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About the Ukrainian identity

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Ukraine is an East European territory which was originally forming a western part of the Russian Empire from the mid-17th century. That is a present-day independent state and separate ethnolinguistic nation as a typical example of Benedict Anderson’s theory-model of the “imagined community” – a self-constructed idea of the artificial ethnic and linguistic-cultural identity.

Before 2014 Ukraine was a home of some 46 million inhabitants of whom, according to the official data, there were around 77 percent of those who declared themselves as the Ukrainians. Nevertheless, many Russians do not consider the Ukrainians or the Belarus as “foreign” but rather as the regional branches of the Russian nationality. It is a matter of fact that, differently to the Russian case, the national identity of the Belarus or the Ukrainians was never firmly fixed as it was always in the constant process of changing and evolving [on the Ukrainian self-identity construction, see: Karina V. Korostelina, Constructing the Narratives of Identity and Power: Self-Imagination in a Young Ukrainian Nation, Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2014].

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The regions of Ukraine according to the political orientation

The process of self-constructing identity of the Ukrainians after 1991 is basically oriented vis-à-vis Ukraine’s two most powerful neighbours: Poland and Russia. In the other words, the self-constructing Ukrainian identity (like the Montenegrin or the Belarus) is able so far just to claim that the Ukrainians are not both the Poles or the Russians but what they really are is of a great debate. Therefore, an existence of an independent state of Ukraine, nominally as a national state of the Ukrainians, is of a very doubt indeed from both perspectives: historical and ethnolinguistic.    

The Slavonic term Ukraine, for instance, in the Serbo-Croat case Krajina, means in the English language a Borderland – a provincial territory situated on the border between at least two political entities: in this particular historical case, between the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania as the Republic of Both Nations (1569−1795) and the Russian Empire. A German historical term for Ukraine would be a mark – a term for the state’s borderland which existed from the time of the Frankish Kingdom/Empire of Carl the Great . The term is mostly used from the time of the treaty (truce) of Andrussovo in 1667 between these two states. In the other words, Ukraine and the Ukrainians as a natural objective-historical-cultural identity never existed as it was considered only as a geographic-political territory between two other natural-historical entities (Poland and Russia). All (quasi)historiographical mentioning of this land and the people as Ukraine/Ukrainians referring to the period before the mid-17th century are quite scientifically incorrect but in majority of cases politically inspired and coloured with the purpose to present them as something crucially different from the historical process of ethnic genesis of the Russians [for instance: Alfredas Bumblauskas, Genutė Kirkienė, Feliksas Šabuldo (sudarytojai), Ukraina: Lietuvos epocha, 1320−1569, Vilnius: Mokslo ir enciklopedijų leidybos centras, 2010].

It was a Roman Catholic Vatican that was behand the process of creation of the “imagined community” of the “Ukrainian” national identity for the very political purpose to separate the people from this borderland territory from the Orthodox Russian Empire. Absolutely the same was done by Vatican’s client Austria-Hungary in regard to the national identity of Bosnian-Herzegovinian population when this province was administered by Vienna-Budapest from 1878 to 1918 as it was the Austria-Hungarian government who created totally artificial and very new ethnolinguistic identity – the “Bosnians”, just not to be the (Orthodox) Serbs (who were at that time a strong majority of the provincial population) [ЛазоМ. Костић, НаукаутврђујенародностБ-Хмуслимана, Србиње−НовиСад: Добрицакњига, 2000.].

