The Maidan Uprising, Separatism and Foreign Intervention

Ukraine’s complex transition

by Klaus Bachmann (Volume editor) Igor Lyubashenko (Volume editor)
©2015 Edited Collection 523 Pages


The current crisis in Ukraine has revealed a striking lack of background knowledge about Ukraine’s history and politics among West European politicians, journalists, intellectuals and even many academics. In this book, experts from Poland, Ukraine, the US, Russia and Western Europe fill the gap between an omnipresent and easily available narrative about Russia and a scarce, scattered knowledge about Ukraine. They show what history and political science can offer for a better understanding of the crisis and provide insights, which are based on reliable Ukrainian, Russian, Polish and Turkish sources and confidential interviews with key actors and advisors. Rather than offering easy answers, the authors present facts and knowledge, which enables the reader to make up his own informed opinion.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Author
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction: What science can contribute to political controversy
  • Acknowledgements
  • Independent Ukraine
  • Ukraine within the Soviet Union
  • The road towards independence
  • The political system of independent Ukraine
  • From Leonid Kravchuk to Leonid Kuchma
  • The Orange Revolution and its Aftermath
  • Euromaidan: From the students’ protest to mass uprising
  • Causes of the protest
  • The escalation of violence and the changing nature of the protest
  • Main actors
  • Maidan in post-Yanukovych Ukraine
  • Borders within Borderland: The ethnic and cultural diversity of Ukraine
  • A general overview of Ukraine’s ethnic and religious structure
  • East vs.West or South vs. North
  • South, East vs West and Centre
  • The regions of Ukraine
  • The East
  • DonbasD
  • The Southern Part of Sloboda Ukraine (Kharkiv)
  • The South
  • Dyke Pola (Zaporizhia and Budjak)
  • Crimea
  • The Centre
  • Hetmanate and The Northern Part of Sloboda Ukraine
  • Right-Bank Ukraine (Kyiv)
  • Podillya
  • The West
  • Eastern Galicia
  • Volyn
  • Northern Bukovina
  • Zakarpattia
  • Oligarchy, Tyranny and Revolutions in Ukraine 1991–2014
  • Phase 1. The beginnings in the perestroika era
  • Phase 2. The establishment of an oligarchy
  • Phase 3. Change in the system
  • Phase 4. An attempt to institute the “Russian variant”
  • Nationalism, Party Politics and Political Transition: Batkivshchyna and UDAR
  • Batkivshchyna
  • Klitschko and UDAR
  • Nationalism and the Ideological Identities of Svoboda and Right Sector
  • “This Is a Strife of Slavs among Themselves”: Understanding Russian-Ukrainian Relations as the Conflict of Contested Identities
  • I
  • II
  • III
  • IV
  • V
  • VI
  • Crimea: from annexation to annexation, or how history has come full circle
  • From Catherine II to Khrushchev: Crimea as a part of Russia
  • From cession to secession: Crimea within Ukraine
  • Crimea in the light of the 2001 census
  • Sources of separatism after 1990
  • Crimea within Russia?
  • The role of Crimea in Ukraine - Russia relations
  • From the Soviet Union disintegration to the Big Treaty of 1997
  • Crimean separatism and Russian claims for Crimea in the first half of the 1990s
  • The Crimean issue and the division of the Black Sea Fleet
  • The role of Crimea in Russia’s strategy of influence over Ukraine
  • Conflict around Tuzla and a dispute about maritime borders
  • Tools of Russian influence in Crimea
  • Viktor Yuschenko’s presidential attempts to minimise Russian influence
  • Crimea after the Russia-Georgia war
  • Yanukovych’s presidency and the “gas for fleet” deal
  • Russia’s annexation of Crimea
  • The role of NATO and the EU in the Ukrainian Crisis
  • NATO’s new/old role
  • Ukraine and NATO
  • NATO’s reaction on Ukrainian crisis
  • Ukraine and the EU
  • From the Orange Revolution to Yanukovych
  • EU, Ukraine and the recent crisis
  • Preliminary comments on a process not yet ended
  • Poland on the Euromaidan
  • The beginnings
  • Political support
  • From 1992 to 1995
  • From 1995 to 2004
  • The Orange Revolution
  • From 2005 to 2010
  • From 2010 to 2013
  • Historical background as the ending
  • From Maidan to Moscow: Washington’s response to the crisis in Ukraine
  • Stage one: caution
  • Stage two: increased interest
  • Stage three: Crimea takes centre stage
  • Three stages and four pillars of US involvement
  • The Role of Digital Communication Tools in Mass Mobilisation, Information and Propaganda
  • The Virtual Maidan
  • Overview of Ukraine’s media system
  • The growing significance of new media
  • Lessons from the Maidan - new media as a tool of spreading information
  • Lessons from the Maidan - new media as a tool of co-ordination
  • Political significance
  • Propaganda and disinformation
  • A Russian propaganda campaign abusing the internet?
  • International Law Aspects of the Situation in Ukraine
  • The legal construct of aggression
  • Other crimes under the ICC Statute
  • The United Nations’ framework
  • The Council of Europe
  • The European Court of Human Rights
  • The Challenges: Political and Economic Transition
  • Political and constitutional reform
  • Economic challenges
  • Transitional Justice
  • Ukraine and the ICC
  • Transitional Justice and security sector reform
  • Vetting the judiciary
  • Summary and conclusions
  • Timeline
  • Bibliography
  • List of geographic names
  • Authors

