Sunday, September 1, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Ukrainians in Kyiv Calls for Re-Uniting Kuban with Ukraine

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 1 – In response to growing Russian pressure on Ukraine and suggestions, most recently by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, that Moscow should annex as much as a third of Ukrainian territory, a group of Kuban Cossacks meeting in Kyiv has called for re-uniting the Kuban, now part of the Russian Federation, with Ukraine.

            Yesterday, on the 221st anniversary of the conquest of the Kuban by Zaporozhian Cossacks, some 50 Ukrainians assembled in Kyiv and called for the Ukrainian government devote more attention to and ultimately secure the re-unification of the Kuban (centered on Russia’s Krasnodar kray) with Ukraine (

            Yevgeny Lupakov, president of the Union of Officers of Ukraine, told the meeting that “we seek to declare present-day Ukraine the legal successor of the Ukrainian Peoples Republic,” to raise the issue of restoring the Ukrainian Kuban Republic, and ultimately to re-unify “our two fraternal peoples into a single independent Ukrainian state.”

            He said he was “convinced that with time this will happen,” because “Ukraine is wherever there are Ukrainians,” a line that echoes Russian nationalist arguments but that raises equally large questions about significant portions of the Russian Federation, including not only some North Caucasus areas but also what is usually called the Russian Far East.

            (Ukrainians call the latter “Zelenyi klin” or the “Green Wedge” and often refer to it as a Ukrainian territory because the tsarist authorities resettled many Ukrainians there in the decades before World War I. Japan focused on this community in the 1920s and 1930s, and the US broadcast to it briefly in the mid-1980s.)

            Another speaker at yesterday’s meeting, Volodmyr Man’ko, a leader of the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists, called the Kuban “a territory of geopolitical interest” to Ukraine.  Kyiv, he said, needs to develop “not just cultural but economic ties,” although he added that one couldn’t expect the current Ukrainian government to do so.

            During World War II, he continued, Ukrainians and Kuban Cossacks cooperated with the Germans in the struggle against communism and for a common independent Ukraine. “Unfortunately, that did not happen,” and after 1945, both Ukraine and the Kuban “found themselves in a single concentration camp, the Soviet Union.”

            “Through the Kuban,” he said, “we have a way out to the Caucasus and to our brothers, the Georgians. From there to energy rich Iran and Iraq and to Turkey. Via Georgia and the Kuban, we can built and control gas and oil pipelines and in this way resolve out economic and geopolitical interests.” This project will be on the agenda of a future Ukrainian nationalist government.

After the disintegration of the USSR, Man’ko continued, “Ukrainian consciousness in the Kuban increased, but it must be more active” and the Ukrainian state must support it.

            A representative of the Kuban Cossack community in Ukraine was somewhat less expansive. Ivan Petrenko. He said that “the armed Kuban Cossacks defend the idea of the Russian Federation,” but as “descendants of the Zaporozhian Cossacks,” many of them back “establishing spiritual, cultural, scholarly, and pubic ties with all the Ukrainians of Kuban who are not indifferent to Ukraine and to their roots.”

            In recent months, Russian nationalist media have suggested that Ukrainians have been behind several of the protests in the southern portions of the Russian Federation.  Yesterday’s meeting will re-energize such commentary.  But it also shows that at least some Ukrainians are interested in sending Moscow a message that when it comes to territorial claims, more than one can play that game.

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