A creation of ethnolinguistically artificial Ukrainian national identity and later on a separate nationality was a part of a wider confessional-political project by Vatican in the Roman Catholic historical struggle against the eastern Orthodox Christianity (the eastern “schism”) and its Churches within the framework of Pope’s traditional proselytizing policy of reconversion of the “infidels”. One of the most successful instruments of a soft-way reconversion used by Vatican was to compel a part of the Orthodox population to sign with the Roman Catholic Church the Union Act recognizing at such a way a supreme power by the Pope and dogmatic filioque (“and from the Son” – the Holy Spirit proceeds and from the Father and from the Son). Therefore, the ex-Orthodox believers who now became the Uniate Brothers or the Greek Orthodox believers became in a great number later on a pure Roman Catholics but as well as changed their original (from the Orthodox time) ethnolinguistic identity. It is, for instance, very clear in the case of the Orthodox Serbs in Zhumberak area of Croatia – from the Orthodox Serbs to the Greek Orthodox, later the Roman Catholics and finally today the Croats. Something similar occurred and in the case of Ukraine. On October 9th, 1596 it was announced by Vatican a Brest Union with a part of the Orthodox population within the borders of the Roman Catholic Lithuanian-Polish Commonwealth (today Ukraine) [Arūnas Gumuliauskas, Lietuvos istorija: Įvykiai ir datos, Šiauliai: Šiaures Lietuva, 2009, 44; Didysis istorijos atlasas mokyklai: Nuo pasaulio ir Lietuvos priešistorės iki naujausiųjų laikų, Vilnius: Leidykla Briedis, (without year of publishing) 108.]. The crucial issue in this matter is that today Ukraina’s Uniates and the Roman Catholics are most anti-Russian and of the Ukrainian national feelings. Basically, both the Ukrainian and the Belarus present-day ethnolinguistic and national identities are historically founded on the anti-Orthodox policy of Vatican within the territory of ex-Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth that was in essence an anti-Russian one.

The Lithuanian historiography writing on the Church Union of Brest in 1596 clearly confirms that:

“… the Catholic Church more and more strongly penetrated the zone of the Orthodox Church, giving a new impetus to the idea, which had been cherished since the time of Jogaila and Vytautas and formulated in the principles of the Union of Florence in 1439, but never put into effect – the subordination of the GDL Orthodox Church to the Pope’s rule” [Zigmantas Kiaupa et al, The History of Lithuania Before 1795, Vilnius: Lithuanian Institute of History, 2000, 288].

In the other words, the rulers of the Roman Catholic Grand Duchy of Lithuania (the GDL) from the very time of Lithuania’s baptizing in 1387−1413 by Vatican had a plan to Catholicize all Orthodox believers of the GDL among whom overwhelming majority were the Slavs. As a consequence, the relations with Moscow became very hostile as Russia accepted a role of the protector of the Orthodox believers and faith and therefore the Church Union of Brest was seen as a criminal act by Rome and its client the Republic of Two Nations (Poland-Lithuania).  

Today, it is absolutely clear that the most pro-western and anti-Russian part of Ukraine is exactly the West Ukraine – the lands that was historically under the rule by the Roman Catholic ex-Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the former Habsburg Monarchy. It is obvious, for instance, from the presidential voting results in 2010 as the pro-western regions voted for J. Tymoshenko while the pro-Russian regions do it for V. Yanukovych. It is a reflection of the post-Soviet Ukrainian identity dilemma between “Europe” and “Eurasia” – a dilemma that is of common nature for all Central and East European nations who historically played a role of a buffer zone between the German Mittel Europa project and the Russian project of a pan-Slavonic unity and reciprocity.

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The 2010 Presidential elections voting results

In general, the western territories of the present-day Ukraine are mainly populated by the Roman Catholics, the East Orthodox and the Uniates. This part of Ukraine is mostly nationalistic and pro-western oriented. The East Ukraine is in essence Russophone and subsequently “tends to look to closer relations with Russia” [John S. Dryzek, Leslie Templeman Holmes, Post-Communist Democratization: Political Discourses Across Thirteen Countries, Cambridge−New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002, 114].        

Eastern Europe

Ukraine war’s first anniversary and beyond

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photo source: Ministry of Defense of Ukraine

The first anniversary of Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine falls on February 24. The Russian strategy of attrition war has not yet produced the desired political outcome but has been a success nonetheless, writes Indian Ambassador and prominent international observer M.K. Bhadrakumar.

