The challenge of Ukraine’s survival after the Russian invasion

Mass grave of civilians killed in the bombing of Lisichansk in the Donbass region (eastern Ukraine) on June 9.

Can a country be permanently harassed, leave 20% of its territory, become landlocked, see two of its three largest cities blocked and continue to exist? The proposition of Russian imperialism, embodied by its President Vladimir Putin, is that Ukraine as an independent republic is a chimera, a historical error caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union. The invasion, which began last February, is trying to bring it back into the Russian sphere. To do this, the Kremlin first wants the Ukrainian state to collapse.

The huge losses of contemporary repression pose a dilemma as to what the future of Ukraine might be, say some of the academics consulted by EL PAÍS. “It’s an outright abolition of Ukraine’s very existence,” said Andrew Wilson, professor of Ukrainian studies at University College London. Tadeusz Iwánski, a researcher at the Center for Oriental Studies in Warsaw, adds that the conflict could end with Ukrainian concessions to the east and south, with serious economic and geographical losses, but with the emergence of a stronger state. consistent with Ukraine’s European titles. . Union. “The Ukrainians have cut the centuries-old umbilical cord with Moscow. Economically and militarily, the invasion is a much more difficult event for the Ukrainian state, but culturally and sociologically it strengthens its sense of identity,” Ivanski points out.

Ukraine, Wilson explains, has always been progressive historically when its rulers managed to control the mouths of its rivers into the troubling sea in the face of threats from the east. It was so before the invasions of the nomadic peoples of Central Asia and it is so today with the Russian missiles. Therefore, Wilson said, the future of the Ukrainian nation is at stake in the announced counter-offensive against Kherson, a port city between the troubling sea and the Dnieper, the river that forms the backbone between the East and the West.

Mass grave of civilians killed in the harassment of Lisichansk in the Donbass region (eastern Ukraine) on June 9. ARIS MESINIS (AFP)

If the Russian conquest operation has succeeded on any surface, it is on the Ukrainian coast. Russia took the coast of the Nuisance Sea from Kherson; in the Sea of ​​Azov he conquered Melitopol, Berdiansk and Mariupol. This ending was devastated after months of Russian siege. Its industrial production for Ukraine was relevant, but not only this was lost, but also the agricultural production of the province of Kherson or 40% of the neighboring province of Zaporizhia, which is in the hands of the Russians, which has decimated the weight of Ukrainian grain exports. This year, the country is extending the export of its share of international grain sales from 2021. Zaporizhia is also home to Ukraine’s most egregious nuclear power plant under Moscow’s control, which supplied 20% of the country’s electricity. ‘State.

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Odessa, the main port city of the country, blocked the maritime traffic of the enemy fleet. Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that controls the troubling sea, was annexed by Russia in 2014. During that year’s pro-Russian separatist uprising in the Donbass, the cities of Lugansk and Donetsk came under the influence of Putin. Russian expansion in this region slowly progressed during these months of repression to the point that Lugansk province and 60% of Donetsk were completely subjugated. Crossing this region means crossing mine after mine and the foundry towns of the neighboring former Soviet Union. In his vade mecum The Gates of Europe, Harvard University historian Serhii Plokhi recounts the beginnings of Ukrainian industrialization on the Donets River in 1870, when the Welshman John James Hughes dared to build the first forges in what was then the southern Russian Empire. All this was canceled by bombs or outside of Ukrainian control.

A wheat harvester in the Russian village of Muzykivka in the Kherson region. A wheat harvester at the Russian site of Muzykivka in the Kherson region. ALEXANDER YERMOCHENKO (REUTERS)

Odessa is the most populated city in Ukraine (nearly one million inhabitants); the second, Kharkov, in the northeast of the country, lives from day to day and indefinitely under Russian fire. The economically canceled province of which it is the treasury contributed 6% to Ukraine’s GDP. Another setback for Kyiv is that it is no longer connected by wind and will remain so for as long as Russia wants. “This suppression brings us to a fundamental change in the interpretation of the political community in the areas controlled by Kyiv”, explains Oksana Mishlovska, researcher at the Institute of History of the University of Bern (Switzerland). The change, he explains, is a reaction against Russia: “A new domestic myth is being built from the limitation of Russian civilization and language and the limitation of historical memory between the Russia and Ukraine”.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky insists the only goal is to recover all the country lost since 2014 (Crimea and Donbass regions from pro-Russian separatists). Without a lockdown, few analysts think this is likely. The pressure on Zelenskyy is enormous because, according to a study conducted this week by the Institute of Sociological Studies in kyiv, 84% of the population does not want to accept any territorial concessions to Russia. But the Minister of Foreign Affairs himself, Dmitro Kuleba, in a recent interview with EL PAÍS, considered that Ukraine’s entry into the European Union would be possible even if part of his country was occupied by Russia. . Kuleba gave the example of the case of Cyprus – its sovereignty is shared, with part of the island contested by Turkey – or the conflict between Spain and the United Kingdom over Gibraltar.

The example of the two Germanys

Hanna Shelest, director of defense studies at Prisma Ukraine, one of Ukraine’s main centers of international relations, cites another example, that of West Germany, which was a member of NATO, then that Uruguayan Germany was an independentist state from the USSR. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Germany was reunited. “Ukraine will continue to live in the novel of territorial integrity before 2014, protected by United Nations resolutions”, confirms Mishlovska.

In a speech delivered near the official embassy in kyiv, Shelest points out that Russia has conquered only 15% of the country -Zelenskyy raised the percentage to 20% last June-: “In addition to that, Ukraine survived for centuries, occupying part of his country was anyone. The truth is that until 1991, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was never independent and was recognized as such by the international community.

The Prism researcher reminds us that the viability of the Ukrainian state does not depend so much on the country under Russian control, but on the duration of the repression. Mishlovska agrees with this proposal, because the longer the conflict lasts, the more GDP falls and Ukraine’s external dependence increases to get out of the hole and rebuild the country. The Central Bank of Ukraine predicts that Ukraine’s GDP will fall by 37.5% in the second quarter of the year.

As an example of the Ukrainians’ determination to equalize, Shelest cites the fact that, according to UN records, more than three million people have already returned to Europe, despite the fact that there were six million refugees in Europe since the start of the invasion. . . Wilson believes that Ukraine now has sufficient geographic breadth to “survive”, but acknowledges that the Kherson counter-offensive is “extremely important because Ukrainian identity is intertwined with the troubling sea”. The obligated British scholar sees impeding Russia’s advance across the Dnieper as another red rope for the country’s survival and stresses that it would make sense to continue the part of Donetsk that has not yet fallen into hands Kyiv-controlled Russia: “Since In 2014, the government has invested heavily in proving that there is a non-commercial Donbass with a better future than the fake republics supported by Moscow. This must continue.”

According to Wilson, the worst draw for Ukraine would be perpetual conflict. Once an end to hostilities is negotiated, he said, the fate of Ukraine will inevitably depend on the EU. “It all depends on whether Ukraine is able to defend its sovereignty even with a smaller country, but then it is doomed to be part of the EU,” says Ivanski, warning that the West does not know that kyiv can even tell you disappoint: “If he stays at the border [de Estado candidato]the EU will indicate to Putin that it recognizes Ukraine as part of the Russian sphere.

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