Are We Making Too Much of the East-West Divide in Ukraine?


Credit: E. Arrott/wikimedia

The American Conservative editor Daniel McCarthy has a blog post up outlining what he sees as the three outcomes Russian President Vladimir Putin may be considering relating to the ongoing crisis in Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula in the Black Sea.

McCarthy believes that the first and most preferred outcome Putin may be working towards is "the strongly pro-Russian peninsula remains part of a Ukraine that is effectively subservient to Russia's interests, no matter who is in charge in Kiev."

The second possible outcome Putin may be working towards, McCarthy argues, is that Russian activity in Crimea is viewed as an example of what might happen to eastern Ukraine if Ukrainian officials don't "play ball the Russian way."

McCarthy goes on to say that Putin may be trying to save what he can from Ukraine having come to the conclusion that the situation in Ukraine cannot be resolved in a way that will be beneficial to Russian interests.

At the moment Russia is making it clear that Russian forces are not going to be leaving Crimea any time soon, and has warned Ukrainian forces in Crimea that they face attack if they do not surrender by 03:00 GMT.

McCarthy highlights something interesting, which has been mentioned a lot recently in coverage of the crisis in Ukraine; the east of Ukraine, and its interest to Russia.

Credit: Vasyl` Babych/wikimedia

In the last few days and weeks, some in the media have made much of the supposed political and cultural split in Ukraine, with maps like the one to the right (showing how Ukrainians voted in the 2010 presidential election) being shown as an example of the divisions in Ukraine. 

However, this east-west split in Ukraine that has been recently discussed is perhaps not as simple as it might initially appear to be.

Over at Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty Glenn Kates points out that attempts to broadly define eastern Ukraine as culturally distinct from western Ukraine are problematic, and shows that in the areas surrounding the city of Kharkiv, which is located in eastern Ukraine, the majority of people say Ukrainian is their native language. Kates goes on to say that an attempt to split eastern Ukraine from Ukraine would be opposed by many in the east and that polling shows that most Russian speakers in Ukraine feel loyal to Ukraine, not Russia:

Any effort to break eastern Ukraine from Ukraine proper would meet resistance not only from the western half of the country, but from wide swaths of Ukrainians living within those regions (This is a good time to note that past polls have indicated that a majority of Russian-speakers living in the country have also expressed loyalty to Ukraine and not Russia. Also, some people who identify themselves as Ukrainian-speaking may speak Russian in their day-to-day lives).

Credit: Tovel/wikimedia

Map of most common native languages in Ukraine based on 2001 census to the right (Ukrainian in blue, Russian in red).

Over at the Kyiv Post, Ilya Timtchenko points out that maps like the one above from the 2010 presidential election do not reflect the current situation:

The problem is that much of the media's referenced information is coming from the outdated 2010 presidential elections or even from 2004 Orange Revolution data. During the past seven months, the picture has dramatically changed. As for the past month, the harsh division is simply not there anymore.

Most of Ukraine's citizens who represent the nation's cultural and intellectual society have held a view directly opposite to mainstream Western media.

Timtchenko concludes:

The "divided Ukraine" narrative is seductive in its simplicity and disastrous in its ramifications. Sure, it's easier to consume. But it's also wrong—and it contributes to Putin's plan to bring catastrophe to a nation that is struggling for democracy and human rights.

It should be noted that McCarthy does not cite the supposed divisions between east and west Ukraine as a reason why Russia may be using the situation in Crimea as a veiled threat to eastern Ukraine. Of course, given the geographical reality of the Russia-Ukraine border eastern Ukraine is more at risk of Russian aggression than the west.

More from on Ukraine here.

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    1. While there are definitely some strong similarities, let’s not be too hasty in drawing analogies that might obscure some relevant differences. The Sudetenland was in dire economic straits and had a very active German separatist movement that had been in existence for years. Crimea is better off than most of the rest of Ukraine, and any activism there is mostly related to support for the previous ousted regime.

      None of this makes Putin less of a landgrabbing warmonger, but it does make the situation a bit different than 1930s Europe.

    2. I wonder how you say “breathing room” in Russian.

  1. Isn’t the likeliest probability at this point that Putin is just going to annex Crimea? Or potentially set Crimea up as a “semi-autonomous” region?

