This article investigates what kin identification means from a bottom-up perspective in two kin majority cases: Moldova and Crimea. The article is based on ∼50 fieldwork interviews conducted in both Moldova and Crimea with everyday social actors (2012–2013). Ethnic homogeneity for kin majorities is more fractured than previously considered. Respondents identified more in terms of assemblages of ethnic, cultural, political, linguistic, and territorial identities than in mutually exclusive census categories. To understand fully the relations between kin majorities, their kin-state and home-state and the impact of growing kin engagement policies, like dual citizenship, it is necessary to analyze the complexities of the lived experience of kin identification for members of kin majorities and how this relates to kin-state identification and affiliation. Understanding these complexities helps to have a more nuanced understanding of the role of ethnicity in post-Communist societies, in terms of kin-state and intrastate relations.
In the article, I analyse the phenomenon of kin majorities, which I define as kin communities that comprise a local majority in the state or sub-state in which they reside and are claimed by an external state. I argue these kin majorities to be more fractured than expected, where respondents do not identify with neat mutually exclusive census categories, but instead in terms of ethnic, cultural, political, linguistic, and territorial forms of identification. For example in the Moldovan case, I find multiple ways of combining being Moldovan and/or Romanian, while in Crimea, I find multiple ways of being Ukraine, Russian and/or Crimean.
Overall, I argue both for a bottom-up approach to analyse kin-state relations where it is necessary to unpack how individuals identify with their home-state and kin-state, and how these identifications can be reinforcing or in competition. Moreover, understanding these complexities helps to have a more nuanced understanding of the role of ethnicity in post-Communist societies, in terms of kin-state and intrastate relations.
The latest Eastern Partnership summit was held in Riga on 21-22 May. The summit was the first to be held since the Vilnius summit in November 2013 which precipitated the Ukraine crisis. Ellie Knottwrites on the outcome of the summit and what it means for the development of relations between the EU and Eastern Partnership states. She notes that the EU is now faced with a difficult balancing act of convincing Russia that it is not engaged in direct competition for influence over post-Soviet states, while offering enough concessions to those Eastern Partnership countries that would like to pursue deeper EU integration.
The recent Riga summit (21-22 May 2015) was the fourth summit since the Eastern Partnership (EaP) was initiated in 2009. While the Riga Summit may have been a “survival summit” against the backdrop of “war in Ukraine”, it also signalled “a new era of our partnership” between the EU and 6 EaP states, with a new High Representative (Federica Mogherini), EU President (Donald Tusk) and Commissioner for Enlargement (Johannes Hahn).
The interim between the Vilnius (November 2013) and Riga summits saw one of the biggest crises of post-Soviet states. Ukraine experienced both a revolution, and then Russian incursion, first with Crimea’s annexation and then with support for separatism in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, leaving the country somewhere between a civil war and full-scale war with Russia.
This period also saw an acceleration of negotiations between the EU, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia with the signing of Association (AA) and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements (DCFTA) in June 2014, and a visa-free regime with Moldova in April 2014. Meanwhile, the three other EaP states, Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan, have signed up to a Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). And yet, in the wake of the Ukrainian crisis, even these EaP “laggards” showed renewed interest in intensifying their relations with the EU, as Kadri Liik (ECFR) argues, to “hedge against Russia’s pressure”.
With this new EU administration, so too is the EU’s European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), of which the EaP is a major constituent, under review in a period of ongoing consultation which will not be finalised until autumn 2015. As such, the Riga summit came during a period of uncertain change and increasing tensions between these post-Soviet EaP states, the EU and Russia. In this sense, Riga was more, as Pierre Vimontargues, of a “stock-taking exercise” in the run-up to an uncertain future revision of the ENP.
A “two tier” approach
Although uncertainty remains concerning the future Eastern Partnership approach, two aspects were clear at Riga: the EaP’s emphasis on differentiation and sovereignty. In terms of differentiation, the EU is likely to adopt a two tier approach, continuing more deep engagement with AA/DCFTA states, who are not bound to the Eurasian Economic Union (Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia), while offering a more “tailor-made” engagement to Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The table below illustrates the current picture among the six EaP states.
