The Corner

Ukraine: Dual Power?

All reports coming out of Ukraine have to be treated with quite a deal of care, but this is interesting


The executive committee of the Lviv region’s council, the People’s Rada, is assuming full responsibility for the fate of the region and citizens, the Lviv region’s council said in a statement…..The executive committee is comprised deputies, representatives of the Maidan self-defense, public figures, and scientists, the Lviv region’s council has reported. The executive committee is led by Petro Kolodiy, chairman of the Lviv region’s council. The executive committee controls all executive administration bodies on the territory of the region and is calling on all state servants and citizens to fulfill decisions and orders signed by Kolodiy, the document says.

The document reiterates that the main function of the executive committee is to maintain law and order in the region and help send activists to Kyiv and provide the Maidan activists with everything they need.

“The lawfully elected local councils and the executive committees created by them remain the legitimate authorities in the Lviv region. The majority of the district police departments have already announced their decision to take the side of the people of Ukraine and report to the executive committee of the Lviv region’s council,” the statement says.

Lviv (Lvov, or, for the Austro-Hungarian irridentists among you, Lemberg), a city first incorporated into the USSR courtesy of the Nazi-Soviet pact,  is, of course, the heart of Ukraine’s nationalist west.


In other signs of fraying central control for a government seen as close to business magnates from the Russian-speaking east, Poland said Ukrainians blocked the Korczowa border crossing near Lviv. And local media said opposition groups in other western cities, including Khmelnitsky, Ivano-Frankivsk, Uzhorod and Ternopil, also took over public buildings.

Over at Newsweek, Owen Matthews wonders whether Ukraine is drifting towards civil war, but also acknowledges the complexities of a country that is on the fault lines of east and west (as traditionally understood, although Matthews’s nod to the earlier history of the region, “Kiev is the heart of medieval Russian civilization”, is not exactly uncontroversial), complexities that meant an all or nothing—west or east—solution to the country’s destiny was unlikely to fly, complexities, indeed, that span the Russian border:

Ukraine is certainly split between those whose first language is Russian, who look culturally, economically and in its religious orthodoxy towards Russia, and those in the mainly Catholic west. whose first language is Ukrainian and who look towards Poland and Europe. But – so far – polls have never shown much appetite, even in the east, either for seceding from Kiev or for returning to Russia’s fold (though numbers in Crimea come close to even).

And it’s been more than a decade since Russian nationalist politicians last called for a return of Crimea to Moscow’s control. Indeed there is evidence that ordinary Ukrainians fear a breakup of their country above all else: “We are against the Syrian scenario!” read placards held up by pro-government protesters at a recent rally in the industrial city of Makeyevka, in the [eastern]  industrial region of Donetsk.

It’s true that Yanukovych hails from Eastern Ukraine, speaks bad Ukrainian and was backed by a Russian-speaking gang of oligarchs known as the Donetsk mafia. But Euromaidan is less a revolt of Western Ukraine against the East so much as a rejection of Yanukovych’s ineffective and corrupt leadership. It’s a revolt of the young, urban generation against a cronyish post-Soviet business and political elite – and, crucially, that’s a fault line that runs through Moscow as much as it does through Kiev.

Meanwhile at his blog Mark Galeotti surveys the situation, concluding with some discussion of ‘the khaki elephant in the room’ (the army) and ‘the khaki bear just outside the room’ (Russia).

On the army:

If Yanukovych cannot quickly smash the opposition in Kiev and use this both to overawe protesters elsewhere and send Berkut and other MVS units out to reinforce local elements and restore central control, then the only ways he can escalate are (1) by using greater violence, lethal force; or (2) drawing on the military. Either option in effect puts a military that has developed a strong esprit de corps and an ethos of loyalty to the state rather than any particular government, in an unenviable situation. I’m not convinced they would obey orders to join Berkut, although at present I feel they’d simply refuse rather than outright join the protesters.

On Russia:

I think—hope—that Moscow is not so stupid as to get directly involved. If anything might induce the Ukrainian military to side directly with the opposition, it might be this. Even so, Moscow has political tools aplenty, from encourage separatism in eastern Ukraine—think of a massive Transdnestria [a curious entity located between Ukraine and Moldova]—to presenting the fate of ethnic Russians and Russian passport-holders in the Crimea as a crucial interest, a la South Ossetia/Abkhazia [in Georgia, or not, depending on who you ask].

Galeotti (whose post is well worth reading in full) concludes that these are “worrying times”. Indeed they are.  There is no easy way out for either side, and, to be realistic, not that much that the EU (which arguably squandered the opportunity opened up by the Orange Revolution years ago) or the US can do about it, at least for now.


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