the attendant civilian casualties. So, the only way for Russia to prevent an outright defeat of the rebels was to become involved directly in training and equipping them.

    The aftermath of the tragic crash of MH17 also showed the Russians that they would be blamed for everything that the rebels did (or were accused of doing), whether they were actually involved in eastern Ukraine or not. There was thus no reason for Russia to continue to stand aloof from the rebels in hopes of avoiding further Western sanctions.

    It is a huge tragedy that last spring, when events in eastern Ukraine still could have been resolved peacefully, the West decided to support the Ukrainian government’s decision to suppress dissent in the east by force rather than encourage a negotiated settlement.

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  3. Professor Robinson,

    Thank you for your talk and presentation, it was very enlightening.

    However I think one aspect that is always neglected by the Western mainstream media, analysts, commentators and journalists alike is the issue of identity. Specifically what does it mean to be “Ukrainian”, who and what defines Ukrainian identity?

    It’s a cliché and it’s very easy to say this now, but Ukraine is a deeply divided state. I humbly submit that the major reason why this war is so protracted, vicious and why Poroshenko is so inflexible, stubborn and so unwilling to make any meaningful concessions to the rebels. Is because, Poroshenko’s constituents and coalition partners are fighting for their idea of “Ukrainian identity”. This “Ukrainian identity” is inimical to the identity the people of Donbas subscribe to or feel comfortable with. Quite frankly, the “Ukrainian identity” that the Kiev forces are fighting for has no place or respect for the Russophone Orthodox pro-Russia population of the Donbas.

    Recently Poroshenko lauded and eulogised Galicians, Poroshenko described Galicians as being the “foundation of Ukrainian statehood” and by extension the bedrock “Ukrainian identity”. However, this “Ukrainian identity” is epitomised in the form of Western Ukrainians has both ignited and exacerbated the current crisis and conflict. Western Ukrainians, specifically Galicians as a population are overwhelming Ukrainophone, Catholic and anti-Russian. The history that Galicians remember, and the historical moments they celebrate and historical figures they revere differ significantly from that of the people of the Donbas. If these Galicians are “the foundation of Ukrainian statehood”, then one has to ask the corollary question how can the people of Donbas ever satisfy the criteria needed to be considered and qualify for this Galician founded and orientated “Ukrainian identity”? The obvious answer is that the people of Donbas can never satisfy that criteria! There is no commonality between the people of Donbas and Galicians. It is not only their languages, politics and religions that Galicians and the people of Donbas differ but also their interpretation of history too. Galicia and Donbas have different histories, different heroes and different identities.

    Because of this Galician founded and orientated idea of “Ukrainian identity”, Poroshenko and Euro-Maidan supporters are unwilling to make any meaningful concessions in terms of constitutional reforms with respect to the Russian language and autonomy/federalism for regions of Ukraine. Had Poroshenko and the Euro-Maidan supporters were not so dogmatic, ascetic and doctrinal; a peaceful solution to this conflict would have been achieved, perhaps even there would have been no conflict at all.

    Imposing the Ukrainian language in regions of Ukraine, where it has either never been spoken or too few people speak the language was always going to lead to tension and political friction.

    The intransigence and vehement opposition of Euro-Maidan supporters and those that subscribe to the Galician founded and orientated “Ukrainian identity” to meaningful concessions to and dialogue with the Donbas rebels is leading Ukraine to further tragedy and eventually its partition.

    Ukraine is a multilingual, multicultural and multi-ethnic state; as such an all powerful central government and Unitarian administrative system will cause political instability and friction.

    Canada is a perfect example of where 2 main languages, cultures and ethnic groups exist in one state. Reducing or removing the constitutional and legal status of the French language would invariably threaten Canada’s political stability and territorial integrity. The Canadian-Ukrainian Diaspora, whose nationalist tendencies and Galician background is well publicised, should take note of how Canada has managed to coexist peacefully despite containing 2 main languages, cultures and ethnic groups. One can equally be considered a Canadian irrespective if one is an Anglophone or Francophone.

    For Ukraine to preserve its territorial integrity, so avoid secession and partition.

    1. Russian language must be given official status – its legal status must be equal to that of the Ukrainian language. Recognising Russian as a regional language is simply not good enough. The Russian language is spoken and understood throughout Ukraine, not just in the Donbas, Southern and Eastern regions of Ukraine. By recognising and granting the Russian language equal status with the Ukrainian language, a symbolic and significant gesture is also being made to the Russophone population of Ukraine. That they the Russophone population are seen as being equals to the Ukrainophone population. Moreover, that the “Ukrainian identity” can and does include the Russophone population too.

    2. Federalism. Ukraine needs to be decentralised, more power and responsibility must be taken away from Kiev and dispensed to different cities and regions of Ukraine. This will reduce corruption and bureaucracy. Galicians need not fear federalism, on the contrary greater autonomy for the 3 oblasts (Lvov, Ternopil & Ivano-Frankivsk) that constitute Galicia can prosper from greater freedom and independence from the suffocating and dead hand of Kiev. It is important to note that before the overthrow of Yanukovich, the 3 Oblasts of Galicia were the first to rebel. Furthermore, the Galician Oblasts removed the Kiev appointed Governors and formed their own “free” administrations. Even now, there are murmurs of Galician separatism, and indication that some Western Ukrainians are exasperated at the current impasse and disillusioned with Ukraine existing borders. Some Galicians believe they can achieve their European dream and Western ambitions on their own without the weight and burden of the rest of Ukraine.

    To conclude, this civil war in my humble opinion is a result of identity politics. Essentially what does it mean to be “Ukrainian” and what is “Ukraine” is being decided on the battlefields of Donetsk and Luhansk.

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