Table: Eastern Partnership states
These states cannot sign up to the DCFTA, as members of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union, of which a constituent part is a customs union. They present, therefore, different challenges to the EU in terms of the types of relations possible, requiring a different model to that of AA and DCFTA Eastern Partnership states. Moreover Belarus poses a problem as a state currently under, and unresponsive to, EU sanctions, including a travel ban and asset freezes on 232 individuals and 25 entities, including the country’s president, Alexander Lukashenko.
The idea of the Eastern Partnership underlining the sovereignty of its partners became a theme at the Vilnius (2013) summit, but was unmentioned at the previous summits in Warsaw (2011) and Prague (2009). At Vilnius, as relations with Russia concerning EaP states became tenser, the EaP outlined the “sovereign right of each partner freely to choose the level of ambition”, to indicate that the EU wanted to resist a coercive Russia deciding how these countries should interact with EU states. At Riga, this discourse of “sovereign choices” was reaffirmed, alongside shoring up the “territorial integrity” and “independence” of allEaP states.
Hence, we can infer a degree of continuity in the EU’s approach towards EaP states, by trying to brand this cooperation as technocratic, endorsing the continued approach of “more for more” (i.e. more access to the EU for more transformation) and endorsing everything short of membership. As Junker outlined at Riga, EaP states “are not ready [for membership], and we are not ready”.
Was the Riga summit a failure?
This sense of continuity is partially responsible for the framing of Riga as “disastrous” and a “failure” for two reasons: namely because the EU is unwilling to advance the membership option and also unwilling to castigate Russia’s coercive approach toward EaP states. However, it should not come as much surprise that the EU is unwilling to extend the membership option, both in light of the fact that the EU sees these states as “not ready”, but also, as Merkel argues, because the EaP was not designed as “an instrument for enlargement” but of “rapprochement”. The problem is that the (pro-EU) political class of Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova view the membership option as a panacea, both to shore up wavering domestic support for EU integration and as a counter to Russian leverage.
Before 2013, the EaP was largely a technocratic project aimed at encouraging the reform of democracy, the rule of law and the economies of partner states, rather than to facilitate a region-building geopolitical project. Hence Russia was not explicitly mentioned in previous joint declarations in Vilnius (2013), Warsaw (2009) or Prague (2009). While Russia might have been mentioned in informal conversations during the Riga summit, in an official context, Russia was mentioned only vis-à-vis the EU’s role in “facilitating gas talks” between Russia and Ukraine.
Implicitly, however, Russia was nevertheless criticised via the Joint Declaration’s condemnation of the “illegal annexation” of Crimea and Sevastopol, calls for de-escalation of the conflict in Donestk and Luhansk, and via the declaration’s emphasis on sovereignty, which can no longer be “taken for granted”. In this sense, EU leaders continue to emphasise that the EaP, and more broadly relations between the EU and these post-Soviet states, is not “directed against Russia” nor part of a competition or “beauty contest” with the country.
The reluctance of the EU to criticise Russia has been seen as a key failing of Riga, with the EU portrayed as cowering to ongoing Russian aggression. However, the EU continues to irritate Russia, with Russia’s Foreign Ministry complaining that “once again [the EU] growled its inadequate position on Crimea”. The refusal of Armenia and Belarus to sign up to the condemnation of Russia’s annexation (in the Joint Declaration) also demonstrates the limits of the EaP in showing a unified front vis-à-vis Russia, given the different perspectives articulated by the six EaP states and, too, within the 28 EU member-states.
What are the challenges going forward?
Looking forward, the EU’s relationship with its Eastern Partners will continue to face significant challenges, both from the more advanced EaP states’ disappointment in not being offered a membership option, the delay to visa-free agreements for Georgia and Ukraine, and the difficulties in navigating relations with EaP laggards, who are more advanced in their relations with Russia. In this sense, the “idea” of the Eastern Partnership may be “even more important than ever”, as Merkel argues, but it is also exposed to more challenges vis-à-vis Russia.
The EU also has to contend with growing apathy toward Europeanisation in EaP states, in particularMoldova and even Georgia. Key to this is the endemic corruption experienced in some states, notably in Moldova which, following the scandal of the “missing billion” of GDP, has increasingly seen antipathy toward the pro-European elite directed at the concept of Europeanisation itself. In this sense, the EU has to be more forceful in its “more for more approach” and this includes requiring domestic EaP elites to implement and respect more wide sweeping reforms to try to win back support for Europeanisation.