The delusional “westernist” notions of the Moscow elite that Russia can be a dialogue partner of the West have dissipated thoroughly, with ex-German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s stunning disclosure recently that the West’s negotiations with Russia regarding the Minsk Agreement were an “attempt to give Ukraine time” and that Kiev had used it “to become stronger.”

Thus, the accession to Russia four ex-Ukrainian regions — Donetsk and Lugansk [Donbass], Zaporozhye, Kherson oblasts – accounting for around one-fifth of Ukrainian territory, is a fait accompli now, and Kiev’s recognition of it is a pre-requisite for any future peace talks.

The Kremlin has put necessary mechanisms in place to galvanise the defence industry and the economy to meet the needs of the military operations in Ukraine. From a long-term perspective, one historic outcome of the conflict is going to be Russia’s emergence as an unassailable military power that draws comparison with the Soviet Red Army, which the West will never again dare to confront. This is yet to sink in.

Under the plan approved by Putin, the Moscow and the Leningrad military districts will be created, three motorised rifle divisions will be formed in the Kherson and the Zaporozhye oblasts (that have been annexed in September) and an army corps will be built in the northwestern region of Karelia bordering Finland.

The internal western assessment is that the war is going badly for Ukraine. Spiegel reported last week that Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND) “informed security politicians of the Bundestag in a secret meeting this week that the Ukrainian army is currently losing a three-digit number of soldiers every day in battles.”

The Biden Administration is hoping to buy time till spring to revamp the pulverised Ukrainian military and equip it with advanced weaponry. The old stocks of Soviet-era weaponry have been exhausted and future supplies to Ukraine will have to be from hardware in service with NATO countries. That is easier said than done, and western defence industry will need time to restart production.

All the bravado that ‘Kiev is preparing for an offensive to drive the Russians out of Ukraine’ has vanished.

The big picture, therefore, as the war enters the second year is that the West is working feverishly on plans, with the Biden Administration leading from the rear, to deliver heavy armour to the Ukrainian military by spring, including German Leopard tanks. If that happens, Russia is sure to retaliate with strikes on supply routes and warehouses in western Ukraine.

Dmitry Medvedev, the outspoken former Russian president who is close to Putin and serves as deputy chairman of the powerful security council, explicitly warned, “Nuclear powers have never lost major conflicts on which their fate depends.”

There is the ‘X’ factor — US domestic politics as it approaches the 2024 election year. The Republicans are insisting on an auditing of the tens of billions of dollars spent on Ukraine — $110 billion in military aid alone — making the Biden Administration accountable.

The CIA chief William Burns paid an unpublicised visit to Kiev, reportedly to transmit the message that US arms supplies beyond July may become problematic.

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Eastern Europe

China Still Ambivalent About the Middle Corridor

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Image Source: Mbkv717/Flickr

Despite the oft-touted momentum behind the Eurasian Middle Corridor circumventing Russia, China still appears not to be fully behind the project beset by geopolitical challenges and infrastructure hurdles.

Overlapping Interests

Russia’s war on Ukraine has been a game-changer for Eurasian connectivity. The route through north Eurasia running from China to Europe that served as a major conduit between the two is now less attractive as a result of the Western sanctions imposed on Moscow. China-EU shipments along the Northern Corridor have decreased by 40 percent according to data from October 2022. This new reality serves as a major incentive for finding alternative routes.

It is rare in geopolitics that so many states in such a short timeframe would agree on advancing a certain project. The Middle Corridor, connecting China and Europe via Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Black Sea, is a good example of a vision where different countries from across Eurasia have accelerated the work not only on promoting the idea, but also laying the ground for its expansion.

In the months following the invasion of Ukraine, the EU has re-invigorated its policies toward the wider Black Sea region and has actively engaged Central Asia through high-level visits, pledging economic and political support. No longer willing to trade with China through Russia, Brussels is now pushing for the expansion of the Middle Corridor.

Small nations along the Corridor, too, have upped their diplomatic game. Leaders of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Central Asian states have grasped the emerging opportunity and begun inter-state cooperation through bilateral visits and the signing of memorandums on the minimization of tariffs and border crossing hurdles.