    Russian forces are demanding the “surrender” of Ukranian forces in the area. And it seems quite likely that the Ukranian forces will surrender. It’s hard to believe that Putin’s just going to give it all up after everything settles down.

    1. I’m betting on an independant Crimea with a pro-Russian puppet regime.

      1. I’m betting on an independant Crimea with a pro-Russian puppet regime.

        Would that be such a bad thing. I would like to see a non-puppet regime, but a pro-Russian gov. in the Crimea wouldn’t be a horrible thing, would it, considering most are of Russian ethnicity.

        1. Maybe the people of Crimea should have a say in who governs them?

          1. I agree, that is what I meant by a ‘non-puppet regime.’ Let the people vote whether they want to be Ukrainian or Russian.

            1. The problem is that in 1992 the Crimeans did vote to be part of Ukraine with the proviso that Ukraine wouldn’t pull shit like making Ukrainian the sole official state language. Considering that was one of the first actions of the new Ukrainian government, you can see why Crimea has changed its mind.

    2. “”””Crimea up as a “semi-autonomous” region?”””‘

      It already is a semi-autonomous region of the Ukraine , though that does not mean semi-independent, it means that the central government in Kiev chooses many of the leaders and limits the power of the local parliament. Maybe now it will mean that those decisions will happen in Moscow not Kiev

    3. Worked well enough for him in Georgia. Ukraine isn’t ready for a real war, the Germans and the rest of the Western Europeans aren’t going to raise a finger.

    4. Isn’t the likeliest probability at this point that Putin is just going to annex Crimea?

      I think that is the likely outcome. Too much of this seems too carefully planned and too deliberately orchestrated.

      Does anyone think that Putin just on the spur of the moment decided to occupy the Crimea? Does he seem like a rash man? Or does he seem like someone who will quietly plot until the right moment?

  2. Uighur separatist terrorism in China, Norks launching missles and scuds, and Russia invading Ukraine. Holy flying spaghetti monster, the world is on edge.

    Of course, its kinda tough for us to claim the moral high ground about not threatening a sovereign country after Iraq and Libya.

    1. threatening a sovereign country after Iraq and Libya.

      It’s different for us. We don’t want to own Iraq and Libya; we just want to fix them.

      We only hit them because we love them.

      1. Can’t fix this with drones Barack. Sorry.

    2. There was talk of inviting you to brunch on Sunday, but nobody has useful contact info for you. Coordinate with playa, sloopy or I and we’ll keep you abreast of such things.

      1. I’ll email you later today with my contact info.

      2. I spend a third of my weekends in LA. I like brunches too. 🙂

        1. As is your birthright. Shoot me an email when you get the chance. I’ll coordinate with playa.

          1. Can I get in on this morning alcohol binge? The good thing about college is that they can’t fine me if I miss class, but they can if I pass out pocket constitutions.

            1. Of course. Your name came up, but there was no way to contact you on short notice.

              1. Your name came up

                Hey there Captain Passive Voice.

                Ranned, shoot me an email and I’ll forward it to playa’s central list of local libertarians for the great purge brunch.

                1. just keep the location secret to Warty won’t zero in.

                  1. Should we hide from the great Warty murder-rapemagheddon? I will not sit by waiting, anticipating with dread, and watching as the whole world is murder-raped out of existence. If I’m going to be murder-raped to a shapeless pulp, I want to go out first, or at least early in the process.

                  2. The place we went yesterday had a few hipsters. I might be ok with turning Warty loose on that crowd.

                2. I don’t remember whose exact idea it was, and that Facebook thread is way to tedious to go back and check.

                  I stand by my passive voice.

                  Sloopy is the brunch committee chair.

                3. Done, ignore the NSA icon, that’s, uh, a glitch, yeah, a glitch…

            2. What if you hand out condoms with the Constitution printed on them?

      3. Agamemnon too. He wants to win the award for longest drive.

        1. All the way from Greece?

          1. Close. Yuma, AZ.

            1. And I might have misspelled his name.

              1. Don’t be stepping on John’s territory.

        2. I’ll later this.month. i might win both longest drive and distance, not to.mention most time zones crossed, and possibly largest bill paid on expense account.