| 7 →

Introduction: What science can contribute to political controversy

At some point in March 2014 the protests on the Maidan had toppled President Yanukovych, an interim government had been installed and unidentified armed men had taken over the parliament of the Ukrainian Autonomous Republic of Crimea, and were sprawling into the streets of Simferopol and Sevastopol. Slowly it came into view that there was much more going on in Ukraine than just a civic protest striving to topple a corrupt and distrusted government. There were serious internal obstacles to the ongoing geopolitical change, and these were being exploited by foreign intervention. Within weeks a new Crimean government had been instituted, a referendum had been held and Crimea had de facto become a part of Russia again and made Russian president Vladimir Putin’s reputation peak in Russian opinion polls. Russia had annexed Crimea in a sweeping military, but almost unviolent campaign, due to the lack of resistance from citizens and the Ukrainian Army, whose officers had been told to surrender. The next thing that happened was that similar unidentified armed men started to take over public buildings in Slovyansk, Donetsk and Luhansk, often with Ukrainian policemen just watching them or even surrendering their weapons. The next annexation seemed to be underway, as the world observed a huge military build-up by Russian troops along the Ukrainian border. However, until this book was being finished, neither invasion nor annexation took place. To the surprise of almost all observers, the interim government in Kyiv was able to carry out presidential elections, whose result were not only unambiguous and endorsed by the international community – including Russia, whose government congratulated “the Ukrainian nation” (instead of the country’s new president, Petro Poroshenko), but the vote was also accepted by Poroshenko’s closest competitor, the former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.1

Ukraine’s eastern oblasts of Luhansk and Donetsk saw a military stalemate between increasingly efficient Ukrainian units, sent there to pacify what the interim government and President Poroshenko used to call “terrorists” as well as pro-Russian militias, which appeared to be equipped with modern armaments, including extremely efficient surface-to-air missiles which were used to hit Ukrainian army aircrafts. They also saw a stream of informal fighters flowing ← 7 | 8 → to Slovyansk, Mariupol and Odessa, where roadblocks were held by separatist forces. In Odessa, civilians were attacked by militias of Ukraine’s radical nationalist forces2 and a constant infiltration across the border by alleged volunteers from Russia, Chechnya and, in some cases, supporters from western right wing parties was underway.3

In this context and atmosphere, we decided to make our contribution to the debate about the character of the events in Ukraine. We did so for a number of reasons, all of which are not only connected with our academic (and to some extent personal) interest and competences4, but first and foremost are connected to the climate of public opinion in Western Europe, the US and Central and Eastern Europe.

We decided to go ahead with this project, while in Germany politicians, intellectuals and even demonstrators in public rallies argued against sanctions against Russia by pointing to the allegedly “fascist character” of the “regime in Kyiv”, claiming that Ukraine had “never been a real state” and denying the existence of a Ukrainian nation. In talk-shows on public television, commentators used to claim that “Crimea had always belonged to Russia”, that “Kyiv was the origin of the Russian state” and that “Germans owed Russia for its acquiescence to German reunification” equating the USSR with Russia. German media came under huge pressure from many of their readers (some journalists claimed to be victims of a campaign orchestrated by Russian authorities), who rejected their news coverage and op-eds as being biased, anti-Russian and submissive to the US. Bias and propaganda were everywhere: Leftist politicians condemned Ukraine out of pacifist motives or because of the inclusion of Svoboda- members in the interim government, or because they used to project their ← 8 | 9 → nostalgic attitudes regarding the USSR onto Vladimir Putin’s Russia; Europe’s radical right, propelled by an unprecedented electoral support in the European elections of May 2014, recycled old Pan-Slavist and anti-Western traditions with its admiration for Putin’s cult of personality, and its despising of party politics and institutional constraints in decision making. Between these two extreme poles, moderate parties struggled to reconcile the business interests of big employers doing business with Russian state enterprises as well as their consumers’ interest in low prices for Russian gas and oil, with their commitment to human rights, international law and an incrementally offensive US foreign policy which pressed for sectoral (rather than personal) sanctions and stronger support for Ukraine. While the conflict became more violent and increasingly internationalised – with mercenaries fighting with the separatist side and US military advisors and non-lethal equipment flowing into Kyiv on the other side – coverage of the conflict became more and more partisan.