The effects of such cooperation are already evident. Indeed, emerging connectivity opportunities push the governments to reconsider their previous position on long-stalled projects such as the Anaklia deep sea port in the case of Georgia or the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway, which the cooperating states pledged to begin work on in 2023.

Then, there is Turkey. Seeing an opening in the region, Ankara has increased its outreach to Central Asia already following Azerbaijan’s victory over Armenia in 2020. Effectively the initiator of the Middle Corridor idea back in 2000s, Turkey is now arguably one of the critical players driving the concept. A series of “block train” transports were initiated in recent years, traversing the corridor. In February 2021, a train reached China from Turkey’s eastern provinces after nearly twenty days of transit. In April 2022, another train was dispatched via the same route. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Kazakh colleague Kassym-Jomart Tokayev commended during their summit in Ankara in 2022 “the growth of cargo transit via the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad and the East-West Middle Corridor.” Moreover, the two sides “stressed the importance of strengthening coordination between the relevant institutions for the effective and sustainable use of the Middle Corridor.”

Yet, one critical player– China – is largely missing. Beijing has rarely commented on the Middle Corridor and Chinese analysts write exceptionally little on the issue. Most importantly, Beijing has invested very little in the actual development of the corridor.

Significant Constraints

China’s reticence so far can be explained by pure pragmatism. Of course, there is a major imperative for Beijing to find alternative routes as transit through Russia becomes problematic. In that regard, the Caspian Sea and the South Caucasus indeed constitute geographically the shortest link to Europe.

Yet, the route is not an easy one – it is multimodal, i.e. consists of both sea lines and land routes and crosses multiple countries which have made little effort to synchronize their transit capabilities and develop infrastructure before 2022.

Currently, there is close to no joint tariff coordination, effective inter-governmental dialogue and adequate infrastructure to process the throughput which has been shipped through Russia. For instance, lack of infrastructure in the Caspian Sea prevents convenient transit from Central Asian ports to Azerbaijan. Similar troubles beset the Georgian side of the Black Sea, especially as there is no deep sea port. The construction of the Anaklia port was postponed due to political infighting in the country with new construction plans only recently announced. In 2022, the Middle Corridor could only absorb 3-5 percent of the China-EU trade, which limits Beijing’s interest in the route.

Finally, geopolitical factors, such as instability in the South Caucasus, have contributed to making the Middle Corridor not as attractive for China as it might seem on the first sight. Russian influence is a primary factor. Despite Russia’s current weakness and incrementally growing dependence on China, the latter will have to carefully measure how Moscow will be responding to the development of a route which circumvents it from the south, in the region where Moscow has four military bases.

Kremlin could potentially rupture the connection both politically and through the use of more radical measures if deemed necessary. Much will depend on how Moscow fares in Ukraine. Perhaps a victory might even embolden it to prevent the corridor from materializing. But even if defeated or bogged down in a protracted war, Russia’s behavior will remain unpredictable, keeping China at unease.

From the South Caucasus, the Middle Corridor continues to either the Black Sea or Turkey. The former is currently a war theater, with chances for peaceful implementation of the corridor quite limited. This leaves China with Turkey.

Ankara and Beijing have promoted inherently competing visions of Eurasian connectivity. There were even hints that Turkish and Chinese influence clashed in Azerbaijan, which limited China’s engagement in the expansion of the Middle Corridor. After the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, the situation seems to have changed and Turkey and China have opened more active talks on cooperation along the corridor. For instance, China-Turkey Communication Forum was held in September 2022, focusing, among other things, on synergizing the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) with the Turkey’s Middle Corridor. Yet, the pace of cooperation remains slow with little practical steps taken so far.

Looking Ahead

China might eventually grow interested in the re-invigorated Middle Corridor as a part of a hedging strategy. As was the case with silk roads in ancient and medieval times, trade corridors rarely remain static. They constantly adjust to emerging opportunities and evade potential geopolitical dangers. In the same vein, China’s massive BRI is far from stationary, but constantly evolving and adjusting to varying circumstances instead.