    3. I had a loud belly laugh that John Kerry had referred to Russia’s move on Crimea as “an incredible act of aggression.”

  3. How about providing links to the fucking maps.

    1. Unless you have significant mastery of Cyrillic languages, that may be altogether worthless.

      1. Mastery no. Familiarity yes.

      2. Mostly, I just want to make them bigger.

        1. Bolshoi!

    2. I think they came from here:…..of_Ukraine

      1. thanks

  4. In addition, the United States announced it would not send a delegation to the Sochi Paralympics as a form of boycott, though athletes will still compete.

    My dream is to get paid for coming up with stupid shit like this. I want a pension too

    1. Yeah, but it isn’t all fun and (boycotting) games. You work for these criminals and you also have to cover up the hooker and blow dalliances of their congressional allies (and subsequently fall in love with and get murdered by said hooker).

  5. “””””Most of Ukraine’s citizens who represent the nation’s cultural and intellectual society “”””

    So once again reporters look to the coffee shop crowd and think that they are the ones with the inside track on what is happening.

    1. Similar to what John has written about diplomats talking to people who dress and talk like them instead of getting a feeling for what Joe (or Ivan, etc.) Citizen wants.

    2. “Those goofy bastards are about the best thing I’ve got going. “

  6. I don’t claim any genius or PHD intellect, I do think this reminds me of Bosnia descending into civil war: A big neighbor carving out and ‘protecting’ ethnic enclaves. Issuing ultimatums.

  7. niiice…

    The Infamous ‘Reset’ Button: Stolen From a Hotel Pool or Jacuzzi

    [Reines] had asked NSC Russia director Mike McFaul for the word and both McFaul and State Russia expert Bill Burns signed off on the spelling?

    Lavrov pointed out that peregruzka ? printed not in Cyrillic but in Latin script ? means “overcharge.” ?


    Reines pleaded his case in good humor, even suggesting they bring a label-maker into the room so that the Russian ambassador didn’t have to let the gift ? an emergency stop button that had been hastily pilfered from a swimming pool or Jacuzzi at the hotel ? out of his sight. Nyet, the ambassador said.

    1. They stole an emergency stop button? Really?

      Good thing nobody fucking got caught in the machinery! It would suck if it created another fake scandal to dog God’s anointed leader!

    2. I have to admit that it’s really easy to confuse peregruzka with perezagruzka. I’d say that in a sloppy informal Russian one could just drop an extra prefix.

  8. This isn’t the best-formatted site out there, but this rundown of the far-right elements behind the Maidan movement is worth every taxpayer’s time to read.

    1. It is a crime that the mainstream media has consistently censored anyone who has pointed this out.

      I guess not embarrassing Obama is more important than knowing that Americans might spill their blood for those that are heating up the ovens as we speak.

      1. “Fascist” is a go-to accusation Russian politicians and media use when silencing both foreigners and but domestic, pro-democracy critics.

        Mainstream media mogul Zenon Evans

      2. Oh give us a break. The far-rightists were only a fraction of the Maidan protests and they probably prevented a slaughter with their willingness to bear weapons. Do these threads automatically show up at Kremlin Internet Monitoring Centers?

        1. What’s more likely, Cyto? They’ll fade into obscurity as Ukraine becomes the liberal and pluralistic democracy of the State Department’s dreams? (What’s Ukrainian for “Syriana”?)

          Or will they, with the majority of weapons and the ruthless sons-of-bitches willing to use them, demand a piece of the pie, and since the majority is too concerned with solidifying their control of the country, gives Svoboda some of the populist/nationalist policies they want, like labeling national id cards by religion and ethnicity or constitutionally mandated proportional representation for ethnic Ukrainians (I guess Crimeans would count as 3/5ths of a person or something).

          Furthermore, to accuse those who note those these developments as “pro-Russian shills” is just as ludicrous as screaming “KOCH BROTHERS!” for anything involving the liberty movement. One doesn’t have to like Putin to acknowledge that there is a percentage of crazies among the Euromaidan base.

