Staunton, December 15 – Moscow officials and commentators keep talking about a deep split between a pro-European Western Ukraine and a pro-Moscow Eastern Ukraine and suggest that the pursuit of the former will lead to the splitting apart of Ukraine as a whole, arguments that many in the West take far too seriously.
In fact, Andrey Illarionov argues, while there are divisions between Western and Eastern Ukraine, they are far less significant than Moscow thinks, that a greater share of the population in both places supports European integration than expanding ties with Moscow, and that there is no basis for Moscow’s talk about dividing up Ukraine (echo.msk.ru/blog/aillar/1218141-echo/).
Unfortunately, that is not the end of the story because Moscow has launched a powerful propaganda and pressure campaign against Ukraine, one that could create some of the conditions that would open the way for an Abkhaz or South Osetian-type enclavization of the country if Ukrainians continue to pursue integration with the West.
Ukrainian citizens of both ethnic Ukrainian and ethnic Russian background have moved in the direction of Europe over the past 25 years, Illarionov says, and this process has accelerated over the past three years following the election of Viktor Yanukovich. Indeed, the Moscow economist says, the Ukrainian president “to give him his due ... played a key role” in changing the minds of many in Eastern Ukraine.
By the middle of this year, “an absolute majority” of all Ukrainians supported signing an association agreement with the European Union and ultimately becoming a member of the EU. Support for these two goals was higher in the West and Center 67 and 71 percent than in the East and South 47 and 52 percent, but it was the dominant position across the board.
Thus and despite what official Moscow regularly claims, “by the middle of 2013 in Ukraine an all-national consensus relative to the European direction of the political and economic integration of the country had been formed,” not only for the country as a whole but also for its various parts, Illarionov says.
Consequently, “there are no objective bases at this time for the splitting of the Ukraine, even more for a split of a ‘tectonic’ character.”
The Kremlin considers this “unacceptable” and since the summer has carried out “a broad-scale war of a new type” against Ukraine, one involving economic pressure and massive amounts of propaganda intended to prevent Kyiv from doing what the population of Ukraine clearly wants as far as Europe is concerned.
In this war, Moscow has had two “intermediate” successes: it has caused Yanukovich to put off signing an association agreement with the EU, and it has shifted opinion in Ukraine, although far less than Russian leaders routinely suggest.
If in the first half of 2013, support among all Ukrainians for integration with Europe increased, since that time, it has fallen. It fell overall five percentage points, three in the West and Center and eight in the South and East. That meant that the plurality of support over opposition to EU integration fell 12 percentage points for the country as a whole, two percentage points in the West and Center, but 21 percentage points in the East and South.
Despite the fact that supporters of the EU agreement still outnumbered opponents for Ukraine as a whole, the situation changed in the East and South with opponents now outnumbering supporters 42 percent to 39 percent. Roughly the same pattern shift occurred regarding eventual Ukrainian membership in the European Union.
Moscow views these “intermediate results” as “necessary but insufficient.” The number of Ukrainian supporters of European integration is still greater than the number of opponents. And consequently, Illarionov says, the Kremlin has moved its “war against Ukraine” into a new phase, one that talks about splitting that country apart.
The Moscow analyst says that “the main elements” of this campaign “recall the recent Abkhaz and South Osetian operations on Georgian television.” They include “the harsh opposition of the Russian authorities to pro-European and pro-Western aspirations of the majority of the country being attacked,” “the creation of anti-European and anti-Western places des armes” there, “the exacerbation of ethnic tensions” between these areas and the rest of the country, the promotion of instability, the weakening of the national leadership,, and “the ‘borderization’ of the places des armes” Moscow has set up.
Illarionov says he very much hope he is mistaken but that “one cannot exclude that there will be classic provocations by the [Russian] special services” in Ukraine designed to facilitate Moscow’s plans for the next stage of this conflict, one that the Georgian events show, the Russian state is prepared to pursue over the objections of Ukrainians and anyone else.