Staunton, May 17 – Many arguments about Ukraine have become a battle of analogies where advocates of various outcomes do so less by talking about what conditions are actually like in that country than by suggesting analogies with countries which also have significant regional tensions.
One such case is an exchange between two commentators who are usually on the same side when it comes to regionalism and its management in the Russian Federation but now find themselves on opposite sides concerning Ukraine, with one suggesting that Donetsk is like Catalonia in Spain and the other argument that that Ukrainian region is in fact like Ulster.
Vadim Shteppa led off this debate with an article in “Izvestiya” this week entitled “Democrats against Democracy” in which he outlined the plusses of a federal system for Ukraine, the shortcomings of the Ukrainian government, and the way in which Catalonia can serve as a model for dealing with Donets and other regions (izvestia.ru/news/570707
Shiropayev takes particular exception to Shteppa’s analogy between Donets and Catalonia. The situations of the two are fundamentally different. There are no ‘foreign diversionists and terrorists” in Catalonia, but there are in Donets. And there are no “’little green men’” in the former, although they are all too prominent in the latter.
Europeans see the difference even if Shteppa doesn’t. They see “in the events in the south-east a form of the carrying out of an imperial war against Ukraine.” Telling them that Donetsk is just like Catalonia would be likely to generate a reaction very different from the one he expects.
Catalonia, Shiropayev continues, despite its drive toward independence, “does not think of itself outside of the European Union. European integration in fact would be the strategic direction of the development of Catalonia after the acquisition of independence.” The Donets and Luhansk activists are moving “in a completely opposite direction geographically and civilizationally.”
Donetsk and Luhansk “are demonstrating not a Europen but a Eurasian horde trend.” As such, they are a Soviet-style “parody on Catalonia,” in which they promote “a regional brand” by speaking in front of statues to Lenin, carrying red flags, and singing the Soviet and not even the Russian hymn.
These two regions are not seeking “genuine independence.” They want that only as “an intermediate step on the path to Russia which they consider to be the historical continuation of the USSR.” That is captured in their slogan: “’We are for federationalization to [sic] Russia.” What they want is not federalism or regionalism or even separatism.
Instead, what is going on there is the actions of “a movement which serves the imperial interests of the Kremlin.” It is more than a little strange, he says, that Shteppa doesn’t see this reality.
Another issue altogether is whether Ukraine might be better off without Donetsk and Luhansk, without “the ballast” that these constitute on “the balloon of a European Ukraine. Such questions are being asked more often given “the soviet mentality, the love for portraits of Stalin and monuments to Lenin, the hatred to Ukraine as such ... and the criminal situation” in these two oblasts.
Shiropayev points out that “the Donbas and the Luhansk area always will be problematic regions, a kind of soviet Ulster which will threaten the very existence of Ukraine.” That is not the kind of “European trend” that Ukrainians want to be a part of. And before Ukraine can move forward, it must restore order in those two territories not make promises about referenda.