The Ukraine Crisis in Three Maps

Casting a bit of cartographic light on the crisis in Ukraine.


While trying to produce a more comprehensive analysis of the crisis in Ukraine, I thought it might be useful to start out by reflecting on three maps of the country. The first map is an ethno-linguistic map of Ukraine. As you can see the situation there is much more complex than just a Russian-speaking east versus a Ukrainian-speaking west. There are ethnic Russian areas in which Russian is the dominant language, ethnic Ukrainian areas in which Russian is the dominant language, ethnic Ukrainian areas in which Ukrainian is the dominant language, and areas with significant populations of ethnic Hungarians, Bulgarians, and Romanians in which multiple languages may be spoken. Russian is commonly spoken on the streets of Kiev. Vitali Klitschko, the heavyweight boxing champion turned opposition leader, is an ethnic Ukrainian born in Kyrgyzstan who grew up speaking Russian.


The second map is a map of the results of the second round of voting in the 2010 presidential election. The yellow areas represent districts that went for Tymoshenko; the blue areas represent districts that voted for Yanukovych. There isn’t a pure east-west separation, something made even clearer here.


The third map is a map of gas transmission pipelines from Russia through Ukraine and beyond. Ukraine is dependent on Russia for most of its oil and gas and, indeed, Russia is Ukraine’s largest trading partner. Note that the largest pipelines originate in the eastern section of the country.

I should also point out that the peninsulas jutting into the Black Sea at the southern end of the eastern half of the country and the coastal area to the west are the homes to Sevastopol and Odessa, respectively. These are Russia’s only warm water ports. Despite their both being nominally Ukrainian, Russia maintains access to them by treaty and I can’t imagine Russia relinquishing that access under any circumstances.

One last observation—I tend to agree with Matthew Pauly:

In the end, the protests in Ukraine have little to do with a West versus Russia split. The prospective trade agreement with the EU represented an opportunity, however optimistic, for Ukrainians to force their government to face the endemic problem of corruption that has plagued the country since independence. Yanukovych’s decision to unilaterally back away from an agreement his government had been preparing to sign exposed his disregard for democratic accountability and own political callousness.

The protesters on the Maidan ran ahead of the leaders of the opposition in their ambitions. Unlike the Orange Revolution of 2004, this was a protest movement that resisted orchestration by political parties. The corruption of the Yanukovych presidency is now on view for all of Ukraine to see at his sumptuous residency outside Kiev. The trick now for Ukraine’s new rulers is to convince all Ukrainian citizens that they have a stake in a change, that further reform will benefit the entire country and proceed transparently according to the rule of law.

We shouldn’t expect the outcome of this crisis to be partition of Ukraine or even Ukraine’s turning towards Europe. Such a partition is unlikely to be either workable or acceptable, not the least to Russia. “Balkanization” is a word I’m hearing more of these days. If we cast our mind back to what occurred in the Balkans not all that long ago, that’s not a particularly inviting prospect.

Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.


  1. James Joyner says:

    A good summation of a complex mess, Dave. Alas, the more information I get, the less confidence I have in what US policy should be.

  2. michael reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:

    I think our policy is obvious. We raise pro forma objections, we should make meaningless diplomatic moves, and we secretly suggest to the EU that unless they’ve located some really big balls we don’t know about, they should stop teasing the bear.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    Alas, I’ve over-simplified it. I probably should have added this topographic map. The only natural boundary along which one could divide a country is the Dniepr but that allocates Odessa to the western half, something that’s obviously unacceptable. If Odessa is allocated to the eastern half that results in a landlocked west. I think the alternatives are remaining unified and within the Russian orbit or Balkan-style chaos, neither of which are particularly appealing prospects.


    we secretly suggest to the EU that unless they’ve located some really big balls we don’t know about, they should stop teasing the bear

    Yes, that is a problem, isn’t it?

  4. Gustopher says:

    Borders don’t have to be along geographic boundaries. It helps, and it makes things clearer, but it isn’t necessary.

    That one pipeline actually looks like it might make a good border, and was likely plotted through with some consideration of geography that doesn’t show up on the small topographical map. It might also be useful to look at historical maps, since Crimea was Russian in the past.

    I think the endgames are partitioning, quick subjugation, or long drawn-out campaign of violence. Of the three, partitioning is probably the least worst. Whether Putin is willing to let good farmland leave his sphere of influence is an open question (Ukraine has good farmland, right?)

