Partition of Ukraine is a truly evil idea

Double click to enlarge.  Source: New York Times

Click to enlarge. Source: New York Times

A partition of Ukraine along the lines of ethnicity or language would be a terrible tragedy, a repeat of the breakup of Yugoslavia on a larger scale.

People of different national heritages can live together in peace so long as none of the groups attempts to impose its language and culture on the others.  But when demagogues pit different nationalities against each other, peaceful neighbors can become bloody enemies.

If there were areas of Ukraine that were exclusively Ukrainian and others that were exclusively Russian, then a peaceful partition might be possible.  But the population is so mixed that any partition line would require a bloody ethnic cleansing.

There also are significant numbers of people in Ukraine whose heritage is neither Russian nor Ukrainian.  One such group is the Crimean Tatars, a Muslim minority descended from the original inhabitants of the region before it was conquered by Russia in the late 18th century.

Huge numbers of them were killed and starved to death under Stalin’s rule and the rest were deported to Central Asia during World War Two, but they started to trickle back starting in the Khruschev era.   They have justified fears about living in a new Crimea based on Russian ethnic nationalism.

It is true that Ukraine’s political division more or less reflects ethnic divisions, but that is not an argument for a breakup of the country.  U.S. presidential voting aligns with ethnic and geographical divisions, but that is not an argument for partition into Blue states and Red states.

ukraine-map-composite

Double click to enlarge. Source: Washington Post

[Added later]  As I’ve written before, I don’t claim to understand the ins and outs of Ukraine’s politics.  But I would not assume that just because a Ukrainian speaks Russian, this person either wants Russia to dominate Ukraine or wants the eastern Ukraine to break away.  There are many people in Ireland who speak English and can’t speak Irish, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they want to be part of the United Kingdom.

[Added 3/8/14]  I don’t think President Putin wants to split up the Ukraine.  I think it is more in the Russian Federation’s interest to have a united, neutral Ukraine than to have a hostile western Ukraine aligned with NATO just as, in Cold War days, it would have been more in the Soviet Union’s interest to have a united, neutral Germany than a hostile West Germany.

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3 Responses to “Partition of Ukraine is a truly evil idea”

  1. whungerford Says:

    “A partition of Ukraine along the lines of ethnicity or language would be a terrible tragedy, a repeat of the breakup of Yugoslavia on a larger scale.” — I find no support in the article for this claim. Sometimes separation may be good, sometimes not. Consider the Soviet Union, China-Tibet, India-Pakistan, Israel-Palestine, Iraq-Kuwait, Pakistan-Bangladesh, Korea, Viet Nam, Czechoslovakia, and Germany-Austria. It would be hard to decide which of these ought to be joined, which not.

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  2. philebersole Says:

    I agree that separations of peoples are not always bad. But it is a bad thing to stir up ethnic and nationalist hatreds among peoples who have lived long lived together in peace. This is what happened in the former Yugoslavia and, as I see it, what may happen in Ukraine. That is why I don’t think most of your examples apply.

    The 1940s partitions of India and Palestine were pretty damn bloody, and were an example of the kind of tragedy I fear in Ukraine. Perhaps they were unavoidable, perhaps not.

    Vietnam and Korea were not partitioned along ethnic lines, both halves of the two countries were the same nation, but the partition was tragic just the same.

    I don’t see the relevance of the Chinese invasion of Tibet, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait or Nazi Germany’s invasion of Austria. These are examples of invasion and conquest of previously independent nations. It is true that Tibet had always recognized Chinese supremacy in theory, but it was de facto independent.

    In any case, there were no ethnic conflicts between Iraq and Kuwait and between Germany and Austria.

    It is true that the breakup of the Soviet Union and of Czechoslovakia were accomplished peacefully, but based on recent events in Crimea, I don’t think this is a likely outcome in Ukraine.

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  3. jackdetate Says:

    Fracturing the social fabric of Ukraine, for control of oil and gas distribution to Europe, could easily explode into a massive land war.

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