Saturday, May 11, 2024

Kyiv Must Reintegrate Donbass as a Distinctive Region or Ukraine will Remain Vulnerable to Moscow’s Subversion, Kuromiya Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 7 – Hiroaki Kuromiya, a Japanese American historian who is a leading specialist on the Donbass says that if Moscow retains control of the Donbass, that region will be destroyed but that if Kyiv fails to reintegrate it as a distinctive one, Ukraine as a whole will remain vulnerable to continuing Russian subversion.

            The author of Freedom and Terror in the Donbas (Cambridge UP, 1998) says that Moscow has little interest in the Donbass as such and will reduce it to just another Russian region if Putin succeeds in retaining control there (

            The Russian occupiers will build on the Russian language used by most residents of the Donbass to wipe out all aspects of Ukrainian culture which form an important part of the character of Donbass residents. But if, as he hopes, Kuromiya says, Ukraine restores its control over the region, there are other problems that must be avoided.

            Many Ukrainians in the central and western portions of Ukraine view the Donbass, because of its Russian-speaking majority, as alien, and in the event of the restoration of Ukrainian control, they are likely to try to conduct a mirror image of Moscow’s approach and wipe out all elements of Russian culture there.

            That would be disastrous to the future of the Donbas and to Ukraine as a whole, the historian suggests.

            “I am certain,” he says, “that before the Russian invasion, the majority of the population of the Donbass saw their future as part of an independent Ukraine and not as a region annexed by Russia.” They voted for Ukrainian independence in 1991 and, despite problems, they retained that position in 2014.

            But there was and remains a minority in the Donbass with a different view. The region has long attracted outsiders seeking freedom from oppression or for opportunity as well as adventurers who see this borderland as a kind of Wild West in which they can function. Moscow has relied on these, and some Ukrainians wrongly view them as defining the region as a whole.

            The historian continues: “I am worried that Russia will destroy the Donbas as such. If it remains within Russia, its people will not e able to count on generous hope  from Moscow [because] for Moscow, the Donbass is important only as a lever against independent Ukraine and the West.”

            At the same time and “unfortunately,” Kuromiya continues, many in Kyiv are not interested in the Donbass as such and “although the West is vitally interested in the outcome of the war, it has shown little real interest in the fate of the Donbass. That doesn’t promise the region anything good.”

            According to the historian, “the only chance to preserve the Donbass, its past and future is if the residents of the Donbass will make a final choice in favor of Ukraine instead of Russia.” For that to happen, “Ukrainian society must relate to the people in the Donbass as its compatriots even if they are Russian speakers.”

            “After the war, Ukraine will probably have to go through a painful process of forgiveness and reconciliation; but this outcome will be much better than war and destruction,” he continues. “If Ukraine takes back the Donbass and expels Russia from Ukraine, the West should make a significant effort to help rebuild Ukraine, including the Donbass.”

            That is the only good way forward because “without bringing peace and prosperity to the Donbass, Ukraine will remain vulnerable to Moscow’s subversion.”

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