  5. Dave Schuler says:


    Prior to World War I the Ukraine was the world’s largest wheat producer. Influential in that farming were Mennonites who’d settled in the area in the 18th century. After the Revolution they suffered severe persecution and some of them resettled in Manitoba.

    I mention natural boundaries because for a variety of cultural, economic, etc. reasons borders that aren’t delineated by natural boundaries tend to be unstable. Cf. the Durand Line.

  6. Bwana says:

    @Dave Schuler: There were mennonites in the Ukraine? I had no idea…

  7. Dave Schuler says:


    It’s actually kind of interesting. In Ukraine “kulak” and “Mennonite” were nearly interchangeable. In the 20s, 30s, and even 40s the Plattdeutsch-speaking Mennonites in Ukraine emigrated from there to Canada and Latin America, particularly Argentina, Paraguay, and Bolivia.

  8. Stonetools says:

    All of this makes me nostalgic for the good old Austro-Hungarian Empire. I guess the EU is kind of a stand in for them, but …
    I’m reading “Sleepwalkers” about the run up to WW1 and it’s amazing how the same political, ethnic and linguistic divisions still persist. The EU has papered over a lot of those cracks but not everywhere.

  9. Dave Schuler says:


    A propos of WWI, President Putin has characterized the disintegration of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century”. I think he’s wrong. I think the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century was the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Every day you hear a news report of something that’s a consequence of that collapse.

  10. The problem for Ukraine is that if they partition based on ethnicity, they’re now a landlocked country. I can’t see them agreeing to a resolution that sees them giving half their country to Russia and then having to depend on Russia allowing them travel routes to the rest of the world.

  11. jukeboxgrad says:

    Dave, thank you for your post and comments, which I’m finding especially clear and helpful.

  12. Pinky says:

    Ukraine’s best move would be to call the Russians’ bluff. Russia claims it wants to protect the Ethnic Russians. Fine: put it up for a vote. Any region that wants to can join Russia or forever hold their peace. My bet is, no region but the Crimea would agree to stop being part of Ukraine.

    The Ottoman Empire, Yugoslavia, the Russian/Soviet empire, were all attempts to patch together different feuding nationalities by force. They basically took over the job of mass slaughter from the people. The governments paid the Grim Reaper themselves. When they’re gone, the locals will go back to making their annual payments, unless their common interests are strong enough.

    Heating oil is a strong common interest. Ukraine’s cold. Not uncomfortable cold; death cold. If the West can figure out a way to keep Ukraine warm, Russia loses its leverage. Barring that, Ukraine’s got to give up something to break free. That’s Crimea.

  13. Stonetools says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    One of the lessons of history seems to be that it’s a hell of a lot easier to break up something bad than to build something good.
    Ukraine could be a good country but it will require a lot of investment from the EU and the USA, and good leadership from the Ukrainians. So far the Ukrainian leadership has been lousy and the EU hasn’t really been willing to put in the money.
    I think Putin doesn’t want to take over the whole ball of wax, but he’s happy to take back Crimea. It has the warm water ports that the Russians really want, not much of the pesky ethnics (except for the Tartars) and not much of the debt.

  14. Stonetools says:

    Here is a comment from a Washington Post article:

    As someone who went through World War II (albeit as achild) I am struck by the similarity of the situation with Czeckoslovakia and Germany in 1938. For the Sudetan Germans now read Russian Speakers in the Ukraine, for Hitler, the German Leader anxious to restore German power after the loss of World War I now read Putin, a Russian Leader now anxious to restore Russian power to the time before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    Clearly there are differences – atomic weapons for one.

    But let us not ignore the motivation driving Putin. Think of the current Winter Olympics and the 1936 Olympics in Germany!

    Then think of the war weariness in Europe – namely Britain and France – after the horrors of WWI and the war weariness now prevailing in the USA and Europe.

    The parallels are scary!

    While I generally scoff at Munich parallels, it’s not actually that crazy in this case. Discuss.

  15. rudderpedals says:

    Can’t say I’m prepared for Munich. What say you a comparison with the claims about the Danzig corridor?

  16. @rudderpedals:

    It seems to me that The Prague Spring and the subsequent events is a better analogy than Munich.

  17. dazedandconfused says:

    @James Joyner:

    A good summation of a complex mess, Dave. Alas, the more information I get, the less confidence I have in what US policy should be.

