Contributing Writer Conor Hogan discusses the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war and examines the potential division of the country.
Ukraine has, for the entirety of its existence, been a region of permanent contention with ever changing borders. The Russian offensive has not been the Blitzkrieg that had been expected, and the Ukrainian forces seem to be displaying the same unforeseen gallantry in their counter-offensive that has allowed them to slow the attempted annexation to a crawl thus far. But it will continue to crawl. With the planned rapid subjugation of Ukraine having failed, Russia now seeks to consolidate its position in the Eastern regions it has managed to seize; the Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kherson Oblasts, which Vladimir Putin has declared as Russian territory. As a referendum looms with the intention of annexing the region and formalizing the land bridge from Russia to the already annexed Crimea, it is possible, if not probable, that the nation will see a change to its maps once again.
Despite the 31 years since the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the subsequent re-emergence of Ukraine as an independent state, there has remained the niggling issue surrounding Ukrainian nationality, or lack thereof as far as officials in the Kremlin (or the White house) have been concerned. Statistics regarding the Ukrainian population are notoriously difficult to find, with the most recent census having been taken in 2001, but which indicated that no less than 17% of Ukrainian were primarily Russian speaking, the majority of whom residing in the Easternmost regions of the country; Donetsk, Luhansk and Kherson. The effect of language is evidently not underestimated by the Ukrainian government, who have promulgated the use of Kyiv (derived from the Ukrainian language name Київ) as opposed of Kiev (derived from the Russian language name Киев) as the title of the Ukrainian capital. Furthermore, voters in Eastern Ukraine have historically had a closer affinity to Russia than their Western countrymen, the majority of whom have seemed to hold views which are closer to the general consensus of other Eastern European nations such as Poland. It is therefore unsurprising that like a bad penny, impossible to dispose of, the proposal of a partition has re-emerged again and again in the discourse surrounding Ukraine. Earlier this year, General Kyrylo Budanov, the head of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, issued a statement outlining his fears that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s goal was to partition his country.
The bad penny has most recently returned as a suggestion from two of the unlikeliest of bedfellows. Both Noam Chomsky and Henry Kissinger have suggested that Ukraine cede the aforementioned territory to Russia in an attempt to end the war(who ever would have expected that these two would agree on a matter of geopolitics?). This is merely an example of Professor Chomsky’s rigid ideological adherence being ‘anti-war’ and Kissinger’s routine sadomasochism. But it is far from the first time a division of the land has been suggested by someone outside the Kremlin. Following the 2004 run-off election and the Orange Revolution that followed, Ukraine’s ethno-linguistic and political divide was on full display. Despite the country’s newfound autonomy from its neighbour, after the 2014 ousting of elected President Viktor Yanukovych for his decision to strengthen ties to Russia rather than the European Union, partition was again seen by some as a distinct possibility in finding a solution to the country’s apparent nationality crisis.
The 20th century has shown, however, that partition is not only an ever-returning bad penny, but one that has truly lost its sheen. The initial veneer that partition once held as an equitable way of mediating or resolving conflict has long since been eroded. All partitions, with the exception of Germany, have led to further conflict, further partition or both. One needn’t look further than our own country to see its effects, with Loyalists and Unionists held together by a feeble truce in Northern Ireland. Or to the ever-precarious state of affairs along the border of Iraq and Kuwait. Or to the Turkish occupation of the Northern regions of Cyprus and the ongoing hostilities as a result of the division of this tiny island between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots. Or to the carving of a Pakistani state out of what had been Indian territory, resulting in the state of near war between the two, and the state of actual proxy war between them in Kashmir. Not to mention the Israeli-Palestine conflict. Modern geopolitical fault lines are frequently the result of gashes and lacerations to countries’ frontiers.
It’s certain that Ukraine’s fate would be no different in the event of a partition or capitulation of territory to Russian control, despite any ethno-linguistic or political divisions that may have existed within the nation. Moreover, one should take into consideration the incessant bombing that the Kremlin has subjected predominantly Russophone cities and towns in Eastern Ukraine to. Kharkiv, as a case in point, the second-largest city of Ukraine located less than 50 kilometres from the Russian border, prior to the war had strong cultural and socio-economic ties to Russia. The Russian invasion has reduced the city to ruins, its residents now liberated by the Ukrainian military’s recent reclamation of the city.
What may be inevitable is the physical division of the land of Ukraine. What form that may take, be it partition, annexation or annihilation is to be seen. But the compliance of the Ukrainian people with said division is now inconceivable. What was once thought of as a situation comparable to that of Yugoslavia, where more people thought of themselves as Bosniaks, Croats, Montenegrins, Serbs and Slovenes, than Yugoslavs, thus making the preservation of the Yugoslavian state untenable, is no longer the case. The opposition of the Ukrainian government and population against relinquishment of any territory to their autocratic neighbour has proven the nation to be united. Mr. Putin may have inadvertently solved Ukraine’s crisis of nationality once and for all.