          1. OMG! The Ukrainian fascists are coming!
            Someone lurking out there is a Ukrainian version of Hitler, just waiting to invade Poland. We have to team up with the Russians to avert this imminent threat!

            1. Help me out here.

              I’m still trying to determine if your response was a result of you skimming through my argument and coming to preconceived conclusion without understanding what I actually said, or if you purposely represented my argument in a disingenuous manner for whatever reason.

          2. HM,

            I think you’re bringing up a fair point that should be considered, but (and correct me if I’m wrong) aren’t the communists mostly on the side of the deposed president. It’s not like it’s just the Euromaidan who have a totalitarian faction.

    2. It is a shame that our intervene-in-everything foreign policy makes it necessary for.every informed have to pay attention to the internal affairs of.other countries, distracting us from our.own local problems.

    3. You’re citing Counterpunch? Those guys see more fascists under the bed than the Russian minister of propaganda.

    1. Them’s fer shellin’ and flattening.

    2. Why does every picture I see of Eastern Europe show a mud pit?

      1. You’re thinking of Elbonia…

      2. They’re just prepping the ground for all the mass graves they’ll need soon.

        1. I laughed at this, and now I am going to Hell. Thanks a lot.

          1. They learned from the Serbs. If you disturb a whole.lot.of.ground before the conflict, it is harder to use satellite or aerial imagery to differentiate the actual burial sites.after the fact.

    3. Russell Koch ?@Russwkoch 4h
      @KurtSchlichter @jaketapper @jimgeraghty No, those are high-magazine assault tanks with extra capacity banana clips called David Gregorys.

  9. No. As the Tupac-Biggie beef of the late 1990’s has proven, it is always about Eastside vs. Westside.

  10. I don’t know about the East-West divide, but the second figure does show a divide between the Crimea and the rest of the Ukraine.

  11. It is important to remember that the Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire for quite some time before obtaining “independence” following the “disintegration” of the Soviet Union/USSR in 1991. However, when I say Russian Empire I am not talking about something the Bolsheviks created in 1917, but something they inherited from Tsarist Russia then, and simply renamed. Don’t forget that the Ukraine has a lot more in common with Russia religiously, linguistically and ethnically than most people realize. It’s not just natural gas, wheat, and warm water ports. Anyway, historians knew this was coming, but apparently politicians did not. The “invasion” of the Ukraine is a fait accompli and a year from now many will forget it happened, except of course some die hard Ukrainian separatists.

    1. Stupid Ukies – they should just get back on ol’ Massa Ivan’s plantation and be grateful he only beats them a little for runnin’ away.

      1. But the Ukies are bad bad bad fascists. All of them! They deserve an overlord in a far far away place like Moscow to keep them straight.

    2. It’s just possible that the Ukrainians are sick of being colonized by Russian imperialism.

      Sort of like … any fucking number of other ethnic groups that have had to deal with being invaded, occupied, dominated, colonized and annexed by their imperialistic neighbors.

      See Ireland.

      1. See any neighbor of Russia.

        1. When Estonia tried to move a statue of a Soviet soldier from the center of Tallinn to a war cemetery back in 2007, the neo-Soviets responded with a DDOS attack on Estonia.

        2. Tell us about it!

          /Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians, Poles, Georgians, Azeris…

      2. Ukraine did declare independence after 1917, but it was obviously short-lived.

  12. The very reasons the media/academic/Obama foreign policy elite assumed Putin would not invade Crimea are in fact the very reasons he felt he had to. His shaky domestic economy and falling ruble, the diminishing long term revenues of his oil and gas sales, these are the reasons he needed the distraction, following the old Soviet game plan to find foreign enemies and fire up nationalist feelings to divert attention from the mess at home.

    And now the Russian stock market is falling, down 10%, and their biggest bank down 17%! It mirrors the conditions before their bond default and currency devaluation of 1998.

    If Obama or Kerry or Biden were ever to be right on a major foreign policy issue, it would be purely accidental.

    1. So Putin has taken his bad situation and…accelerated it. Turned it up to 11 as it were.

      Remember, we can always do worse.

  13. Let Texas actually try to secede and you will see the same thing here. Our federal elitist won’t act any different

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