By Rustam Taghizade
In recent months, relations between Ukraine and Russia have become tense again. The deployment of Russian troops along the Ukrainian border and the accumulation of military equipment on the Ukrainian border remains a fact. In early 2021, Ukraine received new Bayraktar UAVs from Turkey. In addition, Ukraine is modernizing its army and purchasing new military equipment to return to the Donbas. Ukraine is geopolitically located in a very strategic area. Ukraine is looking for an independent path in the context of fragmented relations between the West and Russia. As a former Soviet country, Ukraine has strong political, economic and cultural ties with Russia. Russia and Ukraine have very strong family ties. The past of modern Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians is connected with the “Kievan Rus” state.
Features of ethnicity and nationality in the conflict: Although Ukraine is not an ethnic conflict in itself, ethnic factors played an important role in igniting nationalism. In the spring of 2014, political processes took place in Kyiv. Pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych clashed with government forces in Kyiv demanding reform of the Association Agreement with the European Union. Russia annexed Crimea amid the events. Later, with the military support of Russia, pro-Russian separatist forces occupied the eastern Donbas of Ukraine. With the occupation of Crimea and the Donbas, new realities emerged in Europe.
This conflict led to a new Cold War between the West and Russia. It is safe to say that this conflict is also the culmination of geopolitical factors between Russia and Ukraine. To discuss the role of conflicting Russian and Ukrainian nationalisms and the appropriate use of each country’s ethnic-linguistic division and the manipulation of historical memory. This approach provides a more comprehensive interpretation of the conflict. I apply theories of nationalism and ethnicity in the broader context of the post-communist division of multinational federations in general; in particular, concerning national and state-building processes in Russia and Ukraine.
In a world divided into nation-states, ethnic and national identities serve as a measure of political legitimacy and therefore remain important categories for political analysis, as well as powerful tools for the exploitation and manipulation of political elites. This is not a special feature of post-communism, but a feature of the majority of nation-states; they all tend to define and define their national identities with a single-titled ethnonational group (in several cases, more than one). The peculiarity of post-communism is that social, political and economic transformations occur simultaneously and rapidly with the formation of nation-states.
In a more rational approach to the issue, I would like to note that the issue of nationalism and ethnicity can manifest itself as a cause and effect between the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian people were divided by numerous borders with the huge Russian-speaking diaspora in Ukraine. In Crimea, for example, ethnic Russians were in the majority (58%) and ethnic Ukrainians were in the minority. The study of personality issues has created a large collection of literature. However, the full consequences of changing the status of ethnic groups remain unexplored by academic researchers. As the Russian-Ukrainian crisis covers many aspects of changing the position of ethnic groups in the newly reformed post-Soviet space, the analysis here is only within the scope of this article.
Ukraine between East and West:
Ukraine’s corrupt ruling elite leans toward Russia. From this point of view, nationalism and ethnicity, albeit indirectly, maintain their role in this conflict. Identity and historical factors have been mediated and mobilized by Russia to polarize Ukrainian society, diverting attention from political reforms and demonstrating to the Russian public that Russia’s interests take precedence over international law and Ukraine’s independence. It is necessary to look at the polls conducted between the west and east of Ukraine. According to a survey of the Ukrainian population (April-May 2017), support for the European Union in western Ukraine is 83%, and in eastern Ukraine – only 27%. In the west of Ukraine. 13As for the separatist regions, the vast majority of Ukrainians (85%) prefer Ukraine to remain one country, but there is little consensus on how the separatist Luhansk and Donetsk regions will remain part of Ukraine. Western Ukrainians (61%) supported a return to their pre-autonomy status (27%). Eastern Ukrainians are divided over autonomy, with 37% favoring the pre-crisis status quo and 41% more in favor of autonomy. Regardless of these regional divisions, support for the independence of separatist regions in Ukraine is minimal (4%).
Russia’s new plans: Vladimir Putin’s rhetoric in recent months has become even sharper. He called any intervention in Ukraine a violation of Russia’s security. Russia intends to deliberately increase tensions in the region. In the early stages of the conflict, there were speculations that Moscow could try to expand its control. The discussion focused on the possible seizure of a Crimean peninsula, the port city of Mariupol, or a Soviet-era canal supplying significant water resources to the rest of Ukraine along the Ukrainian-controlled shores of the Sea of Azov. (Crimea is currently connected to Russia by the only bridge built-in 2018.)
At the moment, Russia may conduct military operations against Ukraine. Will Russia’s unfinished plans materialize? If it launches military operations in the winter, Russia could attack left-bank Ukraine, west of Kyiv. Another possibility is that Russia may try to form a self-serving government in Ukraine. However, it should be noted that the annexation of Crimea and the undeclared war in eastern Ukraine after the revolution in Ukraine only strengthened the decision of the Ukrainian people.
Rustam Taghizade, Political Scientist