    My local PBS station ran a little show by “World Affairs Council DC”on the situation in the Ukraine on 17 Feb, featured our ex-ambassador to the place, John E. Herbst. He predicted with complete confidence that Yanukovych could not get his police to be any more aggressive than they were right then or they would either switch sides or abandon the city en masse, so a “crack down” wasn’t on the table.

    Pretty ballsy prediction, and he was right. Can’t find a tape of it or a transcript of it on their site or I would have linked it. Just mentioning him as a possible source of good information, but he did have some strong opinions about this being far more about internal Ukrainian matters than our press has presenting it.

  18. michael reynolds says:

    I think where the Munich analogy (and I’ve made cracks about the Sudetenland, too) is that the Russians are not Germany. They are not in thrall to an expansive and racist ideology. They are not one of the world’s leading industrial powers. And they do not lack for geographical space, except as it relates to their (historically justified) paranoia.

    And then there’s us. We were not involved much in the European part of WW2, in fact we arrived after the Red Army had already broken the Wehrmacht. But we had always loomed on the horizon as a potential balance-tipper. We are no longer of questionable strength, we are the dominant superpower. No wanna-be conqueror can discount us as Hitler and Tojo did.

    That said, the parallels are disturbing. I doubt they mean anything much, but it’s a good idea to keep a close eye on things.

  19. Scott says:

    I don’t see the Munich analogy either. Not only is there not a cult like the Nazis but Putin himself is not nuts. He’s a nationalist sure but fully rational. He will exploit an opening but he wants to build not tear down.

  20. DC Loser says:

    I see the NATO intervention in Kosovo as the model Putin is using to justify this action.

  21. Kari Q says:

    Looking at this post, I can’t help thinking that the US has used military force in situations where it has had far less interest than the Russians do. It would have been astonishing if Russia had just sat back and watched to see what happened.

  22. Rafer Janders says:


    There were mennonites in the Ukraine? I had no idea…

    Yes, they were primarily ethnic Germans (and German speakers up until the 20th century) who had settled in Ukraine largely in the 18th century.

  23. Midwestern Dad says:

    NPR ran a story; about how Khrushchev gave Crimea to the Ukraine 40 years ago for very little reason with 15 minutes discussion. He liked the Ukraine for a series of personnal reasons. It was posted Feb. 27 and can be found under world as Crimea: a gift to Ukraine becomes a political flashpoint. In the end; Russia will take it back or control it under nominal Ukrainian control so it can have a warm water port.

  24. Midwestern Dad says:

    Sixty years ago in 1954.

  25. Midwestern Dad says:

    This is less Munich and more the Dominican rep. In 1965 or granada. Big powerful country sees thing it doesn’t like in smaller nearby country and throws its weight around to do what it wants or what it believes is in its national interest.

  26. bill says:

    @Stonetools: throw in a floundering economy and you’re not far off. putin has no respect for obama and knows that nothing will come of this. nobody is going to start a war over some crappy hunk of land where most of us don’t hail from anyway. it’s funny how a lot of people say we need to be more like europe, yes the place where 2 world wars started in the last century mainly because they all hate each other.

  27. billy says:

    Transnistra on the eastern side of Moldova is a part of their country occupied illegally by Russia. Ukraine should greet the incursion into the Crimea with assistance to the military in Moldova to restore it’s power over its sovereign territory. Putin is looking at worse than Vietnam if he responds too strongly to Transnistra. If you do not know about what should become the western front in this war look it up. Georgia is outclassed in South Ossetia but Moldova and Ukraine could roll the small garrison in Transnistra and ship the Russians there who want to leave back across the border to mother russia.

  28. michael reynolds says:


    In the midst of a major crisis, Putin just spent 90 minutes on the phone with Obama.

    Stop inserting your own prejudices. You disrespect Obama. There’s no evidence Putin does.

    The President of the United States is not the Dictator of Planet Earth. Things will happen that we don’t like. Lots of things happen that we don’t like. Almost none of it has a single damn thing to do with us, our wishes, or our President

  29. Mu says:

    And if you really want to go back in time, the only reason that the western half of the top map is so uniformly red is massive ethnic cleansing during and after WWII. That are used to be about 50% Ruthenes (Ukrainian-speaking), 40% Poles and 10% Jews. The Germans eliminated the Jews, the Soviets pushed the Poles west into the former eastern Germany.
    Oddly enough, ethnic cleansing wasn’t considered wrong until 1948 when the Israelis did it.

