Academic journal article Geopolitics, History and International Relations

A New Framework for Understanding Nationalisms in Ukraine: Democratic Revolutions, Separatism and Russian Hybrid War

Academic journal article Geopolitics, History and International Relations

A New Framework for Understanding Nationalisms in Ukraine: Democratic Revolutions, Separatism and Russian Hybrid War

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Ukraine is a country with competing nationalisms and cultural orientations that are a product of the country's colonization by imperial powers and the legacies of Soviet totalitarianism that has produced a regionally diverse country. Although traditionally depicted as a country divided into two linguistic groups (Russian and Ukrainian) the reality is more complex as this ignores a large number of bilingual Ukrainians. The Donbas conflict has shown that language per se is a poor indicator of allegiance to Ukraine or separatism with a large proportion of Ukraine's security forces being Russian speakers.1 This article outlines a broader framework for identities in Ukraine that that take into account history, region, language and cultural orientation. Russia successfully stoked conflict in the Donbas because the region has a closer identity to the Crimea in both having majorities who profess an attachment to Soviet identity, but was unsuccessful in other Russian speaking regions of Eastern and Southern Ukraine. Region is therefore important not because the Donbas is geographically located in Eastern Ukraine but because the Donbas has little relationship to historic Cossack Eastern and Southern Ukraine, was heavily pro-Bolshevik in the Russian Revolution, was a melting pot for successful Soviet nationality policies that produced a Homo Sovieticus and experienced a violent transition in the 1990s.

Until the 2013-2014 Euromaidan studies of nationalism in Ukraine failed to provide a complete picture of nationalisms in Ukraine because they focused on only one region (Western Ukraine) and one element (ethnic Ukrainian nationalism) while exaggerating the influence of the Svoboda (Freedom) political party. Thus, they argued that Svoboda represented the main "threat" to Ukrainian democracy2 while ignoring and failing to anticipate the far more powerful threat from the thuggish, kleptocratic and violent Party of Regions and its Communist and Russian nationalist allies. Svoboda was only present in parliament in 2012-2014 after it won 10 percent of the vote it received support. The Party of Regions and its Communist Party allies won a combined 40-45 percent of the vote; that is, 4-5 times as many votes. During the Euromaidan and Donbas conflict supporters of the Party of Regions, Communists and Russian nationalists backed by Russia became the main threat to Ukraine's democracy, sovereignty and territorial integrity;3 meanwhile, Svoboda lost popularity and failed to enter parliament in the October 2014 elections.

2. Academic Studies of Ethnic Ukrainian and Russian/Soviet Nationalisms

There has long been a need for studies of nationalisms in Ukraine to be broader and deeper4 but until the Euromaidan, Western studies of nationalism in Ukraine focused entirely on only one part of the political spectrum associated with the Ukrainian ethnic nationalist right, specifically the rise of the Svoboda party.5 There were no academic studies of Russian and nationalism in Ukraine,6 the links between these nationalisms and the Russian Orthodox Church who have supported the Donbas separatists7 or the paramilitary train- ing undertaken by pro-Russian groups in the Donbas and Crimea in the run up to the separatist conflict.8 Although Andreas Umland and Anton Shekhovtsov analyzed nationalist parties in Russia they surprisingly, did not study Russian and Sovietophile nationalist parties in Ukraine. Kuzio analyzed the Crimean triangle with Russia and Ukraine and Moscow's long-standing support for Russian and Sovietophile political forces in the Crimea and how the Party of Regions allied with them from 2006-2014.9

Studies of Russian and Sovietophile nationalist and communist forces in Ukraine are over a decade old and need bringing up to date. Andrew Wilson10 published studies of the left wing of Ukrainian politics and the Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU) but these need to be updated. The KPU and the Party of Regions both had strongholds in the Donbas (Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts) and Crimea. …

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