I’ve been reluctant to write about the Ukraine. I find myself totally out of step with opinion. I don’t like Vladimir Putin[1], but I think that someone should try to make a fair case for understanding his actions.[2]

For one thing, if you look at maps of Ukraine, you see that Crimea and the two eastern “oblasts” (administrative districts) of Donetsk and Luhansk are predominantly Russian-speaking: 77.0%, 74.9%, and 68.8%. In the referendum on independence from the Soviet Union the south-eastern “oblasts” all voted for independence like the rest of Ukraine, but the opposition vote was much higher than elsewhere and so was the abstention rate. In the 2006 and 2007 parliamentary elections, Viktor Yanukovich’s Russian-oriented “Party of Regions” carried a huge swath of south-eastern Ukraine. The Yulia Timoshenko bloc had carried a huge swath of western and central Ukraine. In the presidential elections of 2010, Yanukovich narrowly defeated Yulia Timoshenko by mobilizing the same pro-Russian electoral base in the south-east.

The opposition to the Yanukovich government’s decision to halt the process of integration with the European Community (EU) centered in the west and center of the country. These regions had voted for Timoshenko in the 2010. In contrast, there were few demonstrations or protests in the southeast. Only five protests were identified for the two eastern “oblasts” and Crimea combined. In contrast, there were large pro-Russian protests in the two eastern “oblasts,” Crimea, and elsewhere in the southeast. Finally, supporters of the “Euro-Maidan” protests seized control of local governments in western and central Ukraine, but never even made a stab at it in Crimea or the two eastern “oblasts.”

According to “polling data by [the German polling agency] GfK taken from 4-18 March [2014] in all regions of Ukraine (including Crimea), 48% of Ukrainians support[ed] the change in power while 34% oppose[ed]. In the Eastern and Southern regions the revolution is supported by 20% of the population, whereas 57% or more of the population in the rest of the country supports the change in government. Also, only 2% of those polled said they fully or partially trusted former president Viktor Yanukovych.”[3] So, while Yanukovich was widely unpopular, a clear majority of people in the southeast opposed the revolution in Kiev.

Crimea has been annexed to Russia; the continuing “insurgency” in eastern Ukraine is limited to the two eastern “oblasts” where real opposition to the Kiev revolution was very strong for ethno-cultural reasons.

Is it possible that Vladimir Putin is doggedly[4] pursuing very limited aims with regard to Ukraine? His aims at the moment appear to be to take control of the two eastern-most “oblasts.” Will he desire to push beyond this to open a land bridge to Crimea? Would he wish to take all of the territory that voted for pro-Russian parties? Would he settle for a Ukraine “neutralized” as was Austria[5] during the Cold War? It’s hard to know unless someone asks him.

[1] As Joseph Joffe said on NPR: “he’s a nasty son-of-a-bitch.”

[2] “I have no special regard for Satan; but I can at least claim that I have no prejudice against him. It may even be that I lean a little his way, on account of his not having a fair show. All religions issue bibles against him, and say the most injurious things about him, but we never hear his side. We have none but evidence for the prosecution and yet we have rendered the verdict. To my mind, this is irregular. It is un-English. It is un-American; it is French.”—Mark Twain, “About the Jews.”

[3] Wikipedia. Reference misplaced.

[4] Putin isn’t much inclined to turn loose of something once he has engaged with it. Russians are still fighting in Chechnya in an insurgency that has gone on in fits and starts since 1994.

[5] See:

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