In this web of mutual (and sometimes mutually exclusive) interests and narratives, one thing turned out to be absent: Testable and source-related knowledge about Ukraine. Hardly any news outlet, no matter whether from Western Europe or the US, had a permanent correspondent in Kyiv prior to the crisis. When, after the final days of November 2013, the Maidan protests erupted in violence following the “Berkut” police crackdown on the protesters, special media envoys were being sent to Kyiv, but even then many important media outlets still covered the events from their bureaus in Moscow (relying often on fragmentary or utterly biased news from Russian sources). Desk editors and envoys often lacked basic information, and even in cases where they managed to acquire background information relatively fast, they struggled with getting it into context and adopting it to the need of the day. Before late February, the predominant media frame in Western and Central Europe and in the US had described the courageous fight of ordinary citizens against a corrupt and ruthless dictator and – according to this narrative – those citizens had fought in the name of democracy, European integration and against corruption. After February frames started to differ, but nonetheless were often deeply biased5, lacked context and historical background and were – voluntarily or not – one sided. By then, Ukraine had ceased to be ← 9 | 10 → regarded as coherently and entirely pro-European and now was “deeply divided” into a “pro-European western” and a “pro-Russian eastern” part and that cleavage allegedly overlapped almost entirely with the use of language (“Ukrainian” in the west and “Russian” in the east). Religious cleavages were almost totally absent from this interpretation as were social and ideological ones.6

Part of these stereotypes were new and can (but not necessarily need to) be ascribed to Russian propaganda. This argument, however, ignores that in every conflict (and especially in an armed one) both sides engage in propaganda. The crucial question is therefore not why a large part of West European media surrendered to Russian propaganda efforts, but why agenda setting and the promotion of specific media frames from Moscow met less resistance than the same efforts undertaken by the government in Kyiv and its supporters?7 We claim that this happened because the crisis in Ukraine confronted policy advisors, media workers, intellectuals and academics in Western Europe with a huge asymmetry between a swiftly available and overwhelmingly broad knowledge about Russia and a scarce, scattered knowledge about Ukraine, which additionally was more difficult to contextualise, interpret and press into a normative narrative than knowledge about Russia. It is this gap which our book wants to fill.

This would be an Hercules-like task if not precisely and narrowly circumscribed. After this overambitious announcement, here comes the disclaimer: This book does not intend to deliver all the knowledge that is necessary in order to undertake a meaningful holistic analysis of the most recent events in Ukraine against the background of Ukrainian (and Russian) history. It is simply an attempt to provide the reader with background material that is deliberately and concisely tailored in order to enable him to understand the most recent events in Ukraine and Russia, the reaction in other countries to these events as well as to take part in the current discussion. This is also why this book, despite being written almost without exception by academics is not merely an academic endeavor. It does not test empirical evidence against hypotheses, it does not scrutinise ← 10 | 11 → theories, whether they explain the outcomes of an experiment (although, one might argue, that Ukraine currently undergoes an experiment), instead it tries to deliver the reader with material that enables him to find a meaningful answer to questions which have been agitating public opinion during recent months.

The book consists of four thematic parts, each of which containing several chapters. We start with Andrzej Szepticki’s chapter, which covers the most important events between the demise of the Soviet Empire under Leonid Brezhnev and his successors and the slow, but depressing decay of Ukraine’s domestic politics under president Viktor Yanukovych. It covers the impact of Perestroika and Glasnost and of the dissolution of the Soviet Union on the institutional and constitutional design of Ukraine after the referendum as well as of the declaration of independence in 1991. It shows how a parliamentary system quickly degenerated into an authoritarian presidential one, once the central power behind the democratic façade, the Communist Party, had vanished. This chapter also provides material for the answer to the question whether “Ukrainians were asked” whether they wanted to leave the Soviet Union and live in an independent state, whether the country was democratic and pluralist before Yanukovych took power, and who actually wielded power behind the curtain before the Maidan protests started.

