Leaving Behind the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics
Updated: Oct 4, 2019
With all of the news swirling in the media regarding Trump's phone call with President Zelensky of Ukraine, I have been reminded of a couple of pieces I have read regarding the war that is going on in Ukraine's east. The story goes that Trump withheld anti-tank Javelin missile's that Ukraine has requested in order to fight back against Russian incursions in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. I have been wondering whether or not we should be selling the Ukrainian government these missiles at all.
Ukraine is a historically fractured country with the western regions wanting to be associated with peninsular Europe, whereas the eastern regions have ethnic and historical ties to the Russian empire and many Ukrainian citizens in the east are ethnically Russian. When the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk decided to break away from the Ukrainian government over its efforts to join the European Union and NATO, they were doing so in the interest of retaining their ethnically Russian culture and ties to the Russian state. Although Russia has been a bit aggressive in its measures supporting the breakaway republics, I don't necessarily think that they are incorrect in supporting them.
Ukraine is a massive country that stretches from Poland in the west to Russia in the east. This is a major factor in why the western and eastern regions of the countries differ so much in their desire to be associated either with western institutions like the EU and NATO or the Russian state. There are historical and cultural reasons for this as well. When the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union from the West in World War II they occupied and set up a puppet state in Ukraine with its capital as Rivne in the western part of the country that devastated the ethnic Russians that the Soviets had settled there. By winning the war and pushing the Nazis out from east to west, the Soviets first liberated the eastern parts of the country and had to defeat the Reichskommissariat Ukraine in the west that was filled with collaborators. This history is important to understanding the conflict today, as the anti-Russian movement in western Ukraine contains neo-Nazi elements that welcomed the Reichskommissariat Ukraine and resented Soviet rule, whereas the pro-Russian movement in eastern Ukraine is largely made up of ethnic Russians who lament the collapse of the Soviet Union and would like to remain close to Russia.
Clearly this is not a unified state and there is some legitimacy to Russia's claims that they are defending ethnic Russian partisans against a neo-fascist movement in the west. I feel as though the proper solution would be to allow the breakaway republics to actually breakaway. If they want stronger ties with a Russian state thats economy is failing and can barely provide opportunities for its own citizens then so be it. The West should continue to support the pro-EU pro-NATO government in Kiev without forcing recalcitrant and backwards regions of the far-eastern portions of the country to come along with it.