The 2010 elections in Ukraine Photo Credit: Washington Post
Regarding the recent unrest and chaos that have been relentlessly increasing in Ukraine, US President Barack Obama stated the other day that “the success of a united Ukraine going forward…is not only in the interest of the people of Ukraine and the international community, but also in Russia’s interest.” However, perhaps what Ukrainians need is the opportunity to choose between two options instead of one that forces all Ukrainains to go down one path. Such a scenario could entail the formation of two largely autonomous regions within Ukraine. For example, Ukraine could transform into a country with a loose confederation between such regions. One autonomous region would be free to become more economically connected with the European Union while the other with Russia.
Such a solution rises from the realities on the ground throughout Ukraine. There is a clear division between two sections of the country as to what kind of a destiny and path Ukraine should set out for itself. The population in the western half of the country has clearly demonstrated over the past few months that they have no intentions of accepting a scenario where Ukraine would become an economic partner with Russia in some sort of a customs union instead of being a focal part of the European Union. Their wishes were satisfied when the Ukrainian Parliament declared an end to the rule of the elected Pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. However, as expected, the removal of Yanukovych also served to stir up tensions for many Ukrainians in the southern and eastern regions of Ukraine who have expressed with just as much passion as their compatriots in the west, their opposition to the idea of a Ukraine that will be covered by the European Union umbrella. In fact, many Ukrainians in these regions have identified with Russia to such a degree that they have welcomed Russian military intervention into the Crimea.
The differences between the two regions are not unexpected.
Such divisions between the different regions of Ukraine are not unexpected. It was only in the winter of 2004 and 2005, during the “Orange Revolution” that similar tensions were expressed in Ukraine over the veracity and fairness of the presidential elections that were taking place at the time. Additionally, in the election results, the different regions were distinctly divided over their respective preferences for who should be President. In many ways, the divergence between the two conflicting regions of Ukraine can be explained by their different historical experiences and narratives. Western Ukraine has historically been heavily influenced by Western culture. It identifies more with Catholicism and Ukrainian nationalism. Eastern Ukraine, on the other hand, has historically experienced close ties with Russia, which is emphasized by its affinity for Russian culture and the Greek Orthodox Church.
The 2004 elections in Ukraine showed very similar results to those in 2010. Photo Credit: Washington Post
A loose confederation with two autonomous regions could be a solution.
It appears that whichever path is taken by a fully united Ukraine, whether it should become more closely aligned with the EU or with Russia, at least one major section of the country is going to be extremely dissatisfied. That is why what Ukraine may need is to grant at least some sort of autonomy for both regions of the country in which Ukrainians within each section can choose their own destiny. The population of Ukraine is diverse enough that some Ukrainians in the west prefer Russia and some in the east would rather be closer to Europe. A loose confederation in Ukraine could solve such dilemmas. It would keep the country together, but would allow each autonomous region to determine their own economic destiny. Ultimately, a decision on such a course of action should be decided by the Ukrainians themselves and no one else.