Why not a divided Ukraine?
By dr. HOWARD METTEE
Special to The Vindicator
As we sit helplessly by watching 25 years of peaceful collaboration with our former Cold War adversaries, the nasty Russians, move to further isolation and open Russian bashing, it might help to attempt a different perspective. As things stand today, not so innocent, but poor, Ukraine is being torn by competing forces finding their origins in both Moscow and Washington. Both capitals have proxy dogs in this fight. While one has been slowly encroaching on the other by NATO expansion (15 to 28 countries in the past 20 years, after assurances from the NATO this would not happen) the other has been trying to prevent this surge from occurring, as these new countries lie along or close to the Russian border. There is no realistic claim to wanting to return to the old days of the USSR, only a question who your immediate neighbors are, and are these NATO puppies the newest proxies for regime change in Moscow?
Cold War victor
After winning the Cold War we might be tempted to expand our influence over the vanquished say by using humanitarian NGOs as fronts for extending democracy and capitalism not just in this region of the world, but everywhere, since we are the exceptional super-power, no one can challenge us militarily, the we know the winner takes all. Why wouldn’t they want to be like us, and we will help them see their own self-interest. We’ve tried regime change in Chile, Libya, Iraq, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Georgia, Syria, Egypt, and we know how these things often work out. We throw the “freedom fighters” a rope and then say you’re on your own, or we end up supporting dictators reviled by their own populations.
The Canadian model tells us that two rather different cultures, languages and heritages (English and French) can sometimes form a successful confederation (ca. 1840). The Iraqi model shows us that two different Muslim cultures (Shia and Sunni) can have a very rough time integrating (ca. 2005). Elections were supposed to relieve some of this pressure. The middle east model depicts a long standing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians that continues after 60 years of intransigence, and that punctuated peace talks can’t resolve, as both parties have historical roots in the region going back over a thousand years.
What to do with Ukraine? Force it together when there are two very visible and vocal sub-populations who prefer “affiliation” with either Moscow or Washington’s proxies? Allow it to separate and the pieces go their own ways? If western Ukrainians prefer a NATO alliance, and eastern Ukrainians prefer a Moscow orientation, the Dnieper River neatly forms a border and there could be two Ukraines. So what? This actually happened when Pakistan was split (Bangaldesh formed, and we discovered cheap T-shirts), and when Czechoslovakia became the Czech Republic and Slovenia. True, it doesn’t make the economies of either East or West Ukraine any more “successful” than Ukraine itself, but then, what is the price of the civil war to which it is now headed as the proxies are aided and abetted by their corners?
You won’t hear the word “partition” talked about for Ukraine while the parties are still vying to win the country to their side, and it will be justified on the grounds that each part will be poorer than a unified Ukraine (if that’s possible). But then, what is the price of another civil war in both human terms and economic terms? We have current examples of Libya, Syria, Egypt, Iraq on the one hand, or Pakistan, Czechoslovakia and the current Balkans on the other. How about this time, we let the Ukrainian people speak, and if they choose to divide as suspected, why not let them? If they decide not to split, then all parties will have to cooperate more than they already have an inclination to do, and respect the rights of their fellow countrymen and women with whom they disagree. Both Moscow and Washington might lose some face, but then, sometimes that’s the sign of a good negotiation.
Dr. Howard Mettee is a chemistry professor at Youngstown State University who has traveled many times to Russia in the past 25 years, once as a Fulbright Scholar. He visited Odessa in January, and still has many Rotary and faculty friends in St. Petersburg with whom he is working today.