Maciej Wapiński focuses specifically on the next stage of development of Ukrainian politics, marked by the Orange Revolution. He shows how the different layers of Ukrainian politics (mass mobilisation, elite conflict, geopolitical cleavages) interacted and created a short-lived outcome which pacified protest for a short time, but, due to conflicting political and economic interests among the Orange parties and politicians, did not shatter the fundaments of the political system, which remained vulnerable to oligarch power-play and a return to hyperpresidentialism and the centralisation of power. Both Wapiński’s chapter as well as Pawel Kowal’s chapter on oligarchy demonstrate that assessing the political system of Ukraine in terms of democracy versus dictatorship misses the core of the problem. As Klaus Bachmann in his chapter on transitional challenges explains, Ukraine’s institutions are fragile and vulnerable to manipulation and hijacking by influent actors, who abuse their power and authority while appealing to popular sentiments and elite mistrust. As he shows, Ukraine has been resembling a hybrid regime with formal democratic procedures and whose elites and population lack an embededness in a strong democratic culture. Its institutions are formally functional, but their overall design is imbalanced, and weaker institutions such as the judiciary, the Constitutional Court and the Verkhovna Rada, are constantly threatened of being hijacked by the president and government. Under such circumstances, democrats have hardly any chance ← 11 | 12 → to democratise the country; the way democratic mechanisms work in Ukraine tend to disenfranchise them.

The first part of the book is concluded by Igor Lyubashenko’s contribution analysing the dynamics of the Maidan protests and touching the heart of the controversy about what actually happened after the initial students’ protest on Kyiv’s Maidan Niezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in November 2013.

The second part of the book focuses on an explanation of Ukraine’s domestic politics. It starts with Adam Balcer’s analysis of regional divisions delves deeply into Ukraine’s troubled history and looks out for important events, critical political and social junctures, which explain the ethnic, linguistic, political and religious differences which have come to the fore in recent months. Pawel Kowal’s chapter elaborates on another important issue of Ukrainian politics, namely the role of oligarchy within it. Kowal, who, as a politician and expert on Ukraine has had many opportunities to meet with influent oligarchs personally, shows the whole ambiguity of Ukraine’s domestic politics, whose procedures and decision making elude any classification as democratic or dictatorial. Oligarch politics, with extremely quickly shifting alliances, have proven self-preserving and immune against external influences and have left an imprint on the political system, which can hardly be abolished in short term. Kowal also shows the ambiguity of the Orange Revolution, which, in his view, was rather a reshuffling of oligarch alliances carried out by key players of the political establishment, who, with differing levels of success, hijacked and manipulated popular unrest.

Adrian Mandzy, an expert on Ukrainian nationalism and Inge Christensen try their best to elucidate the factual background of the most fiercely conducted dispute, which has emerged as the result of left-wing criticism in Western Europe and Russian propaganda efforts to discredit the Maidan uprising as a fascist take-over, that threatened the Russophone part of the Ukrainian population. Readers who are interested in testing the claim about language as the decisive factor that determines political attitudes in Ukraine will find the main pro and cons in Adam Balcer’s chapter on regional, ethnic and religious divisions. Those who want to inquire whether regime change from Yanukovych to Turchynov was a fascist takeover and the result the rule of a “junta” will be disappointed. Mandzy does not answer the question, however his far-reaching story about the links between Ukrainian nationalism from World War II to recent party politics in western Ukraine provides a lot of insights which show traits of continuity, interruptions and ideological similarities between actors and movements then and now, and help to pin down the role of radical nationalists and extreme right wing movements in Ukraine’s transitional party system. This chapter is supplemented by Inge Christensen’s assessment of two other political parties which played crucial ← 12 | 13 → roles during the Maidan protests – Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna and Vitali Klitschko’s UDAR. Both chapters, Mandy’s about Svoboda and Right Sector and Christensen’s also show how illusionary it would be to judge parties only by their ideological legacy and political declarations. Furthermore, opposition parties have been and are dependent upon and intertwined with oligarch networks and therefore likely to petrify a socio-political order, which they publically declare to overcome.

