Europe Daily Bulletin No. 13095

10 January 2023
Contents Publication in full By article 30 / 30
Kiosk / Kiosk
No. 074

Aux portes de l’Europe

An American of Ukrainian heritage, the author of this great historical fresco is the Director of the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard University. In barely 550 pages, Serhii Plokhy takes us on a journey through the 2500 years separating Herodotus, the first historian to mention the Pontian steppes, and the colonial war being waged by Vladimir Putin to carve up Ukraine, as he is unable to control it as a whole.

Europe is an important part of Ukrainian history, just as Ukraine is a stakeholder in European history. On the very western edge of the Eurasian steppes, it has been a gateway to Europe for centuries. Sometimes, when the gates have been closed following war or conflict, Ukraine has helped to stop foreign invasions from East or West: when the gates have been open – as has been the case for most of Ukrainian history – it has served as a bridge between Europe and Eurasia, facilitating the movement of people, goods and ideas. Over the course of the centuries, it has also been a meeting place (and battleground) for various empires, from the Romans to the Ottomans, the Habsburgs to the Romanovs. In the 18th century, Ukraine was governed from St Petersburg and Vienna, Warsaw and Istanbul. In the 19th century, only the first two of those capitals managed to maintain their grip on the country. In the second half of the 20th century, Moscow reigned over most of the Ukrainian territory. Each of these empires claimed lands and took booty, leaving their footprint on the landscape and the character of the population, thereby helping to form its unique identity and mindset as a frontier country”, the author explains in his introduction.

The Ukrainian national anthem starts with the words ‘Ukraine has not yet perished’, which is not exactly optimistic, for any song”, Plokhy goes on to observe, before pointing out that the same is true of the Polish national anthem, which was written in 1797, 65 years before the Ukrainian anthem (1862). Without playing down the fact that Poland has a long history of trying to control various parts of Ukraine, the author sets out to stress that both nations have experienced the same tragic destiny, being shared out successively by different empires, Russian and/or Soviet domination/colonisation in particular.

Although it was not until 1476 that the first tsar, Ivan III, declared independence from the Golden Horde by refusing to pay tribute to the khans, the final decades of the 15th century were marked by Moscow’s demands over other Rus’ lands (a term of Viking origin) and a long-standing conflict with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania over the Rus’ heritage of Kiyv. “In the early 16th century, the Grand Dukes were forced to recognise the tsar’s sovereignty over two of their ancient territories: Smolensk and Chernihiv. This was the first time that Moscow had established its domination over part of what we know today as Ukraine”, the author stresses. During the same period, “Ukrainians, who made up the absolute majority of the population of the border regions north of the Black Sea and who wandered the steppes in search of cereals, became the main targets and victims of the slavery-based economic system of the Ottoman Empire”, he explains, adding that “Estimates of the number of Ukrainians and Russians who were sold on the Crimean slave markets in the 16th and 17th centuries vary between one and a half to three million”.

The Cossack riots beginning in spring 1648 (…) were the seventh major insurrection of the Cossacks since the end of the 16th century. The Republic of the Two Nations (Poland and Lithuania: Ed) had crushed the previous six, but this one turned out to be too great to be repressed. It (…) gave rise to a Cossack state (Hetmanate: Ed) which many consider to be the foundation of modern Ukraine. It also marked the start of a long period of Russian intervention in Ukraine”, writes Plokhy, who also explains the context of the “foundation of the myth, which is still accepted today by most Russians, that their nation has its origins in Kiyv”. Indeed, in 1674, “when the city was preparing for an Ottoman attack and the Polish were calling upon Moscow for its restitution”, that the first manual of rus’ history appeared in Kiyv, under the grandiose, Baroque-style title “Synopsis, or brief description from various chroniclers, about the beginning of the Slavic people, about the first Kiyv princes, and about the life of the holy and blessed Prince Vladimir, all of Russia, the first autocrat, and his heirs, even to the highest sovereign of the tsar and the Grand Duke Feodor Alekseevich, the autocrat of the All-Russian, in favour of lovers of history”. Kyiv features in the book as “the first capital of the tsars of Moscow and birthplace of the Muscovite orthodoxy”, the author points out, adding that Kiyv consequently became a “city that it was absolutely unthinkable to abandon to the infidels or Catholics. References to the Slavic nation – which, according to the authors of the Synopsis, brought together Moskovia and the Cossack Hetmanate in a single political body – giving greater strength to this line of argument”.

Although Crimea was not officially annexed to the Russian Empire until 1783, the 18th century saw the “mass colonisation of the southern steppes of Ukraine”. “As the line of the Russian fortresses moved south and the Empire absorbed new territories, following the wars between Russia and Turkey and the annexation of Crimea, all Zaporozhian lands (named after the Cossacks who lived beyond the Dnieper Rapids which were lost when the Zaporizhzhia dam was built: Ndr) were brought together in an imperial province called New Russia”, the author writes, stressing that the country’s “borders changed over time, sometimes including and sometimes excluding the region of the River Donets and Crimea, but it has never included the region of Kharkiv, in Sloboda Ukraine, as Russian ideologists claimed concerning the partition of Ukraine in 2014”. He also states that despite its imperial origins and multicultural nature, “the province of New Russia was largely Ukrainian in its ethnic composition”.

