Separatists in eastern Ukraine have proclaimed a new state in the territories they control.
More than 10,000 people have died in fighting after Russian-backed rebels took control of parts of Ukraine’s industrial heartland in April 2014.
Ukraine signed a ceasefire deal with the separatists in 2015, which provided for a gradual return of the areas into Kiev’s fold while giving them some autonomy, but the agreement was never fully implemented.
Donetsk News Agency has quoted separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenkoas saying that the rebels in Donetsk and Luhansk would form a state called Malorossiya.
Zakharchenko is calling for a three-year transition period in which to establish his new state, which will encompass not just the land annexed by Russia, but all territory that is Russian-leaning, including a great swath of the breadbasket between the Dniester and the Dnieper.
That seems ambitious, and it seems that our man in Donetsk Zakharchenko might have gotten a little ahead of his skis on this one.
Sputnik International has quotes from less-than-thrilled Russians on this, because of course it does.
“This is an unexpected initiative, and from my point of view, it diverges from the general line of actions prescribed by the Minsk agreements… The solution of the problems of Donbass, which have accumulated and are often urgent, has been initially and continues to be within the Minsk process agreed by all sides, and not within the unilateral initiatives announced today,” (Chairman of the Russian upper house of parliament Foreign Affairs Committee Konstantin) Kosachev said.
It makes sense why Russia wouldn’t be terribly happy about this. After all, the Minsk agreements muddle through the question of Crimea, since no one really seems to know how to make Russia leave. And continued unrest in the east works out well, since it leaves a divided and distracted Ukraine, one in which Russia has a lot of power.
It stands to some reason that Russia would have a lot of influence in the new Malorossiya, obviously. Their interference is what led to the schism, and they have been supporting the rebels. And the schism was even possible because Ukraine’s east historcially leans toward Russia. The fact that they have Russia in their name seems a good clue too, as does the proposal of unity between them, Russia, and Belorussia.
But that doesn’t always work out, as Russia knows. Belarus, under the never-dying Bond villain Lukashenko, has started to make overtures toward the west. For a long time he held out hope of a political union with Russia where he became the boss, but realizing that wasn’t happening, and realizing he could maybe play both sides, he has started teasing Putin with thoughts of Western alliances.
Now, Lukashenko is an annoyance to Putin, not a threat, but it goes to show you that life is pretty unpredictable. So there is no way of telling what can happen in a new independent state. What is conveniently violent and unsettled now might soon be settled, peaceful, and demanding respect.
And really, the whole thing seems kind of silly on its face, like a flighty rebel dream. “Soon, we’ll have all the Ukraine!” But really, there’s no reason for this to be absurd.
All of Eastern Europe is unsettled. The current map has only been in place for a decade, and a map from 1991 would be out of date in 1996, just as a map from 1989 would be irrelevant a couple of years later. It wasn’t just Eastern, Mitteleurope and the West (depending on where you define Germany) were shook by the beautiful cataclysms of 89.
But it is the east where the map has been going nuts since the Ottoman Empire started to dissolve, the Balkan Wars shattered the peace, and the late-era dominance of Austro-Hungary, and of course the empire-shattering WWI really made things impossible to follow. New countries were created (Yugoslavia, short-lived, and then long-lived, and then destroyed), old ideas were made real (Poland, also sort of short-lived, and then enslaved by the Soviets), and disparate lands coalesced only to be swallowed (the Ukraine).
So what we know of the map is, at best, 100 years old, and even that not really. There’s no reason why Ukraine can’t be divided up, at least no historic reason. There are political and economic and maybe moral reasons why it shouldn’t, but just because we’ve come of age in a time where the Ukraine was a real, unified, independent state encompassing those exact post-Soviet borders, including Crimea, doesn’t mean that’s the only way it can be.
History doesn’t work that way. We thought we were in a freeze, and that the world was permanent. Which is weird: no one ever thought that maps couldn’t change. I know the Cold War had a weird feeling of never-endingness to it, but then the maps changed enormously over the next few decades. Yet we act as if what the world is at the moment is the way it is now and shall always be. We base our politics around it. We base our emotional maps around it, and react violently if there is a disruption.
This isn’t me being a Malorossiyan nationalist or anything. It’s not a good idea, for a number of reasons. But I think it is dangerous when we scoff at the idea of changing national borders. Borders are artificial. What’s more, they are new. The problem is that the passions contained within those borders, and stoked partly because of those borders, are real. Even if they are manipulated they are real.
That’s the challenge of the 21st century. How do we handle the nation-state when transnational identity is so strong for so many but intense, smaller nationalisms are strong for an equal amount, in reaction to the first group? I don’t have any answers, but if we think the globe spinning in our office is the gospel, and any deviation is the ravings of heresiarchs, we have no chance of meeting the danger.