The third block of chapters touches upon the issue of the so-called “Russian factor” in Ukrainian politics. With Igor Torbakov’s erudite essay on Russian-Ukrainian relations, Nedim Useinov’s chapter on Crimean Autonomy, Natalia Shapovalova’s chapter on the peninsula’s role in Ukrainian-Russian relations, we enter the core of the current controversy about pro-Russian separatism in Ukraine’s east and south, the Crimea annexation and external intervention by Russia. Useinov tells the story of the contested peninsula’s fate after Ukraine became independent and how autonomous, hermetic clan structures, population transfers and isolation from both the Russian and Ukrainian mainland made a specific political culture grow, which was deprived of stronger oligarch influence, but at the same time resentful and wary toward the central government in Kyiv. Natalia Shapovalova’s chapter shows that this is more than a reaction to Russian interference and nostalgia for the Soviet past, because Crimea’s fate before the creation of the Soviet Union was very different from most of the other regions, something which forms contemporary Ukraine.

The fourth part explains the West’s reactions to the current Ukrainian crisis. Spasimir Domaradzki’s chapter on Ukraine-NATO and Ukraine-EU relations attempts to explain the position of both blocs regarding the Maidan uprisal and following Russia’s de facto aggression against Ukraine. Did the European Union commit an error by offering an Association Agreement to Ukraine, or did EU negotiators overstretch the bargain when they required President Yanukovych to carry out politically sensitive reforms of the judiciary and to set free his main political enemy, Yulia Tymoshenko? After reading this chapter, the reader will be able to find his own answer to these questions and he will be able to assess some of the publically made allegations about a lack of inclusion of Russian interests in the EU’s and NATO’s co-operation with Ukraine. These chapters should be read together with Maria Przełomiec’s contribution on Poland’s engagement in Ukrainan politics. As a journalist working for the BBC and Polish public television, Maria Przełomiec has followed Poland’s eastern Policy closely for the last decades, explains Poland’s role in Ukraine after 1989 and shows why Polish reactions to the crisis differed so strongly from the ones observed in other European countries. Finally, Thomas Sparrow-Botero provides a solid analysis of the US ← 13 | 14 → government’s involvement in the crisis. Sparrow-Botero, who conducted a number of (partly confidential) interviews with members of the Washington-based policy community and the Obama administration between the violent phase of the Maidan protests and the start of the separatist rebellions in Donetsk and Luhansk, provides quite a lot of material for the debate about the US’s financial and political support of the Ukrainian opposition and how this may have influenced the toppling of Yanukovych. Was there an US effort for regime change in 2013/2014 or was the famous evening of 20 February 2014, when President Yanukovych disappeared after having signed a EU-brokered compromise with the opposition an EU staged coup d’etat, which, as some claim, provoked Russian intervention?

This book ends with a number of cross-cutting chapters which do not fit into the dominant chronological structure of the volume. Among them is Igor Lyubashenko’s and Klaus Bachmann’s chapter on the role of social media, internet and mobile phone communication for the mobilisation of the Maidan protests and in the propaganda battle that ensued after the annexation of Crimea. Two chapters deal with strongly contested legal issues: Ireneusz Kamiński, one of Poland’s leading legal experts and practitioners in International Humanitarian and Human Rights Law, examines the relevant treaties which bind Ukraine and Russia and form a basis for the assessment of the legality of Crimea’s declaration of independence and its subsequent annexation by Russia. Klaus Bachmann analyses the transitional justice measures undertaken by the transitional government (including the vetting of the judiciary) and examines the significance and potential consequences of the interim government’s motion to incline the International Criminal Court to investigate the killings on the Maidan. Both chapters provide surprising insights, but also differ in their assessment of whether the sniper incidents in Kyiv can legally be regarded as crimes against humanity or not.


