One year after Crimea was incorporated by Russia, signs of political, ethnic and territorial fragmentation are everywhere in Ukraine. If this continues, Ukraine could become a “frozen” state.

Local residents walk past Soviet-era hammer and sickle sculptures outside an apartment building damaged after Saturday's shellingin Mariupol, Ukraine, Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015. The military conflict between Russia-backed separatists and the government forces in eastern Ukraine has been raging since April, claiming more than 5,100 lives, according to the United Nations. Photo: AP

March 18 marks the anniversary of the signing of the agreement incorporating Crimea to Russia. This controversial event meant changing the Ukrainian borders from what they had been as the former Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. A year later we can say that Ukraine’s fragmentation continues.

Alienation continues to grow among various ethnic and cultural regions in the country. To maintain control of a range of these regions (Odessa, Kharkov and even Vinnitsa), Kiev has had to use force or place them under limited military administration.

The causes of the Ukrainian conflict are largely internal in nature. Moscow and Washington can make use of the contradictions among different regions in Ukraine for its own purposes. But, even if the Kremlin decided to withdraw entirely from Ukrainian affairs tomorrow, it would not mean a cessation of hostilities. The ethnic-territorial division of Ukraine would continue for objective reasons. There is a developing model of disintegration among modern states.

The historical basis of modern Ukraine

The historical ideological basis of Ukrainian identity - “ukrainstvo” as Georgy Fedotov,  a Russian religious philosopher and historian, called it - was the “Galician-Poltavan Plan.” At the end of the 19th century, Malaya (“Little”) Russian identity was based around the Poltavan community. In the 1880s, as a result of Alexander III’s repressive policies, the center for the “Ukrainian” movement relocated from Poltava to Galicia. During the Civil War several unsuccessful attempts were made to create a Ukrainian state based on the Galicia and Poltava regions.

The Soviet authorities attempted to recreate Ukraine as a multi-national state. Non-Ukrainian territories were added to the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic. An alternative was a project by the national Ukrainian state.

Before the start of World War II in the western regions of Ukraine (Galichina), a Ukrainian national movement took shape and fought against Poland. In 1941 the German government turned the potential of this Ukrainian movement against the USSR. After World War II, this ideology was the foundation for the Ukrainian dissident movement.

“Two Ukraines” after the fall of the Soviet Union

After the fall of the USSR in 1991, two competing forces split independent Ukraine – one supporting a multi-national Ukraine, the other a nationalist Ukraine. The first was associated with presidents Leonid Kravchuk (1991-1994) and Leonid Kuchma (1994 - 2004), assuming a continuation of the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic (a “Soviet Union in miniature”). Soviet governmental structures were retained in Ukraine and a plan was implemented to confer citizenship to those living within the territory.

The policy of “Ukrainization” was continued by extending the use of the Ukrainian language and culture, following the example of Soviet policies in the 1920s, when Soviet authorities attempted to reform Ukraine as a multi-national territory. But Ukrainian identity in official discourse was one of civil identity, not of an ethnic character.

The movement for a nationalist Ukraine was connected with the legitimacy of the new Ukrainian authorities. “Ukrainian history” was used to legitimize the government. However, it included the experience of Ukrainian nationalism during World War II (a nationalist Ukrainian State, independent and pro-German).

Such an approach by itself created a type of identity crisis for the Ukrainian authorities. If Ukraine is a successor to the “true Ukraine,” then why maintain the political system of the former Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic with its approaches aimed at a multi-national country? Such an approach by itself reduced the legitimacy of the Ukrainian political system.

The situation became worse after President Viktor Yushchenko came to power in 2005, when he was reported to have steered a course towards returning to the nationalism of the 1940s.

Superimposed on all of this is the factor of the elites. This is the dual role of the western Ukrainian elite. The dominant role in the political life of the country was played by elites from central and eastern Ukraine. The elites from the west of the country were essentially excluded from the privatization process and simultaneously from taking political decisions. By 2000 they had succeeded in taking positions in education and culture. However, as a whole the alienation of the western Ukrainian elite from the Ukrainian political system became a factor for serious destabilization.

The paradox of opposition

The dual nature of the Ukrainian state created a new form of opposition. Its ideology was based on two ideas. First is the recreation of the “true” Ukrainian state, essentially rejecting the legacy of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in favor of the so-called Galician-Poltavan Plan. Second is increasing the speed of integration into the European Union, which envisages a rejection of the governmental system of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. This concept received serious support from western Ukrainian elites.

However, an important question still remains: Is it possible in principle to achieve the Galician-Poltavan Plan beyond central and western Ukraine?

For a start, entry or even association with the EU assumes the de-industrialization of the south and east of the country. Such an approach by itself creates problems for the population in eastern Ukraine.

Secondly, the redistribution of property in favor of western elites might infringe the rights of elites from the southeast. This has become, for example, an important factor for the negative views that the southeastern elites have for the nationalistic program.

Thirdly, implementing a nationalist program requires the rejection of the legacy of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. This would inevitably raise the issue of the borders of the “true Ukraine” and whether they coincide with the boundaries of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic of 1991.

Fault lines

Rivalry between Russia, the U.S. and the EU in 2013 has accelerated the activation of fault lines. The victory of “Euromaidan” meant primarily the rejection of the heritage from the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. On Feb. 22, 2014, Ukraine ceased to be its legal successor. Against this background, the abolition by the new government of the law on the status of Russian language inevitably caused a wave of protest in the southeast. The question was raised about the possibility (or impossibility) of rebuilding Ukraine in a new form.

The most important result for Ukraine was the preservation of its statehood. After Crimea's accession to Russia, not only Russian but also American experts expressed doubts about Ukraine’s ability to survive in its current capacity. However, by mid-May, Kiev had managed to avoid the rise of the protest movement in Zaporozhye, Kharkov and Odessa, limiting the rebellion to Donbas. The ensuing summer military operation against “Novorossiya” ("New Russia") has not led to protests in Ukraine. The loss of two-thirds of the Crimea and the Donbas was not critical for Ukrainian statehood.

But the loss of most of Crimea and the Donbas blocks Ukraine’s ability to integrate into the European-Atlantic community. It is not legally possible for a country to join NATO when it has two unresolved territorial problems. It is hard to imagine an “Association Agreement” between Ukraine and the EU, if the calculation of its financial section excludes Crimea and the Donbas - it would be tantamount to the EU separating these regions from Ukraine.

In this situation, Ukraine is becoming, like Georgia, a “frozen” country. While making declarations of its desire to join NATO and the EU, in the foreseeable future Ukraine will not be objectively capable of such integration.

This “frozen” state may cause serious problems for Ukraine (within the boundaries of Feb. 12, 2015). We are talking about the prospects of losing a country of 40 million. This may lead to a new fault line between the western and central regions of Ukraine.

For the first region (conditionally “Galicia”) EU integration remains a priority. For the second region (conditionally the Kiev-Poltava community) the priority is to preserve the territorial integrity of the country, and ideally recover its borders as of January 1, 2014.

In western Ukraine, to a greater extent than in the center, notably is the desire to throw off the "non-Ukrainian" regions for integration with the EU. This scenario is so far hypothetical. However, the December riots in Vinnitsa proved that a protest against Kiev’s policies is possible not only in the east, but also in the west of the country.

The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.