Staunton, July 29 – Russian officials are making a costly and two-fold mistake in viewing Ukraine as a country permanently divided between a virulently nationalistic and Russophobic West and a Russian-speaking and pro-Moscow East, according to a senior analyst at the Moscow Institute of CIS Countries.
On the one hand, Dmitry Korolyev points out, Western Ukraine is less powerful than many think because nearly all Ukrainian leaders, including some of the most nationalistic, come from the East and Center of the country. They may pick up nationalistic themes from the West, but real power comes from the economically more developed East.
And on the other, despite what many in Moscow and Kyiv think, Western Ukraine contains both a sizeable ethnic Russian population that could be mobilized in support of more pro-Russian positions and an ethnic Ukrainian population that could be won over by the promotion of economic and other development (www.materik.ru/rubric/detail.php?ID=10406).
Indeed, Korolyev say in what may presage a new Russian policy toward Western Ukraine, “people [there] are more concerned about their material problems” than with nationalist ideas “and they are inspired ever less by the irresponsible calls of politicians whose lack of talent and obvious thievery is perfectly obvious to all.”
“And that means,” the CIS Institute expert says, that Galichina is hardly such a hopelessly nationalistic ‘appendix’ of Ukraine as this may appear to many in Russia and in the East of Ukraine.” Instead, it is a place where Moscow through its consulate in Lviv and its Ukrainian allies should be working to promote a change of minds.
“In general,” Korolyev begins his essay, “Lviv is justly considered the chief bastion of Ukrainian nationalism (of the “Banderite” variety) and Russophobia.” But at the same time, that city and the rest of Western Ukraine (Galichina) matters “much less” even for the Ukrainian nationalist cause than many imagine.”
Overwhelmingly, the leaders of “the nationalist camp” in Ukraine are “not Western Ukrainian politicians” but rather individuals “from the East and Center of the country. And if one takes the composition of the BYUT faction in the Verkhovna Rada, then almost every third member has a typically Russian last name!”
Because that is so, it is very much an oversimplification to view Ukrainian politics as a contest between “the Russian-speaking South and East” and “’the nationally conscious’ West,” a mistake that gets in the way of understanding what is really going on and one that inevitably leads to the conclusion that Western Ukraine is far more powerful than in fact it is.
“In reality,” Korolyev says, “the struggle for power and influence is conducted by definite groupings (clans) of oligarchs who in this struggle play the ‘pro-Russian’ card or the ‘nationalist’ one,” depending on whether this helps them or not and depending on what region they are working in.
The participants are “exclusively Eastern Ukrainian, Russian speaking” people, who represent primarily the Donbass and other Eastern areas, the Moscow analyst says. “Western Ukrainian capital is very weak and not capable of ‘playing first violin’” in this orchestra, however much some of those who do draw on its notes.
There are three reasons for this: First, “Western Ukraine even under Soviet power was less developed industrially” than the East. Second, post-1991 Ukraine’s “one-sided” promotion of exporting metal products and chemicals only exacerbated this division. And third, such businessmen as exist in the West remain intimidated by their Eastern counterparts.
This “weakness of West Ukrainian capitalism makes impossible its independent and defining participation in the political life of Ukraine and in the formation of its domestic and foreign policy, although at first glance it may seem as if ‘the Westerners’ impose on Ukrainian society the ideas of ‘distancing Ukraine from Moscow’ and ‘Euro-Atlantic integration.’”
According to Korolyev, Western Ukraine plays “an entirely different role”: it is “the main reserve of reaction,” the location of people whose anti-Russian and anti-Soviet attitudes can be whipped up by politicians elsewhere who are quite prepared to make a bow to Western Ukraine ideologically even while they act on behalf of the Center and East otherwise.
People in Western Ukraine are increasingly aware of what is going on, Korolyev suggests, and consequently, “an important foreign policy task of Russia in Ukraine is the neutralization of the [remaining] nationalist attitudes in the Western region” by promoting economic development and playing up the role of Russian speakers there as well.