Russia too will remain a key challenge for the Eastern Partnership and for European security more generally. Russia’s ability to coerce EaP states relies on territorial weaknesses, such as influence over existing de facto states (Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia) and new de facto states (the ‘People’s Republics’ in Donetsk and Luhansk), and anti-democratic elites (e.g. in Belarus and Azerbaijan). Hence, the more successful EaP states are, Ukraine in particular, the more likely Russia will try to push back.
Ultimately, the EU finds itself between a rock and a hard place: between convincing Russia it’s not engaging in a competition for influence, and convincing Eastern Partners they’re committed to them. EU leaders want “strategic patience”, in an era when they appear increasingly nervous about relations with Russia. When even Belarus wants to intensify its relations with the EU, to increase its leverage against Russia, this shows the tensions existing in EaP states since Russia’s annexation of Crimea. But really it’s up to the political class of EaP states to commit to more reforms, and for the EU to enforce the implementation of these reforms. Yet, there are paradoxes here, such as in Belarus where chances of reform, to the extent desired by the EU, remain unlikely.
In the last few days, I’ve received several comments that question deep underlying assumptions about
how I conceive of Crimea before and after 2014
how I conceive of Russia’s role in the 2014 Ukrainian crisis and the roots of this crisis
My policy has been to allow these comments through the moderation process, to uphold freedom of speech. My policy is also to rebuff these comments to further prove my point. So, no matter what comment is posted (within abusive reason) I’m not going to moderate it out, but I will argue my point.
Here Putin outlined perfectly the double-speak of the Kremlin: that Russia respects Ukraine’s sovereignty now just as much as ever and yet, just as it does all the “other brotherly republics of the former Soviet Union”. And yet, Russia’s incursion in Crimea and the Donbas proves exactly the opposite. Russia wants a Ukraine that goes its way, redolent of Brezhnev’s doctrine of 1968 justifying intervention in Prague to save the Soviet Union’s Communist brother from itself.
After events in Ukraine in 2014, there’s been a lot of reflection on what this means for other post-Soviet states, and in particular Moldova, with its own separatist regions (Transnistria, Gagauzia) and upcoming elections at the end of November. However, Moldova’s recent political experiences also offer a useful point of reflection for key lessons that Ukraine needs to learn going forward. Most importantly, this concerns the way in which Ukraine constructs itself as a post-Euromaidan state, in particular how politicians interact between themselves and whether they act for primarily to serve their own interests, or those of the wider Ukrainian society.
Moldova: the Twitter Revolution and After
In 2009, protestors took to the streets in Chisinau, Moldova’s capital, to protest against the victory of the Communist Party, who had been in power since 2009, in April’s parliamentary elections. Elections were then held again in July, unseating the Communists’ overwhelming majority of the Moldovan parliament, and allowing a tripartite coalition, to form the Alliance for European Integration (formed by the Liberal Democrat Party/PLDM, Democratic Party/PDM and Liberal Party/PL).
This change of power was seen as a turning point in Moldovan politics particularly for the young, who had been the key participants in the April protests, as a turn towards a more democratic and European-style of politics, and away from a Communist/Soviet style of governing. Indeed, many people I met often referred to the coalition as just the “Democrats” as opposed to the “Communists”.
Fast forward to May 2013, the Alliance for European Integration hit rock bottom, having been shocked by a scandal between the key players of the coalition (then Prime Minister Vlad Filat, from Moldova’s Liberal Democrat Party, and Moldova’s richest man and Democrat Party politician, Vladimir Plahotniuc). This served as a focal point for considering all that the Alliance had promised and all they had failed to deliver.
Those in power had changed, but they still used power in much the same way to the Communists: to line their pockets, and those of their friends and family, and gain immunity from investigation. Essentially, being in power had allowed the three parties ownership over different parts of the state (such as ministries and the judiciary) and allowed them to manipulate them, via putting their various allies in positions of power, to their advantage.
In some ways, Moldova’s relationship with the EU has benefited, ironically, significantly from post-Euromaidan Ukraine. It encouraged (perhaps forced) the EU to want to “speed up” its Association Agreements with Moldova and Georgia, at a time of deep turmoil in Moldova, and many unsettled problems. At the same time, the desire to “modernise” Moldova, and Ukraine, has focused just on institutions of power, in the hope that these might change behaviour by promoting, and requiring, greater transparency and accountability, without understanding the basis on which these institutions need to function.
