Sunday, August 26, 2018

Kyiv Takes Up Cause of Ukrainian Far East – and Russians are Furious

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 26 – The Putin regime feels justified in intervening on behalf of ethnic Russians in the former Soviet republics and says its actions, up to and including the dispatch of troops, are required to defend the human rights of those communities, rights which it often asserts are under threat.

            But let any other country show even the slightest concerns about its co-ethnics within the current borders of the Russian Federation, and both Russian commentators and Russian officials go ballistic denouncing such concerns as completely without merit and representing a threat to the territorial integrity of the country.

            No such expressions of concern are more offensive to Muscovite sensibilities, especially because in comparison to many others, they have a solid foundation: There were large and coherent Ukrainian ethnic communities in many parts of what is now the Russian Federation at the end of the imperial period.

            Called “wedges” (klins in Ukrainian), they took shape at the end of that period when Ukrainians suffering from drought and rural overpopulation moved to portions of central Russia, Siberia, and most importantly to the Russian Far East.  In some places, especially in the Far East, they were the dominant ethnic community.

            The Zelyonyi klin or “green wedge” in the Russian Far East was the largest and most important; and despite Moscow’s efforts at Russification, many people in that region still feel attached to their Ukrainian roots, retain distinct Ukrainian cultural signifiers, and even in some cases speak Ukraine.

            During the Russian Civil War, they sought to form their own Ukrainian Far Eastern Republic. In the mid-1980s, the United States even broadcast to the region in Ukrainian from facilities in Japan. And over the last decade, there have been period discussions about support for or at least recognition of the Zelyonyi klin by Kyiv.   

            (For background and references to this region, its history and its Ukrainian past and present, see, and

            Now the issue has heated up thanks to an interview Poroshenko advisor Oleg Medvedev gave to Ukrains’kiy tizhden last week (  In a discussion of how the Far East might be “Ukrainianized,” the political scientist noted that “the territory of the Ukrainian language is broadening and the population there is ready for ‘soft Ukrainianization.’”

            Russian officials and pro-Kremlin commentators were outraged.  Anatoly Vasserman, one of the latter, acknowledged that in in the Far East, “settlers from southwest Russia had at some point lived and used a dialect similar to Ukrainian. But he stressed “one must not consider this territory Ukrainian because people there spoke a Ukrainian dialect” (   

            What Vasserman and those who share his views do not recognize is that they are denying the very principle on which Moscow operates with regard to ethnic Russians and Russian speakers abroad. At the very least, discussions about the Zelyonyi klinn are useful in highlighting that inconsistency. 

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