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.