Moldovans know well what needs to change: Cumătrism / Kumovstvo / Кумовство
Alena Ledeneva‘s research, though focused on Russia and not Ukraine and Moldova, has many salient points when it comes to understanding the barriers to modernisation in post-Soviet states. Her thesis centres on importance of informal governance, phenomena such as “telephone law” and “blat“, an economy of favours, which prevent institutions from changing much because they are bound by “sistema“, the informal networks that govern power and politics.
In Moldova, there’s a local consensus, I’d argue, that when it comes to changing how the state is governed, and trying to weed out corruption, the main problem cumătrism(or Nănașii). Cumătrism is the system of godparents that couples appoint when they get married and is the key binding tool between friends and families. An infamous problem, and a banal phenomenon, cumătrism is the way that power and informal networks function, both within and outside politics. Ledeneva mentions briefly a similar phenomenon of kumovstvo in Russia, of godparent networks.
But, cumătrism (in Moldova) is beyond our gaze. Academically, you’ll find no mention of it in Google Scholar or Web of Science, no reference in Google Books. It doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page. So to most outside Moldova it slips out of sight. Yet it’s the focal point, from a local perspective, as to why institutions stumble and why the system is so hard to change, both from the outside and from within. Essentially, political parties and institutions feed off these networks and demonstrate the extent to which, particularly in a small society like Moldova, it’s hard to weed out those who have embedded themselves and their close friend-family networks into the system, because they’ve also manufactured a network of protection by the system.
Lessons to be learnt: Institutions vs. Nepotism
I’m not suggesting that cumătrism necessarily exists in Ukraine exactly as it does in Moldova, but the importance of informal networks in Ukraine is fundamental to the system of power, privilege and wealth. We know that Yanukovych operated via through “Family Yanukovych” and through a system of oligarchs originating out of his home region, and while power has obviously shifted to a new group of politicians, led by Poroshenko, it’s not clear that he is willing to run a Ukraine that is drastically different in the way it gives positions of power, and contracts, than the previous administration. Victoria Nuland, US Deputy Secretary of State, in a recent address to Shevchenko University in Kyiv, argued that Ukrainians had to continue to fight and demand that institutions function differently, that a free media be created.
But this is only the start. As Moldova showed after 2009, there was a lot of hope and since there has been a lot of disappointment. The Ukrainian political class needs to show not just that it’s willing to bring in new laws, but that it’s willing to be accountable to them, and that it’s willing not just to penalise its enemies, but also hold its allies to account, where necessary, rather than offer them protection from the system. When you have the Ukrainian president owning one of Ukraine’s main media channels, Channel 5, this is not a great start.
My point is, as academics, policy-makers and journalists, we need to focus not just on the institutions through which states are governed, but look at how they’re actually governed,via informal networks that are the key building blocks of the political and business class (and to a great extent link these classes together). We need to investigate cumătrism and kumovstvo in Ukraine, Moldova and Russia further.
A ceasefire was agreed between Ukraine and separatist forces on 5 September, although it is unclear whether this will hold following shelling in the city of Mariupol and near Donetsk airport on Sunday. Ellie Knott writes on public opinion within Russia toward the conflict. She notes that while Vladimir Putin’s approval ratings have increased during the Ukraine crisis, there is relatively low public support for the annexation of the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Between the Sochi Olympics in February of 2014 and Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March of 2014, Putin’s approval rating, according to the Levada Centre (a relatively trustworthy source of polling data), shot up to a level of positive approval not seen since before Russia’s economic crisis. Although as Chart 1 shows, Putin’s approval has dipped slightly since June (86 per cent approval) to August (84 per cent), in the wake of the current crisis Putin has become extremely popular once again in Russia, even if optimism about Russia’s economy and personal well-being have not seen the same spikes. Continue reading “It is in Vladimir Putin’s interest to ensure there is a lasting ceasefire in Eastern Ukraine”→
I’d like to translate this (or attempt to translate this into English from Ukrainian) but it’s an excellent insight into the impacts of Crimea’s annexation for ordinary people and, in particular, for the post-Soviet generation whose antipathy towards Russia, and especially Putin, was greatest when I did my fieldwork there (2012-2013).
Я ніколи не забуду того, як поїхала з Криму. Хоча для мене цей вчинок не є чимось великим, але я розумію, що саме від нього залежить моє майбутнє.