While the 20th century was punctuated by two world wars, both making Ukraine into a battleground once again, it also saw the industrial development of Donbass, the construction of Zaporizhzhia and the great famine (holodomor in Ukrainian) orchestrated by Stalin. “In total, nearly 4 million people died in Ukraine because of the famine, which decimated the country: one in eight of its inhabitants succumbed to the famine between 1932 and 1934”, Plokhy reminds us. In the course of the century, there were three successive attempts to proclaim the country’s independence: in 1918, first in Kiyv, then in Lviv; in 1939 in Transcarpathia and in 1941 in Lviv. It would be four times lucky for Ukraine, following the referendum of 1 December 1991, the results of which were “astonishing, even for the most optimistic supporters of independence (…): the turnout rate was 84% in more than 90% of those who voted did so in favour of independence”, he reports.

The end of the previous August, shortly after the Ukrainian Parliament had voted in favour of independence, “Yeltsin asked his press secretary to make a statement to the effect that if Ukraine and republics proclaimed their independence, Russia would be entitled to open the question of its borders with these republics”, Plokhy writes, adding that “Yeltsin’s press secretary indicated Crimea and the eastern borders of Ukraine, including the coal-mining region of Donbass, as possible areas of dissent. The threat made was the partition of Ukraine, if it insisted on independence”, but “Yeltsin had neither the political will nor the resources needed to execute his threat”. Having so far failed to demonstrate his ability to secure a definitive partition, Putin has clearly proved, firstly in 2014 and again since February 2022, that he, on the other hand, does have the political will, regardless of the price to be paid, by both the Russians and the Ukrainians. (Olivier Jehin)                                                                                

Serhii Plokhy. We reviewed the translation into French by Jacques Dalarun of the English original. Aux portes de l’Europe – Histoire de l’Ukraine. Bibliothèque des histoires. Gallimard. ISBN: 978-2-0729-9953-6. 550 pages. €32,00

The Sanctions Roulette in Southeast Europe

In this article published in the Südosteuropa Mitteilungen review, Jens Bastian (SWP) looks at the complexities involved in establishing a sanctions regime targeting Russia and the reactions of the countries of Southeast Europe.

Three countries – Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Turkey – have refused to adopt any of the successive sanctions packages. In the opposite corner, Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo and North Macedonia have followed the EU guidelines and adopted the sanctions. North Macedonia even contributed T-72 tanks of Soviet design and four Su-25 fighter planes to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. “These differences reflect the ongoing differences in foreign policy and the internal institutional constraints of the countries of the region. It also stresses the recent changes in the composition of their governments (for instance in Montenegro and North Macedonia). Finally, membership of the Atlantic Alliance (Montenegro, Albania and North Macedonia) is another important factor, except in the case of Turkey”, the author observes, going on to point out that various member states (Hungary, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Greece, Malta and Cyprus) have obtained exemptions (petroleum delivered by pipeline, for instance) or blocking certain restrictive measures (those aimed at Patriarch Kirill, for instance).

Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Turkey are attempting to secure their specific interests with Russia by defying the economic sanctions adopted by the EU. Israel has joined this trio of countries in south-eastern Europe and the eastern Mediterranean. They have no wish to be dragged into a binary geopolitical competition between Russia and the United States or Russia and the EU. Their refusal to scale down relations with Russia following the invasion of Ukraine therefore comes as no surprise”, Bastian writes, adding that “over the last two centuries, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Turkey and Israel have increasingly turned towards Russia and China, albeit for very different reasons and objectives”. Researcher explains this closeness as being partly caused by the lack of influence of the American government in Southeast Europe and the eastern Mediterranean. “China, more recently, and Russia, more traditionally, have filled this institutional void and put down strategic roots”, Bastian, observes, also stressing the disillusionment in Serbia, Turkey and Bosnia & Herzegovina concerning the EU accession process. “The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the debate over sanctions against Russia has accelerated this dynamic”, the author observes, adding that “it remains to be seen how long an exercise in imbalance between Washington, Moscow, Beijing and Brussels can go on”. (OJ)

Jens Bastian. The Sanctions Roulette in Southeast Europe. Südosteuropa Mitteilungen. 04/2022. ISSN : 0430-174X. €15,00

Europe de l’Est et Union européenne

With the European Union facing a growing divide amid the rise in an anti-liberal, nationalistic and anti-European mindset, which calls into question the values of the European Union and the principle of the primacy of EU law as laid down by the Court of Justice, this collective work examines the growing number of factors behind the differences between the East and West of the European Union.

As well as the political party systems, the perception of the concept of nation and European identity versus national identity, the work brings together thematic contributions, such as that of Vincent Fromentin on intra-European migration workers. “Intra-European immigration makes it possible rapidly to balance supply and demand on the labour market depending on economic fluctuations, with no serious consequences for the economy of the host country. The economic literature is in almost unanimous agreement that immigration has negligible effects, and sometimes positive ones, on the employment market, more specifically on wages and employment”, the author writes. He adds, however, that “intra-Community migration is not yet able fully to play the role of adjustment factor on the labour market, due to the weakness of intra-community flows (compared to mobility between regions in the United States, for instance)”.

The adjustment of the labour markets within the Eurozone requires a continuous evolution towards greater freedom of movement for the workforce within Europe, which goes hand-in-hand with the free movement of goods and services. The free movement of workers is a prerequisite for the proper functioning of a truly European economy”, Fromentin argues, going on to point out that the “economic competitiveness of countries, cities or specialist ‘clusters’ depends on the flows of highly qualified migrants from various regions of Europe and the world”. He concludes by saying that “this free movement of European workers makes sense, and will continue to make sense, in light of the new challenges facing the European Union: technological evolution (automation and digitalisation), growing demand for highly qualified workers rather than low-skilled labour, the ageing population and the reduction of the number of workers being born in certain European countries, and increasing international competition”. (OJ)

Yves Petit (edited by). Europe de l’Est et l’Union européenne – Quelles perspectives? Bruylant. ISBN: 978-2-8027-6946-0. 366 pages. €75,00