The West's Russophobic Obsession Strikes in Ukraine - Again

The primary consideration of the U.S. and the Western world does not seem to be the interests of Ukraine’s citizens, but rather their tireless effort to weaken Russia’s geopolitical status as a superpower.

Dmitry Shumsky
Dmitry Shumsky
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An Ukrainian army APC patrols in Donetsk, east Ukraine.
An Ukrainian army APC patrols in Donetsk, east Ukraine.Credit: AFP
Dmitry Shumsky
Dmitry Shumsky

There is no reason to question the right of Ukraine to self-determination. On the other hand, it is reasonable to question the readiness of Russian President Vladimir Putin to wholeheartedly recognize that right, and once and for all to forgo imperialist aspirations regarding Ukraine.

One thing should be acknowledged: If following the recent cease-fire between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian rebels in the southeast of the country Ukraine is ultimately turned into a federative state, it would give Ukraine’s right of self-determination the most just, comprehensive and realistic expression. A federated Ukraine is also the solution that Russia has been advocating officially for several months.

“The Ukrainian people” in whose name the Western media are currently wont to speak are not a monolith but are, in fact, highly diverse. For centuries regions that are now known as western Ukraine and eastern Ukraine were not part of a unified political and cultural framework. Ironically, the party that first united Lviv (or Lvov in Russian) in the west and Kharkov in the east into a single national entity was the Communists and the purportedly “anti-nationalist” Soviet Union. In 1939, following the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact with Germany, the USSR annexed eastern Galicia from Poland and Bukovina from Romania, making them part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. That is what formed the territorial basis for the Ukrainian nation-state of today.

It is therefore no wonder that the collective cultural and political identities of most residents of western Ukraine are not identical to those of most residents of the east and south of the country. Residents of Lviv, which had no connection whatsoever with Russia for centuries when it was intermittently part of Poland and Austria, are interested in strengthening Ukraine’s ties with the European Union. On the other hand, residents of the eastern city of Kharkov (Kharkiv in Ukrainian) – not to mention the Donbass region in the southeast that is currently in the headlines and has very deep cultural ties to Russia – rightly view the anti-Russian orientation of the current leadership in Kiev as a real threat to their identity and culture.

The differences in culture and identity among the citizens of a given country don’t necessarily require the country’s dismemberment. Maintaining the unity of a country with multiple collective national identities does, however, require that they be securely grounded in the country’s political character. In the case of Ukraine, this involves the federalization of the country, giving broad regional autonomy to its eastern and southeastern regions. These areas are marked by a Russian cultural component that is fundamental and cannot be denied.

On the other hand, the United States and leading European Union countries continue to blatantly ignore this difference and the diverse identities of Ukraine’s citizenry. Instead, these countries represent the interests of only some of them – those who support the anti-Russian inclinations of the leaders of the so-called Maidan Square revolution who are now in power. But the Western countries portray the policies of the Kiev government as representing the will of the Ukrainian people as a whole. In so doing, the Western powers are, in the most blatantly anti-democratic manner, discounting the legitimate claims of residents of the south and southeast, who seek to protect their Russian cultural identity.

Had the U.S. administration and the EU surprised Putin and come down in favor of federalization as the only hope for maintaining the unity of Ukraine, they would have forced Russia, which has declared itself in support of the idea, into a diplomatic decision. Any attempt to evade the idea of federalization would have exposed Russia’s prior support for the idea as lip service and a cover for its aspirations to dismember the Ukrainian state. Russia would have been shown to be nakedly imperialistic.

On the other hand, if the Russians were to agree and confirm their support for Ukraine’s reorganization as a federative state that allows both Russian- and Ukrainian-speakers to give proper expression to their desires for national identity, that would be sufficient reason to respect, in a supremely democratic way, the aspirations of all Ukraine’s citizens, with their varied cultural and linguistic identities.

The problem is that the primary consideration of the U.S. and the Western world does not seem to be the interests of Ukraine’s citizens, but rather their tireless effort to weaken Russia’s geopolitical status as a superpower.

When the Russian Revolution took place nearly a century ago, the Western superpowers decided to dismantle the Austro-Hungarian Empire into ethno-national states that would serve as a buffer against the influence of communist Soviet Russia. The West’s Russophobic obsession has struck again, just as it did then. Again, just as happened in the not-so-distant past, the Americans and their allies are ready to encourage any anti-Russian element in Eastern Europe, no matter how nationalistic and ethnocentric it might be.

It is frightening to see how the West is playing with the same nationalist fire that made the lives of national minorities in Eastern Europe hell in the first half of the 20th century, and finally led to a conflagration in the entire region. It is frightening to see because for Eastern Europe, the 20th century has not yet ended.

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