Моя мама – з Росії, а тато з Кіровоградщини. Але так сталось, що в сім’ї всі підтримують політику Кремля – на жаль, пропаганда робить своє. Після анексії Криму я довгий час розказувала батькам, що хочу поїхати вчитись до Львова, і намагалась їм пояснити, що нізащо не буду жити в Росії. Мені було важливо навіть не те, щоб вони мене відпустили, а щоб вони мене зрозуміли. Приблизно два місяці я намагалась їм пояснити свою думку, але марно. Мої слова із дзвоном відбивалися від батьків. Навіть коли я наводила беззаперечні факти – чула у відповідь: «Ні, такого не може бути»; аргументи розбивались об залізобетонну стіну впертого несприйняття.
Крім того, ми сварились ще й з іншої причини. Батьки переконували: «Ти повинна…
On 27 June, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine signed co-operation agreements with the EU. Ellie Knott assesses what the agreements mean for each state and how they might influence future EU-Russia relations. She writes that while the agreements are largely technical in nature, their real value is symbolic as they represent a final break from each country’s Soviet past. She argues that with tensions already high over the Ukraine crisis, the agreements will also have a significant impact on the wider relationship between the EU and Russia.
Since the Vilnius summit in November 2013, relations between the key Eastern Partnership states (Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia), the EU and Russia have shifted inextricably. The EU has sped up its signing of Association Agreements (AA) and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements (DCFTA) with Georgia and Moldova, and held on to its commitment to sign these agreements with Ukraine, with the official signing of these agreements with all three states taking place on 27 June.
Meanwhile, Russia’s willingness to challenge Ukraine’s territorial integrity, by seizing Crimea, its tenuous relations with separatists movements in Donetsk and Lugansk and its cessation of gas exports to Ukraine, have drastically changed not just the configuration of the Ukrainian state and society, but have been one of the biggest earthquakes for relations between Russia and the wider post-Soviet region.
The key question remains: why should Russia be concerned with what are essentially 1,000 page technocratic documents between Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and the EU? As Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, continues to argue, there is “nothing in these agreements, nor in the European Union’s approach, that might harm Russia”. Van Rompuy has been careful to use rhetoric that argues that this is not a “zero-sum game”: Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia are free to have relations with Russia to whatever extent they choose, except becoming members of the Eurasian Customs Union.
To Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, signing such agreements with the EU might not be a zero-sum game, and in fact the biggest challenge will be how to maintain relations with Russia. Yet in the way that the leaders of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova welcomed the signing of the AA and DCFTA with the EU, it is clear that these leaders do consider the agreements to be decisive in how they situate themselves geopolitically. In an interview with CNN, the new Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko, remarked that “this is a civilisation choice. This is the Rubicon – when we crossed the Rubicon to Europe and left in the past our Soviet past”.
The Association Agreements are therefore not just political and economic documents but, as Poroshenko described, a “symbol of faith” and “unbreakable will”. Moreover, these agreements are considered to be the first step in a journey towards, as Iurie Leancă the Moldovan Prime Minister states, their “primordial/essential objective” towards becoming a “full-fledged member of this great family of the European Union”. For Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, their more formalised relationship with the EU, and the hope that this might one day be converted to membership, is more than about technocratic documents, but about being recognised as European, in status, rights and identity, and about no longer being seen as a former Soviet republic.
However the beginning of this journey of closer political and economic association with the EU, and the opening up of the free trade potential, is also the continuation of substantial uncertainty regarding how this will affect their relations with Russia. Russia is a significant trading partner for all three states, and in particular for Ukraine where Russian imports and exports exceed those of the EU. As the Table below shows, Russia is still an important trade partner for Moldova, though less for Georgia. All three states have been exposed to Russian embargos on goods, and Georgia, and more recently Moldova, have learned the importance of diversifying who they trade with.
Note: The Table shows the value of exports and imports between each country and Russia/the EU, and the percentage of total trade which the EU and Russia account for in each case. Figures are from European Commission trade statistics for Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia
All three states have energy requirements which are not just dependent on Russian gas, but also on the cheap price of this gas. In Ukraine, residential customers have paid only about 25 per cent, and industrial consumers only 75 per cent, of what the gas would be worth on the European market. It is unlikely, whatever the outcome of the current Ukrainian-Russian gas crisis, that any deal going forward will lead to significant increases in this price.