This book would not have come into being without the dedication and discipline of our authors, which, pressured, encouraged and cheered up by us, sacrificed their home time, sat down and started a writing marathon, which would usually have lasted for months, if not years, if this project had been a usual academic endeavour. Instead, they delivered their drafts within weeks, following all the time the events in Ukraine, updating the parts that had already been written, being aware that no matter how inspired their draft chapters already were, they would have to update them with the same haste and hurry within a few days before the book would go to print. The overwhelming part of our gratitude goes to our ← 14 | 15 → authors and to our relentless language corrector and proof-reader Ian Maloy, who was able to provide us with a corrected text a few days after the submission of a draft. Beside him, we also thank a number of colleagues, who provided, knowingly or not, input and inspiration. Among them are the members of a special round table on “Maidan and Social Media” at the annual convention of the Association for the Study of Nationalities in New York in April 2014, Evgeny Finkel from George Washington University, William Risch from Georgia College, Joshua Tucker from New York University, Olga Onuch from Nuffield College, Oxford in the United Kingdom and Mark Beissinger from Princeton University, who presented their preliminary research results on communication and the mobilisation of the Maidan protests (some of which are part of the chapter on Maidan communication and propaganda), Jackson Janes from the American Institute of Contemporary German Studies, who smuggled Klaus Bachmann into an Aspen-Institute workshop in Berlin about NATO, EU and Ukraine, Michael Berhard from the University of Florida, whose Facebook-group “Why we study Eastern Europe” was of great help for testing arguments, seeking comments from others and exchanging information about the ongoing crises. It is to this FB-group that we owe our contacts to some of our authors and to our reviewer, Tom Junes who, while he was working for us, carried out a postdoc contract at the Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung in Potsdam, Germany. Klaus Bachman would also thank Ivan Katchanovski from the University of Ottawa for his input on opinion polls and Ukrainian nationalist organisations, Maria Popova from McGill University for her comments and information about the reform of the judiciary in Ukraine, and Alexander J. Motyl from Rutgers University for his hints to the most recent statistics on regional and financial indifferences in Ukraine. Mariusz Urbanek from the Polish monthly “Odra” who reviewed and edited some of Bachmann’s early Polish articles about the Maidan protests, Adam Bodnar from the Polish Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights in Warsaw, Janusz Reiter and his staff from the Warsaw-based Center of International Relations and Wojciech Pieciak from the Polish Roman Catholic weekly Tygodnik Powszechny, as well as Andrzej Rosiński for his comments on Facebook, and Agnieszka Lichnerowicz for her inspiring and analytical eye-witness reports from the Maidan and the separatist rebellions in eastern Ukraine, which were a shining exception to most of the media coverage in Central and Western Europe especially during the initial months of the crises, when most of her Western colleagues were either groping in the dark or replicating Russian propaganda frames from their Moscow offices.

Igor Lyubashenko’s gratitude goes to a vibrant expert community that organised a number of insightful events during the Ukrainian crisis. Conferences, seminars ← 15 | 16 → and workshops organised by the Stefan Batory Foundation, European Solidarity Centre, PAUCI Foundation, International Republican Institute, Warsaw-based think-tanks Centre for Eastern Studies and Polish Institute of International Affairs (to mention just a few) provided a perfect opportunity to exchange ideas and have discussions with experts and academics dealing with the current Ukrainian crisis, and thus became an extremely important element of work on such an intensive publication project. Special gratitude has to be expressed to journalists covering events in the east of Ukraine in a maximally objective manner. Although these people were not engaged in the project directly, it would be impossible to provide a good-quality analysis of the situation without their priceless and often risky efforts.

Both authors are also grateful for the financial support which the Polish National Science Center (Narodowe Centrum Nauki, NCN) granted to this project.

In order to avoid misunderstandings, it is utterly important to emphasise at this point that neither the editors’ nor the authors’ intention is to provide unambiguous answers to these questions. But it is their will to deliver information and background knowledge (sometimes even knowledge which is not publically available)8 which enables the reader to find its own answer to these questions. The chapters in this book do not tell the reader who was wrong and who was right, who “started the conflict” and who had good or bad intentions; they do not tell the audience whether the Maidan protesters were democratic, pro-European citizens or heavily armed right wing putchists, or whether the population of Crimea was for or against joining Russia. Rather, it presents statistics, historical background, sources and arguments which every reader might use on his own to reach a conclusion. Because so many events, claims and interpretations are now being contested, all contributors to this book were urged to provide as many sources as possible for their statements. By providing these sources, they followed a clear-cut policy, set out by the editors, according to which the source for a claim had to be as close to the actor whose actions the source described. Therefore, the reader should not find a claim about actions of the interim government connected to a proof from a Russian media outlet. Russian media outlets were regarded as reliable only in so far as they described actions of the Russian government, for which no direct governmental source could be ← 16 | 17 → found. Despite the slightly larger autonomy of Ukrainian media9, we applied the same system to Ukraine: Claims about government actions needed to be proven by official government information services and websites or, if that was not possible, by media not hostile to the government. When possible, confirmation from both sides of a conflict was sought.

Since we are aware (and hopeful) that this book may also be used by undergraduate students as a kind of handbook to the current events, we provide a detailed chronology of events at the end of the book, which helps to contextualise the chapters and place them, and the events they describe, in a timeline.

Finally, we have to apologise to our readers about the haste with which this book was prepared. It was our intention to show what science can contribute to public controversies and in order to do that, we needed to make this contribution as long as the controversy would last. Under these circumstances, preparing a volume which addresses the hot topics of the current conflict but is published two or three years after the events with which it deals, would not have been purposeful. We wanted the book to be an intervention during the crisis and that required certain compromises with the usual academic requirements. This is the reason why the reader might find more clerical errors in this book than usual, it is also the reason why there is no index at the end and why the footnote system has been reduced to the minimum and why online sources quoted by our authors only appear in the footnotes, but not in the bibliography at the end. Readers should blame us, the editors, not our authors.

