Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Rostov Journalist Outlines Five Scenarios for Ukraine’s Disintegration

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 1 – In the wake of the Crimean Anschluss, many Russians have predicted and many Ukrainians have been fearful that Ukraine could disintegrate as a country as a result of the actions of the Russian government and its agents in Eastern Ukraine. Exactly how that might happen and thus what Ukraine should do to prevent it, however, have been less widely discussed.

            Yesterday, in an article on Kavpolit.com, Nikolay Protsenko, the deputy editor of “Ekspert-Yug” in Rostov, discuses five ways in which that might occur, an enumeration useful for clarifying the issues involved and for thinking about the challenges that Ukraine will be facing for some time (kavpolit.com/articles/ukraina_2014_stsenarii_raspada-6609/).

            He presents five different models which he calls respectively the Bosnian, the Chechen Ichkerian, the Karabakh, the Abkhazian or Kosovan, and the Southern Sudanese or more distantly the Confederacy of the South. In each case, he discusses the model, its applicability to Ukraine, and the calculations of those involved. 

            According to the Rostov analyst, the first scenario is the Bosnia one, “a divorce within the framework of a confederation.”  After the Yugoslav civil war, Bosnia and Herzegovina was divided into the Republic Serbska and the Muslim-Croation Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

            While nominally a confederation, Protsenko says, this arrangement did little to allow the new republic to unite, and it remains “one of the most backward countries of Europe.”

            “From the very beginning, the conflicts in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in the east of Ukraine were considered ‘a clash of civilizations,’” with each side enjoying the support of outside supporters of one or the other, he says.  For Moscow, this outcome would be “the most preferable” because it would keep Ukraine as a united but weakened state.

But Kyiv appears unlikely to agree, Protsenko says, because it is unwilling “to recognize the Donetsk Peoples Republican the Luhansk Peoples republic as equal participants in negotiation about the future of the country and to support their right to take within the framework of ‘a new Ukraine’ ‘as much sovereignty as they cans swallow.”

            Moreover, this scenario suffers from another limitation, he continues. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, there were territories of compact settlement of the major ethnic groups,” something achieved at the price of genocide and ethnic cleansing.  But “in Ukraine, the border of the conditional ‘Russian world’ extends significantly to the west of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.”

            “This means,” he points out, “that the self-determination of these regions (at a minimum within the framework of a confederation would not stop the disintegration of the country but only exacerbate" the process.  Moreover, Protsenko adds, one must not forget about the territorial claims by European countries on western portions of Ukraine.

            Protsenko’s second scenario is the Chechen-Ichkerian one, a state unable to support itself.  Although Russia de facto lost the first post-Soviet Chechen war, the Chechens were unable to use the opportunity “to create stable and functioning government institutions.” Instead, that republic became a place where in fact “there was no state” at all.

            According to the Rostov analyst, “today the Ukrainian siloviki are repeating in the eastern regions of the country the very same mistake which at one time [Russia’s] federal authorities made having decided on introducing forces in Chechnya.”  The introduction of forces both now and then attracted new fighters on both sides.

            But it is “premature” to say that “the Donetsk Peoples Republic and the Luhansk Peoples Republic are consolidated political structures,” he adds.

            From Moscow’s perspective, “the negative consequences of the appearance on the southern borders of Russia of ungoverned territories with an armed population are obvious.”  Such a turn of events would be “the worst” of all, and therefore “Moscow will devote all possible efforts that it doesn’t happen.”

            The third scenario Protsenko discusses is the Karabakh variant, or “fusion without swallowing.”  As a result of the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Karabakh became a republic with close ties to Armenia but has not been recognized de jure by Yerevan or anyone else. Moreover, no settlement of the conflict appears possible despite 20 years of a ceasefire.

            “The difference between ethnic Russians living in the eastern regions of Ukraine and the Ukrainians, especially from the western oblasts of the country is not as diving as that between Armenians and Azerbaijanis,” the analyst writes. But there are two factors which make these situations more similar than many suspect.

            On the one hand, Protsenko says, for many ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraiine “Rostov is much closer than Kyiv” and will remain so. And “the idea of ‘a divided people’ has great potential to mobilize the masses, as at one time the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh demonstrated.” That will contribute to a sense of community regardless of where the official border is.

            And on the other, such territories and their leaders could be a problem for Russia as a whole just as Karabakh has been for Armenia.  They will be a continuing source of nationalism, and it is not surprising, the Rostov analyst says, that the last two presidents of Armenia are from and associated with Karabakh.

            At the same time, however, there is a factor that limits the possibilities for such a scenario.  Eastern Ukraine is simply too big and has too much industry to be treated as Karabakh has been. It will either want statehood or an enhanced status in Ukraine rather than remaining in an undefined situation.

            The fourth scenario is the Abkhazian or Kosovan one, “partial recognition.”  As is the case with both of those breakaway states, some countries recognize them while others do not.  Indeed, they are often spoken of as “partially recognized states.”  But again, Protsenko says, eastern Ukraine is too large and important to remain that way for long.

            But he says that “one should not exclude a Somalian scenario in which on paper Ukraine continues to exist as a UN member state but in fact is transformed into a conglomerate of opposed territories which do not recognize one another de jure.” International recognition of the Somalian government has not ensured that the state controls all the territory.

            And Protsenko’s fifth scenario is that of Southern Sudan, “complete secession” recognized by the international community. After Sudan gained its independence in 1956, the south sought to secede. Finally, Protsenko points out, it gained international recognition, but only in July 2011.

            The Rostov analyst appends to this a suggestion that in some ways, the secession of Eastern Ukraine resembles the American civil war of 1861-1865, with this major and perhaps fateful different. In North America, the North was an industrial powerhouse while the South was agrarian, and that allowed the one to defeat the other.

            But in Ukraine now, the east is the industrial powerhouse and the central and western portions of the country are increasingly agrarian.  If that pattern holds, he implies, the secessionists could win, but only if the rest of Ukraine does not build up its economic and hence security capacities.

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