This will be augmented by Ukraine’s loss of the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol. Russia had agreed a lease with Ukraine for the naval base in Sevastopol which was key in negotiations over a reduced gas price and which Ukraine had used to offset the country’s debt to Russia. However, following the annexation of Crimea, Russia tore up the Kharkiv accords, which extended Russia’s lease to 2042, and which Ukraine can no longer use as a way to offset their Russian debt, the payment of which, in addition to Russia’s move to increase the cost of gas, are key to areas of contention in the 2014 crisis. Gazprom, too, has shown itself to be reflective of Russia’s territorial claims, given that the map they showed at their AGM included Crimea within Russian territory.
Russia also has high leverage over Georgia and Moldova’s energy market. In the case of Moldova, their market is dominated by Gazprom and MoldovaGaz, of which Gazprom hold the majority of shares. Even attempts to diversify Moldova’s energy dependency via the construction of the Iasi-Ungheni pipeline are unlikely, even in the best case, to provide more than a third of Moldova’s gas needs, and perhaps only 5-10 per cent.
In the energy sector, there is little the EU can do to assist these states’ dependence on cheap Russian gas. Many EU member-states are themselves dependent on Russian gas and those who receive their gas via pipelines through Ukraine are particularly vulnerable in the current crisis. The EU finds itself also in a tense situation with Russia over its right to reverse the flow of gas via Slovakia to service Ukraine’s lack of energy, which Gazprom’s CEO, Alexei Miller, claims is a “semi-fraudulent mechanism” because “this is Russian gas”.
A second area of contention regards the proposed South Stream pipeline which is designed to “diversify gas export routes and eliminate transit risks” by bypassing Ukraine, running through the Black Sea to Bulgaria, and on to Central and Southeast Europe. The European Commission has warned Bulgaria not to go ahead with the project, which severely destabilised the current Bulgarian administration and will lead to early elections being held in October.
Beyond energy dependence, there is also the ongoing threat of territorial instability. Georgia, Moldova and, now and most prominently, Ukraine all have territorial contentions with Russia. This uncertainty and instability gives Russia leverage from the perspective of knowing that states remain paranoid about future incursions, while Russia knows also that there are limits to how far these states can progress with Europeanisation while these territorial questions remain. Indeed, Moldova and Transnistria still need to resolve whether the latter will be a part of Moldova’s Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with the EU or not. Poroshenko has argued that Crimea is part of Ukraine’s agreement with the EU and that without the return of Crimea, “normal” relations between Ukraine and Russia will not be possible.
This year will be remembered in Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia as a year in which their relationship with the EU altered dramatically with the formalised signing of the Association Agreements and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements. In the case of Ukraine, it will be remembered also as the year of “revolution of dignity” which led also to an unfathomable deterioration in Ukraine’s relations with Russia, and as a year in which Ukraine’s right to govern Crimea, and parts of Donetsk and Lugansk, began to face an unprecedented challenge.
These are challenges that Georgia and Moldova have faced since the beginning of the post-Soviet period. The EU must realise that even if it does not pitch itself to be in competition with Russia, this is a naive position which ignores the extent to which Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, at least symbolically, see Europeanisation as reversing ‘Sovietisation’, and as a decoupling of their centre-periphery relations with Russia, in favour of a new centre-periphery relationship with the EU. The question now is how these states’ relationships with the EU and Russia, and their own citizens too, can be managed, and in turn how the EU can manage its relationship with Russia.
This article was originally posted on LSE’s EUROPP blog.
For Ukraine, its relationship with Russia in recent months has seemed much like a Thomas Hardy novel where, no matter how hard you try, you cannot escape your roots. As Putin said in 2013, before Ukraine decided not to sign the EU Association Agreement, wherever Ukraine goes “we’ll still meet sometime and somewhere” because “we are one people”. Hence, as is argued in one Chatham House report in 2012, Russia wants to maintain influence over Ukraine, not just because it is a ‘foreign policy priority’, but also because it is an ‘existential imperative’.
Certainly, Ukraine has the largest number of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers outside of the Russian Federation, and this makes them vulnerable to Russia’s policy towards this group. However, the issue with Ukraine goes further. Putin claimed at last year’s Valdai conference both a strong cultural and political connection between Russia and Ukraine, professing not just a ‘love’ for the Ukrainian nation but also a strong sense of belonging, that it was part of ‘our greater Russian, or Russian-Ukrainian, world’.