  30. Jeff says:

    @Midwestern Dad: And when Khrushchev “gave” the Crimea to Ukraine, it was an internal transaction without much international consequence, on the line of if Michigan were to give the UP to Wisconsin. He didn’t imagine that 40 years later the USSR would fly apart like it did.

  31. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Mu: Who complained about the Israeli’s engaging in ethnic cleansing? Besides the Arabs I can’t think of anyone and most of the Arabs only give lip service to it. Leon Uris actually celebrated it in a best selling book. You may have heard of it. “Exodus”

  32. Lounsbury says:


    That is utter bollocks.

  33. george says:


    Oddly enough, ethnic cleansing wasn’t considered wrong until 1948 when the Israelis did it.

    Curious, I could have sworn that the Germans took some heat for doing it in the 30’s and early 40’s.

  34. george says:

    @DC Loser:

    I see the NATO intervention in Kosovo as the model Putin is using to justify this action.

    I suspect Putin sees it more like the Russian equivalent of the Munroe Doctrine.

    Obama is smart enough not to get us involved in a war because of this. And I suspect even a war (between nuclear USA and nuclear Russia, loads of fun) wouldn’t stop Putin, any more than the threat of nuclear war stopped Kennedy in the Cuban missle crises; its their backyard, rightly or wrongly they’re going to fight for having their way in it.

    Obama (and Europe) have almost no good options; Obama at least (unlike some GOP mouth pieces) knows enough to realize this.

  35. Barry says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    Michael: ” we secretly suggest to the EU that unless they’ve located some really big balls we don’t know about, they should stop teasing the bear ”

    Dave Schuler: “Yes, that is a problem, isn’t it? ”

    Please note that that applied to us, when people in the US were foolishly encouraging Georgia to start a war.

  36. michael reynolds says:


    Please note that that applied to us, when people in the US were foolishly encouraging Georgia to start a war.

    Yes, certain mentally unhinged Senators who once ran for President against Barack Obama really should invest in a map. The only road to Georgia would have gone through Turkey. Someone might want to ask the Turks whether they want to be dragged into a war with Russia over Georgia. Using my psychic powers I’m going to say “No.”

  37. JohnMcC says:

    As so often is the case, geography is the beginning of understanding history. Thank you, Dr Schuler.

  38. Lynn says:

    @Dave Schuler: “Influential in that farming were Mennonites who’d settled in the area in the 18th century.”

    Unfortunately, the Mennonites were caught up in Nazi fervor, like many other groups. That was probably exacerbated by their mistreatment under Communism.

  39. Dave Schuler says:


    If you’ll look back at what I wrote on the subject of Georgia, you’ll find I was saying the same thing about us.

  40. Rob in CT says:

    I think our play here is to say stern things, take some minimal actions (kicking Russia out of the WTO has been mentioned) and wait. It’s possible this won’t go so easily for Russia.

    There’s no effing way we’re going to war with Russia over this, no matter how much the neocons shriek. Europe needs Russian natural gas (though if things get hot, do those pipelines survive?). Crimea gives Russia access to the Black Sea, so they want it bad. But it’s also rather dependent on Ukraine for things. So if the Russians want it, do they also need to occupy a slice of eastern Ukraine so they have a land route to Crimea? Can they hold that? Maybe, maybe not. I’ve no idea.

    I’m sure the other former SSRs are fairly freaked out by all this.

  41. bill says:

    @michael reynolds: well unless the nsa gives us a transcript of that call we’ll just have to assume obama babbled on and on while putin just fed him more bs. obama is not “respected” by world leaders, he’s “liked’ or “tolerated”- and in some places even less. .
    i’m sure they already have a “feel good” ending as to what should/shouldn’t happen over there- it’s none of our biz anyway.

  42. michael reynolds says:


    You can assume anything that feeds your beast, dude. Me, I need facts.

  43. SC_Birdflyte says:

    Putin is playing the long game here. U.S. (and EU) leaders, by virtue of being responsible to the voters, can only play the short game. Any bets on who wins?

  44. Rob in CT says:


    I’m not sure that’s so. If you look at the events that led up to this, things were *not* going Putin’s way. This looks reactive to me. It looks like an “oh shit, we gotta do something!” move.

