RFE/RL: Ukraine: The Specter of Disintegration


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Subject: RFE/RL: Ukraine: The Specter of Disintegration

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RFE/RL: Ukraine: The Specter of Disintegration


RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
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RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report
Vol. 3, No. 11, 27 March 2001
 
A Survey of Developments in Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine by
the Regional Specialists of RFE/RL's Newsline Team
 
....................
 
UKRAINE
 
THE SPECTER OF DISINTEGRATION
 
By Paul Goble
 
A spate of articles in the Moscow press last week have suggested that
the current political crisis in Kyiv is already increasing regional
tensions in Ukraine and could lead to the disintegration of the
Ukrainian state.

But like similar reports just before and after the collapse of the
Soviet Union, these commentaries appear less a genuine prognostication
of what is likely to occur than an obvious effort to put pressure on
the Ukrainian government to turn to Moscow for its security needs.

As the political crisis in Ukraine has deepened over the last few
weeks, the Russian media have been full of ever more items concerning
the challenges President Leonid Kuchma faces in trying to quiet
demands that he resign because of his alleged involvement in the
murder of independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze last fall. Moscow
outlets have given extensive coverage both to the Gongadze case and to
demonstrations against Kuchma.

Last week, however, the Russian media contained some more apocalyptic
predictions. Moscow's "Nezavisimaya gazeta," for example, on 20 March
featured an interview with the president of the ethnic Russian
community in Ukraine who said Russians there are angry at the
Ukrainian authorities and now seek to develop closer ties with the
Russian Federation in order to promote the creation of a new union
state.

On 21 March, Russian wire services carried the results of a poll in
Ukraine showing that the citizens of that country have increasingly
less trust in the central Ukrainian government and growing trust in
regional authorities. And earlier last week, another Russian article
explicitly suggested what many talked about a decade ago but which has
seldom been discussed in recent years: the possibility that Ukraine
could in fact disintegrate into three sections.

The article in question argued that not only was there the possibility
that Ukraine could split between the ethnic Russian eastern portion
and the ethnic Ukrainian central portion but also that the six western
oblasts of Ukraine, the most nationalistic region of all, might break
away as well, given its orientation toward Rome rather than toward the
Orthodox east.

Such articles inevitably attract attention by their apocalyptic
quality, and indeed some of their authors may be making these
predictions for no other reason than that. But the appearance of so
many articles of that nature at once, together with ever more explicit
Russian government calls for working with the ethnic Russian
population in Ukraine and elsewhere, suggests that more may be at work
than the desire of some journalists for attention.

Indeed, in many ways, this current upsurge of such predictions
inevitably recalls two earlier periods when Russian media carried
similar suggestions. Just before the end of the Soviet Union,
journalists around then-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev suggested
that an independent Ukraine would inevitably break apart along ethnic
lines, with a significant portion of the republic choosing to join
Moscow.

A second media upsurge on this subject took place in 1992 and 1993
when Russian analysts routinely suggested that Ukraine, a compound
country of Ukrainian-speaking Ukrainians, Russian-speaking Ukrainians,
and Russian-speaking Russians, was unlikely to be able to sustain
itself as an independent country.

In both of these earlier cases, it now appears, these predictions were
intended to be less a description of some future reality than a means
of intimidating the Ukrainian government and even the Ukrainian people
to follow Moscow's line lest they lose even more. But for the bulk of
the last decade, most observers in Russia and elsewhere have become
convinced that Ukraine's multinational population is among the least
of the challenges Kyiv faces.

Indeed, these analysts and commentators have suggested, Ukraine's
simultaneous efforts at nation- and state-building have been far more
successful than many had expected. The problems Kyiv faces have arisen
not from ethnic or regional divisions but have been largely
self-inflicted by a Ukrainian political leadership that has remained
divided, corrupt, and uncertain in its goals.

Now, as almost a decade ago, Moscow appears to be invoking again the
threat of Ukrainian disintegration not so much to warn of what is
likely to happen, but rather to put pressure on embattled President
Kuchma to conclude that close ties with Moscow are his and his
country's only salvation.

Some people around Kuchma may in fact be convinced, but the experience
of a decade ago suggests that many Ukrainians are likely to see
through this new specter of disintegration and to become more - not
less - committed to the defense of the independence of their country.
If that happens, then this specter may acquire a reality, albeit one
directly opposite to what its creators appear to intend.

....................
 
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"RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report" is prepared by
Jan Maksymiuk on the basis of a variety of sources
including reporting by "RFE/RL Newsline" and RFE/RL's
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