Klaus Bachmann, Igor Lyubashenko, August 2014

1 Stern D., Petro Poroshenko claims Ukraine presidency, BBC 25/5/2014, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-27569057.

2 Сьогодні в Одесі відбулися криваві бої за Україну, UNA/UNSO website, http://snaua.info/sogodni-v-odesi-vidbulisya-krivavi-boyi-za-ukrayinu/.

3 Woźnicki Ł., Narodowcy z Polski pojechali na Ukrainę wspierać separatystów. ‘Polscy Euroazjaci dotarli do Doniecka!’, Gazeta Wyborcza, 5/6/2014, http://m.wyborcza.pl/wyborcza/1,105404,16104439,Narodowcy_z_Polski_pojechali_na_%20Ukraine_wspierac_separatystow_.html.

4 Klaus Bachmann is a historian and political scientist who wrote his PHD about Ukrainian-Polish history in the Habsburg Empire, and served as a foreign correspondent in Poland, Ukraine and Belarus between 1988 and 2001; Igor Lyubashenko is a political scientist with a strong focus on Polish-Ukrainian relations, the EU’s Eastern Partnership and Ukrainian politics. Whereas Klaus Bachmann is a German citizen who has spent more than 20 years in Poland and Ukraine, Igor Lyubashenko was born in Ukraine and currently lives and works in Poland. For details of all authors’ resumes, please consult the relevant section of this book.

5 As “biased” we do not understand a frame which is untrue or contradicts generally acknowledged facts that can be proven by evidence, but rather a frame which is one-sided and lacks contextual underpinning. One such “biased” frame (one might also say, it is a stereotype) was the conviction by a large part of German and US media about the relevance of language for political attitudes and geopolitical orientation of citizens.

6 Whereas the parties participating in the interim government and the Party of Regions were scrutinised according to nationalism, corruption, links with oligarchs, the Communist Party of Ukraine as well as the Socialist Party were left aside.

7 This was different in Poland, where the media endorsed a number of frames promoted by the interim government, for example the use of the notion of “terrorists” as a label for separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk. Polish media (more than German and US media) also tended to downplay the role of nationalist militias and their role in human rights abuses. Svoboda’s participating in the interim government was a topic in Poland, too.

8 The most important example for publically unavailable knowledge are information contained in Thomas Sparrow-Botero’s article about US foreign policy during the crisis in Ukraine, which is based, among others, on partly confidential interviews with high ranking officers and policy advisors of the Obama administration.

9 More about this topic can be found in Igor Lybashenko’s chapter on the role of the internet during the Maidan protests.

| 19 →

Andrzej Szeptycki

Independent Ukraine

Ukraine within the Soviet Union

The Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic (henceforth, SSR) was one of the founders of the Soviet Union in 1922. Ukrainian historian Ivan Lysiak-Rudnytsky, who was at the time working in the US, considered the Ukrainian SSR to be a “compromise between Ukrainian nationalism and Russian centralism (…) Russia retained political control over Ukraine and, by virtue of that, the position of the paramount power in Eastern Europe. Ukraine preserved, from the shipwreck of her greater hopes, the status of a nation (denied to her by the tsarist regime) and a token recognition of her statehood in the form of the Ukrainian SSR”.1 After the national renaissance in the twenties, the Great Famine in the thirties, the Stalinist terror and the atrocities of World War II, the post-war “normalcy” promoted by Stalin’s successors meant for Ukraine “an impressive industrial development, urbanisation and the development of a fully modern society – but also tight political control from Moscow and gradual marginalisation of Ukrainian culture.”2

