WORLD AFFAIRSThe real election, to the Rada (Ukraine’s Parliament in Kyiv), took place on October 26th; the pseudo-election, in the Donbas enclave occupied by Russia and its proxies, took place on November 2nd. The former was fair and free and, as a referendum on popular attitudes, produced a clear victory for pro-Western, pro-democratic, and pro-Ukrainian parties. The latter was a staged event overseen by thugs with guns that, unsurprisingly, produced a clear victory for the pro-Russian thugs with guns.

The online newspaper Ukrainska Pravda conveniently broke down electoral outcomes by province according to their pro-European and pro-Russian tendencies. Importantly, every single Ukrainian province—including all those in the southeast (Odessa, Mykolaiv, Kherson, Zaporizhzhya, Dnipropetrovsk, Kyiv-controlled Donetsk and Luhansk, and Kharkiv)—had more pro-European votes than pro-Russian votes. These were also the regions where the pro-Russian parties did best, but, no less importantly, their best was a far cry from what it had been in the parliamentary elections of 2012. In a word, a political sea change—toward the West, democracy, and Ukraine, and away from everything Russia stands for—appears to have taken place in Ukraine’s southeast.

A closer look at the figures will bear out these conclusions. I calculated for each of the southeastern provinces the percentage increase of the pro-European vote and the percentage decrease of the pro-Russian vote. Here are the results: Odessa (+61 percent, –37 percent); Mykolaiv (+82 percent, –47 percent); Kherson (+68 percent, –53 percent); Zaporizhzhya (+74 percent, –37 percent); Dnipropetrovsk (+63 percent, –40 percent); Donetsk (+264%, –33 percent); Luhansk (+245 percent, –30 percent); Kharkiv (+47 percent, –29 percent). These are impressive trends. Just how impressive is clear from a comparison with the same percentages for three regions where the pro-Europeans did exceptionally well: Lviv Province (+7 percent, –71 percent), Kyiv city (+16 percent, –60 percent), and Poltava Province (+42 percent, –66 percent). Since these three are already very pro-European, they have less room for improvement than the southeast. But if current trends in the southeast continue, it should be making leaps and bounds and catch up within a decade or so. Not bad for a region that is still considered unremittingly pro-Russian and pro-Soviet by clueless Western “experts.”

In contrast to these elections, the ballot in the Donbas enclave tells us nothing about popular preferences. Its importance lies elsewhere. Clearly, the Russian proxies who control the territory are determined to acquire as much independence as they can and to do so regardless of international agreements and norms. That’s no surprise, of course, as they’ve flouted all civilized norms ever since they appeared in the spring of 2014. What’s new is that no one, anywhere, can still harbor any illusions about their intentions. They will stay in the enclave until they are driven out. Indeed, they may even want to expand their sphere of influence by attacking Ukraine. Although they say they want to negotiate with Kyiv, their indifference to dialogue, their commitment to violence, and their predilection for creating faits accomplis demonstrate that there is nothing to talk about with them. Ironically, even Russia’s illegitimately elected ruler, Vladimir Putin, may have come to a similar conclusion, having pointedly refrained from recognizing the elections or from holding talks with the terrorists.

Kyiv, correctly, revoked the autonomous status it granted the enclave as part of the Minsk agreement of September 5th. Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk also announced that Ukraine would cease providing the enclave with subsidies amounting to some 34.2 billion hryvnia (about $2.3 billion). At the same time, Yatseniuk also noted that gas and electricity would continue to be provided to the enclave—gratis.

Kyiv faces a dilemma. The enclave has declared independence from Ukraine and is waging a bloody war against Ukrainian troops. It’s quite possible that the Russian proxies may soon launch a large-scale offensive against Ukrainian positions in the Donbas and, possibly, elsewhere. At the same time, in providing billions of hryvnia to the enclave’s (oftentimes anti-Ukrainian) government institutions (as well as non-functioning coal mines!), not to mention free gas and electricity, Ukraine is effectively subsidizing the very terrorists it claims to be opposing. Kyiv would say it has an obligation to keep its citizens in the enclave warm. True. But it also has an obligation to keep its citizens outside the enclave safe. So which is the greater priority: the security and survival of a huge country with some 40 million people or the warmth of a small Russian-controlled enclave with some 4 million? At the very least, Kyiv could insist that some dummy entity in the enclave pay Ukraine the exact same price for the gas that it’s agreed to pay Russia—$385 per 1,000 cubic meters.


The terrorists may soon make that question moot. If, as seems likely to an increasingly large number of sober Ukrainian analysts, they attack Ukraine, and if, as also seems likely, Russian artillery and bombers rain destruction on Ukrainian soldiers and civilians, Kyiv’s hand will be forced and the subsidies will likely cease. The result of Putin’s continued aggression cannot be foretold, but you can be certain that the tens of thousands of dead Ukrainians and Russians (one Russian analyst estimates that 35,000 Russians would die in a war against Ukraine) will unfortunately give Russia’s cruel dictator few sleepless nights.

Alexander J. Motyl's blog

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