Russia’s origin story is rooted in the idea that its ‘statehood has roots in the Dnieper’, meaning that Russia and Ukraine are inextricably linked, whether Ukraine consents to this connection or not. Medvedev also stressed such a primordial connection between Russia and Ukraine, writing in his 2009 letter to Victor Yushchenko that ‘since the dawn of time’, Russians and Ukrainians ‘have been and remain not only neighbours, but a brotherly people’.
Despite the claims by Putin in 2013 that Ukraine could not escape its connection with Russia, he did not indicate at that time a willingness to undermine Ukrainian statehood. At the Valdai Meeting, Putin repeatedseveral times that Ukraine is “an independent state, and we respect that”. He explained that Ukraine “must and can” be a “bridge between Russia and Europe”. What seems clear now is that Russia sees Ukraine as a bridge between Europe and itself only on its own terms, where Ukraine acts a proxy for Russia’s own interests, and that they respect Ukraine as an independent state only when it is governed by authorities deemed legitimate by Russia.
Ukraine too was the keystone in the Eurasian Union project. Back in 2013 Gleb Pavlovsky, a Russian political technologist, remarked that Russia needs Ukraine to be part of the Eurasian project because without it Putin would lose interest in creating the Union, rendering his project ‘impossible’. Putin needed Ukraine to play along in participating within the Eurasian Union to Europeanise the project. Without Ukraine, Russia’s plan would look much more like an “Asian project”.
Russia under Putin and Medvedev, have therefore shown an uneasiness towards Ukraine leaving the ‘Russian world’ (Russkiy Mir) and has sought to make this as difficult as possible. The pinnacle of this was Putin’s recent claim that Ukraine leaving USSR was “not quite legal”. If further evidence was needed, beyond the annexation of Crimea, that Putin does not respect Ukraine’s sovereignty, then questioning the basis on which that sovereignty was established is a pretty good insight. For Ukraine, who thought they had put these issues to bed back in 1997, Russia has shown Ukraine – try as they might, cannot escape Russia’s grasp.
Attention has now shifted to other parts of Russia’s near abroad where it might try to increase its leverage, in particular in Transnistria. However, Russia’s claim to the very roots of Ukraine, that they are part of the same ‘world’, is unique in the post-Soviet space. Certainly Russia’s actions in Crimea, have created a new precedent which Transnistria is trying to capitalise on. But Russia has made few threats concerning the basis on which Moldova departed from the Soviet Union and few claims that Moldova is, regardless of consent, part of the ‘Russian world’. Russia might try to increase its leverage in Transnistria but more in a way that would indirectly affect Moldova, rather in terms of direct intervention in Moldova outside of Transnistria.
What is more concerning is how Russia might continue to behave towards Ukraine. In Crimea, Putin argued that Russia’s pre-emptive move allowed them to avoid conflict, but with rising unrest and violence in Donetsk and Kharkiv, there is a big question mark regarding how far Russia is willing to go and, in the meantime, how far Ukraine is able to govern these regions.
This short piece was originally posted on EUROPP following the Crimean referendum in March 2014.
Crimea has changed rapidly from the peninsula where I conducted fieldwork nine months ago. Then it was a relatively stable and peaceful multinational peninsula, with a growing post-Soviet generation who saw themselves as politically affiliated with Ukraine. Today it is an emerging frozen conflict with a referendum declaring high turnout and high support for joining the Russian Federation. Men are able to sign up to self-appointed militia and dissenters are penalised. The week before the referendum, there were reports of kidnappings of those connected to Euromaidan networks, abuse of journalists and the impression that for those not supporting joining Russia, this was their last opportunity to protest.
This is also not South Ossetia, Transnistria or Kosovo. What has occurred in Crimea is unique, involving a much larger population than previous frozen conflicts and a Russian naval base. While I have already seen reports from friends that they would not like to stay in a Russian Crimea long term, the message from Crimean Tatars is that this is their legitimate home and one which they will not leave again, as they were forced to in 1944.
What is equally alarming is that Crimea is not a self-sustaining peninsula, dependent on Ukraine for gas supplies, fresh water and rail and road transportation links to Russia, excluding those via sea. I would be concerned also about a potential struggle that might arise between the Crimean separatist administration and Russian Federation, concerning their ideas about what Crimea’s autonomous status might look like in whatever comes next.