Although the South Caucasus and the Caspian Sea have not featured high in the BRI documents published by Beijing, the region can rise to rank higher among Chinese interests amid a new emerging geopolitical reality. This is especially the case if Russia grows even more sidelined in Eurasian geopolitics and Beijing realizes that betting on Russia long-term is a dead-end.

Author’s note: first published in chinaobservers

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Eastern Europe

A turning moment in Ukraine Crisis

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Germany’s decision to send tanks to Ukraine is a major moment in the Ukraine Crisis. It will have a far-reaching impact and may turn it into World War III. It is a tradition of the US to gang up to counter its adversaries. Iraq war, Libyan attacks, Syrian aggression, and the Occupation of Afghanistan, all were the result of allied forces, the US has the skills to make allies in addition to NATO and achieve its political objectives.

The US lobbies against its adversaries, and use all dirty tricks including media to malign its adversaries. They mislead the public and level the ground for the next stage – armed intervention. Looking at US interventions in any part of the world, you may conclude a similar approach.

Ukraine is also no exception. The US was preparing grounds for this crisis for a long and dragged Russia into it. Including Ukraine in NATO, was a red line for Russia, but, deliberately, this path was chosen to spoil global peace.

After failing all negotiations, Russia was left with no option except launch a special military operation on the same line as the 2014 Crimea operation. It was just a limited operation and should have been over after securing Russian borders only.

Unfortunately, the US had different intentions and trapped Russia in Ukraine and a full-scale war started. It was purely American war against Russia, but, as usual, America ganged up with NATO and also sought assistance and support from friendly countries.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced the move on Wednesday, bowing to intensifying international pressure – led by the United States, Poland, and a bloc of other European nations, which called on Berlin to step up its military support and commit to sending their sought-after vehicles. The influx of Western tanks into the conflict has the potential to change the shape of the war. The shipments are a breakthrough in the West’s military support for Kyiv, signaling a bullish view around the world about Ukraine’s ability to reclaim occupied territory. Crucially, they may allow Ukraine to take the fighting to Moscow’s forces and re-capture more occupied land, rather than focusing primarily on beating back Russian attacks.

The US has increased its defense budget and military aid to Ukraine. It is aimed to attack Russia, not limited to liberating Ukraine only. It will prolong the war and let Russia bleed for longer.

Participation of Europe in conflict may worsen the situation and may harm Europe more. Although there are public rallies, protests, and agitations in major cities in Europe to end the Ukraine war or at least oppose Europe’s active participation. Some were chanting slogans to leave NATO. It seems the public understands the consequences but the rulers are blindly following US policies. It might create a rift between the public and rulers.

Blunders made by rulers, but, the price is being paid by the public, in the form of inflation, hikes in the price of fuel, energy, food, etc., are a common phenomenon all over Europe. The danger of spreading the war is at high risk.

Imagine, if Russia also seeks assistance from its allies and gangs up to conform to NATO aggression, it will be certainly a Word War III. Today, the World is obviously polarized and blocks are emerging rapidly.

It also can turn into nuclear war too. The 8 declared nuclear states have enough piles of nuclear weapons to destroy the whole world completely. It is scaring scenario.

But despite knowing the consequences, no one is taking any initiative to end the war and seek political solutions to the crisis. The US is not interested in the peaceful resolution of the disputes and Europe is blindly following America.

It is urged that the UN may intervene proactively and initiate a dialogue to reach an acceptable solution for all stakeholders. Unbiased, non-partisan nations may come forward to initiate peace dialogues. All peace-loving countries and individuals may act proactively and struggle to end the Ukraine crisis. Satisfying all concerned parties may achieve sustainable peace and avert any big disaster.

Humankind is the most precious thing in this universe and must be respected. Value human lives, save human lives, and without any discrimination protects human lives across the board all over the globe.

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