Fifth myth of Krymnashism – Ukrainian statehood is ‘artificial’ – demolished by Popov

A Crimean Tatar woman holds a sign "Crimea Is Ukraine" in protest to the "referendum" imposed by force by Moscow in March 2014.

A Crimean Tatar woman holds a sign "Crimea Is Ukraine" in protest to the "referendum" imposed by force by Moscow in March 2014. 

2015/08/27 • Analysis & Opinion, Crimea, Russia

The Kremlin’s insistence that it has the right to take pieces of Ukraine because “Ukraine has no territorial integrity because it is not a real state” is the fifth myth of “Krymnashism,” one that has deep roots but that is even more absurd than the others, according to Moscow historian Arkady Popov.

As he has done with the first four of the eight “KrymNash” myths, Popov demolishes this one in “Yezhednevny zhurnal.

Everyone should have seen this myth coming, Popov says, because as early as 2008, Putin told US President George W. Bush that “Ukraine is not even a state! What is Ukraine? Part of its territory is Eastern Europe and part, and a quite significant part, was given to it by us.” That view was then repeated by Russian politicians and diplomats to others.

In 2014, Putin expanded on the notion that Russia had given territory to Ukraine by saying that the Bolsheviks had given Ukraine “significant territories of the historic south of Russia” and that in 1954, Khrushchev had given Ukraine Crimea. Moreover, Moscow had cut off territory from Poland and Hungary and given it to Ukraine as well.

It is “unfortunate,” the Moscow historian continues, that the Kremlin leader didn’t talk about Kaliningrad or Vyborg or Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk or Tuva or even Karelia. Had he, he might have been forced to conclude that according to his own arguments, the Russian Federation is “not a state” either.

Popov points out that “it is impossible to find any principled differences in the means of forming the present-day Russian Federation and present-day Ukraine: Both countries were created by means of the sovereignization of Union republics, the RSFSR and the UkSSR which after the 1917 revolution were formed from the remnants of the Russian empire.”

The current Kremlin leader condemns the early Bolsheviks for including “significant territories” of Russia inside Ukraine, saying they didn’t take into account “the national composition of the residents.” But he doesn’t speak about the fact that the Bolsheviks “included in the RSFSR enormous territories of the North Caucasus and Turkestan which were predominantly non-Russian and had declared their independence.”

“Later in 1924 and 1936, the Turkestan territories were separated from the USSR, but that didn’t happen with the North Caucasian ones,” Popov observe s. As for Tuva, which was absorbed in 1944, ethnic Russians there at that time formed only 15 percent of the population. Now, that figure is 16 percent. Similar observations could be made about Vyborg and Koenigsberg (Kaliningrad).

“It would be interesting to find out from Putin whether the Russian Federation is thus a real state or an artificial one,” Popov adds.

By the way, he points out, “many Krymnashists would willingly agree with the idea that it is ‘artificial’!” That is because for them “’the natural borders’” of Russia are not those of the Russian Federation but those of their beloved “’Russian world.’” But of course, they are only prepared to talk about expansion and not contraction as say in the North Caucasus.

Until the middle of the last century, the historian says, “states were created and expanded mainly by conquest, that is, even very ‘artificially.’ Among those were the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, a significant portion of its foreign borders the Russian Federation inherited and partially Ukraine as well.”

“But in Krymnash thought, there is the response that Ukraine unlike Russia did not form and expand ‘on its own’ but was created and expanded by ‘outside hands,’ that is, the Bolsheviks and then Stalin.” That is Putin’s view, but he has to distort history in order to make his words plausible even to his supporters.

Despite what the Kremlin leader says, Kharkiv was never part of Novorossiya, “the toponym Novorossiisk was derived from the toponym Novorossiya and not the reverse, and “no one transferred to Ukraine from Russia the lands of Novorossiya.” That is clear is one examines both the tsarist and first Soviet censuses and the history of the early years of the Soviet state.

Popov devotes most of his 5500-word article to doing just that, and he shows that the lands Putin views as “Russian” were overwhelmingly Ukrainian in population both in 1897 and in 1926 when the borders were drawn. That changed only after the Holodomor and Stalin’s ethnic engineering in the 1930s and 1940s.

Near the end of his article, Popov says that he must return to “the starting point of our myth: ‘what does ‘the artificiality’ of the Ukrainian state mean?” Is it about frequent changes of its borders? But then that has been true of most European states. Is it about ethnic variety? That too is the case with most. In both cases, Russia has more of this than does Ukraine.

“Undoubtedly,” Popov writes, “there are problems in Ukraine regarding the formation of a pan-civic identity to the extent that this is linked with assessments of the past of the country and its desired future, but they depend on the political views of Ukrainian citizens,” who vary as do the citizens of every country.

What is striking about Ukraine is how much unanimity there is now and how Russia has helped to promote that, Popov says. In September 2014, 75 percent of Ukrainians said they had a negative attitude toward Putin, with only 16 percent feeling positive about him. Eleven months earlier, those figures were very different: 47 percent had a positive view of the Kremlin leader.

Moreover, in December 1991, on the eve of Belovezhskaya Pushcha, Ukrainians voted overwhelmingly for the independence of “an indivisible and inviolable Ukraine,” and “the residents of the so-called “Novorossiya’ were no exception to this pattern.” Today, except where Moscow has created “a separatist enclave,” the same is true.

“Not in a single one of the regions of Putin’s ‘Novorossiya’ has there been a mass desire of ethnic Russians to reject their Ukrainian civic identity, although there were and are attempts to destabilize the situation with the aid of terrorist acts organized as a rule from abroad,” the Russian historian says.

As a result, this “KrymNash” myth based on ignorance and bombast collapses on examination. Ukraine is not an artificial state or at least it is no more artificial than the state whose leaders are calling it that.

This is fifth article in the series. Read the next one here:
6. Popov demolishes Krymnash myth of ‘Fascist Euromaidan’

Edited by: A. N.

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  • BCHistorian

    A superb series. Intellectually outstanding!