  45. JohnMcC says:

    @SC_Birdflyte: Your contrast between the ‘long game’ played by authoritarians versus the supposed short-sightedness of democracies is not new, as I’m sure you know my friend. Probably it was a part of the argument in Athens during the Persian wars.

    So let me be certain that I understand how it applies in the present circumstance. Pres Putin, by your ‘long game’ theory, somehow incited mobs (or at least accurately predicted them) that would overthrow a pro-Moscow, Russian-speaking ally so that the Russian army could invade Crimea. By this ploy he caught the world’s democracies totally off-guard and is busy consolidating his hold on “Russian’s Florida” and possibly spitting the nation of Ukraine into it’s two main ethno-linguistic groups.

    It falls apart instantly upon being stated that way, and I don’t buy it. But the GRU officer who was in charge of keeping tabs on Kiev for the past few years might hope (desperately!) that he could convince Pres Putin that he had this planned all along.

  46. bill says:
  47. Grewgills says:

    The 5’5″ man riding a pony with his man boobs out is supposed to be intimidating?

  48. bill says:

    @Grewgills: funny, it’s the “man on a horse” swag i guess!

  49. Donald Salter a/k/a Foghorn Leghorn says:

    1st: I am mostly impressed with the sensibility and knowledge found in these blogs (although at or after March 1 it wanders into a misanthropic swamp of political platitudes).
    2nd: There isn’t much we can do in reaction to either Putin or Ukraine in general. Ukraine simply is not in our nation’s sphere of influence or self interest. Despite Putin’s well timed ‘blunder-bust’, which co-insides with the ending of its Olympics; Russia does have a distinct self interest in Crimea (and to a lesser extent, eastern Ukraine, read: Kharkov, Donetsk, Lugansk). Notably, Russia’s Black Sea naval fleet, warm water & direct path cargo shipping, and strategic defense of Russia’s soft underbelly.
    I can guarantee you that Putin is NOT motivated by, and couldn’t give a rat’s ass about the ‘ethnic Russians’ residing there. Russian leaders have historically measured their effectiveness by how many good citizens they could either kill, starve or remove to some remote ‘Gulag’.
    While I temporarily stayed in various areas of Ukraine and I retain strong friendships with many Ukrainians (including native Russians) abroad, in the USA and in Canada; (and I met Yuliya Tymochenko when she was in private business with her father); Ukraine is a loss looking for a place to happen. It is chronicly unable to pay its debts; it is beset with a Russian styled mafia (particularly in Crimea); it somehow likes tough guy dictators, and it can’t unite and resist outside political powers.(Hell, aside from Russia, Ukraine was previously controlled by Sweden and Lithuania (Lithuania !?).
    The $1 billion Kerry promised will never be returned, and as one Kiev finance-politico recently said, Ukraine will need $35 billion by the end of next year. And it will need a lot natural gas & petrol shipped in, as well. I promise you that Russia will never do this, especially after spending $51 billion on the silly Winter Olympics and having a rather flat economy since last year. For Putin it is far cheaper and more cathartic to have a battle than produce long term economic assistance.
    For all of the ‘wringing of hands’ set out in these blogs, I modestly propose Kiev follows Latvia’s path. (1) I was in Latvia in 1999-2000 and it was a hot but effective step. The parliament lamented over so many ‘ethnic Russians’ residing in Latvia and continuing to speak Russian and be a ‘clique’ unto itself. It passed laws requiring them to learn and speak Latvian and for them to take a pledge of allegiance to Latvia. Ukraine could do likewise and say “Otherwise, go, leave”; whether by M-Benzs loaned by Russian oligarchs owning businesses in Ukraine, or by mass transit.
    As a historical fact, during the Stalin & Khrushchev periods Russian authorities encouraged Russian workers, ex-military (and their families) to relocate to the former CIS nations that the Soviet Union controlled. The workers were promised jobs and other benefits. Any factory or improvement being built with Soviet/Russian rubles was to have a ‘ethnic’ Russian as its manager. It brought ex-military men in from as far as Vladivostok. Now, these same families (with no provocation by the Kiev national government or native Ukrainians) need mother Russia’s protection?
    What Ukraine needs is a strong dose of self-determination, but that is not bloody likely, for all of the reasons set out above. Otherwise it should be quiet, extremely poor (no government pensions) and elect to partition itself.