It is difficult to assess the status of the post-war Ukraine within the Soviet Union. Yaroslav Bilinsky called it “the Second Soviet Republic”.3 According to John A. Armstrong, the Ukrainians were Russians’ “younger brothers” – they were close to the dominant ethnic group in many cultural aspects, but “rural, low in education and access to skilled occupation and mass media, and low in geographical mobility”.4 A Polish expert from the Centre for Eastern Studies5 Tadeusz A. Olszański described the Ukrainian SSR as a part of the “metropolitan ← 19 | 20 → area” of the Soviet empire. He compared its status to that of Catalonia within the Spanish state, rejecting the idea of Ukraine being a “colony” of the Soviet Union or Russia.6 Olszański may be right – within the Soviet Union Ukraine was not a typical periphery, as the Russian Federative Socialist Soviet Republic was not a typical centre. The USRR was a highly centralised, authoritarian state. Soviet national policy was based on Russification, at least since the end of the twenties, and Russians formed the core of the party and state administration. However, the conditions of life in the RFSSR or the scale of repressions did not differ very much from the situation in other republics. It is also worth noting that two post-war Soviet leaders – Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev, although ethnically Russian, came from Ukraine. Under the former, the party and state administration (both at republican and union level) underwent a process of Ukrainisation. Furthermore, the Ukrainian SSR received more autonomy in the sphere of economics. In 1954 Khrushchev “gave” Ukraine the Crimean peninsula, previously belonging to the Russian FSSR, in order to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Treaty of Pereyaslav, which had led to the incorporation of the Cossack Ukrainian proto-state into the Tsarist Empire. Later however he became anxious about the growing aspirations of the Ukrainian elites; his attitude was not unjustified, as his Ukrainian protégés were among those who led to his fall in 1964.7 Brezhnev reinforced the Russification policy in Ukraine, but also promoted Ukrainian communists to the key posts of the USSR. This group was known as the “Dnipropetrovsk mafia” – the Ukrainian city Brezhnev himself came from.8

The post-war 1977 USSR constitution stated that “All power in the USSR belongs to the people”, however it recognised the Communist Party of the Soviet Union as the “leading and guiding force of the Soviet society and the nucleus of its political system, of all state organisations and public organisations”. The Soviet Union was a “federal state” composed of fifteen Union republics (including the Ukrainian SSR), united “on the principle of socialist federalism as a result of the free self-determination of nations and the voluntary association”. The Soviet ← 20 | 21 → Union republics had de iure large prerogatives. They had the right to enter into relations with other states, conclude treaties with them, exchange diplomatic and consular representatives, take part in the work of international organisations and could freely secede from the USSR.9 From the point of view of international law, the Soviet Union was a unique example of a federation whose component states (without being sovereign) were subjects of international law.10 These provisions had little practical meaning during the Cold War, however they proved to be valuable for Ukraine during the period of dissolution of the Soviet Union, firstly because they laid ground for its legal secession from the USSR, secondly because the Ukrainian SSR had its own (albeit limited) diplomatic structures – especially at the United Nations where according to the Yalta agreements (1945) it was seated together with the Soviet Union and the Belarusian SSR.11

The 1978 Ukrainian SSR constitution basically repeated the same formula (power of the people, leading role of the Communist Party, right of secession from the Soviet Union). The power of Ukrainian people was exercised through the councils of people’s deputies – in particular the Verkhovna Rada (the parliament). The parliament was recognised as being the “highest body of the republic authorities”, while the government was the highest “executive body”. ← 21 | 22 → The constitution described the organisation of the justice system, but did not clarify its relations with other state authorities.12

According to the constitution, the leading role went to the Communist Party, the Republican Communist Party of Ukraine being subordinated to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.13 During the post-Stalin period the Ukrainian SSR was administered by Petro Shelest (first secretary of the Communist Party of Ukraine in 1963–1972) and Volodymy Shcherbytsky (First Secretary in 1972–1989). The former represented the new line of Khrushchev and the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Under his rule, the so called “60s generation” (shestydesyatnyky) emerged. This semi-organised Ukrainian dissident movement focused mainly on the defense of the national culture, language and history. The movement was at first tolerated by the authorities, but then the situation changed. In 1972 Shelest was removed from office, mainly because of the accusations of “national deviation”, and was replaced by Shcherbytsky, who intensified Russification and the repression of the dissident movement. Several members of the “60s generation” were arrested. Some of them later joined the Ukrainian “Helsinki group” established in 1976 to monitor the implementation of Helsinki Accords’ provisions on the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms.14


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (October)
Geopolitik Revolution Separatismus Sowjetunion
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 523 pp.

Biographical notes

Klaus Bachmann (Volume editor) Igor Lyubashenko (Volume editor)

Klaus Bachmann, Professor of Political Science at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Warsaw (Poland), obtained a PhD in History from the University of Warsaw about the Polish-Ukrainian conflict in Galicia before World War I. Before his academic career, he was a media correspondent for German, Austrian and Swiss media in Poland, Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine. Igor Lyubashenko is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Warsaw. He obtained a PhD at the Maria Curie-Sklodowska University in Lublin for his thesis about the European Neighbourhood Policy towards Eastern European states. He is also a member of the editorial team of the Polish New Eastern Europe magazine.


Title: The Maidan Uprising, Separatism and Foreign Intervention