01 Sep THE WORDS THAT CHANGE THE BORDERS
Open statement due to the publication of the map of Ukraine without the Crimean Peninsula by New York Times* and The Economist*
By Oksana Syroyid
Co-Chair of Lviv Security Forum and Leader of Samopomich Union Party, Ex-Vice Speaker of the Parliament of Ukraine
We enjoy our lives in a time of change of balance in the world. This is not the first time in history when humanity must survive through death and birth of geopolitical constructions. The biggest misfortune of such periods – human lives and human dignity that are sacrificed for the change of the shape. And in modern times it is not only tanks or missiles, but also the words of media that change the borders, kill people, destroy houses and undermine human dignity.
The media’s attention has been drawn to Ukraine over the years, precisely because one of the most important geopolitical battles is taking place on Ukrainian territory and for control of Ukraine. Understanding the nature of this battle and its impartial coverage can save Europe and, probably the World from the new World War as well as save millions of lives.
Nowadays Russia is dissatisfied with its role on the world stage and doesn’t hide their desire to reshape the world security order in their favour. It’s not the first time when Russia is using the war in order to increase its influence in the world. Every time during its aggressive expansion, Russia views the territory of Ukraine as a source of resources and a buffer security zone.
Since the creation of the Moscow Kingdom, its eastern and northern territories have been protected by the seas and surrounded by mountains. However, the main human resources, agricultural lands and infrastructure has been located along the western border. In addition, the Moscow Kingdom which had the greatest natural resources didn’t have access to warm ports. This determined the main strategy for its westward expansion – to provide access to the Baltic and Black seas and to increase the buffer zone around important infrastructure and resources.
The defeat of the Russian Empire in World War I and the October revolution in 1917 by no means changed the imperial policy of Bolshevik Russia. On the contrary, immediately after the rise of the soviet state in the 1917 RSSR began the occupation of newly formed Ukrainian Peoples Republic. The occupation began from the formation of the Ukrainian Peoples Republic of Soviets, an enclave, which was controlled by Bolsheviks (The ORDLO of that time – territories of Ukraine occupied by Russia).
During the Paris Peace Conference in Versailles in 1919-20, the leaders of three countries – the United States, Great Britain and France – distributed statehood to peoples, who came out of the wreckage of the European empires. The leaders of the Ukrainian Peoples Republic sought support to oppose the Bolsheviks and waited for the recognition of their statehood. However, the offensive of Bolshevik Russia prevented the recognition of the Ukrainian National Republic. The Western countries were exhausted by the First World War and didn’t have the strength and desire to confront the Bolsheviks whose intentions were unclear to them. They decided to isolate and ignore the Bolsheviks.
Germany was the first country who broke the international isolation of the Bolshevik dictatorship and to recognize Bolshevik Russia and all its conquests. The Treaty of Rapallo, concluded between Russia and Germany in April 1922, extended its power to the so-called Union Republics, in particular to the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic. The treaty provided not only the resumption of diplomatic relations abused by the First World War but also the establishment of close trade and economic cooperation.
The conquest of Ukraine and access to its resources opened new opportunities for the Russia Bolshevik Empire. The most valuable was the grain that could be exported in exchange for industrialization of the Soviet Union. The appropriation of grain from the household farmers (kulaks) was a difficult process, but collectivization needed modern equipment.
German industrialists were ready to supply technologies in exchange for supplies, the most important of which was Ukrainian grain. The Hanomag WD Z 50 tractor, which in 1924 transformed into the Kharkiv Communard, obviously played its historic role in the mechanization of agriculture during the collectivization era. The German industrial magnates, the key among whom was Gustav Krupp, the main arms manufacturer in Germany, did not hide their discontent with the pacified Weimar Republic and had a commercial interest in restoring Germany’s military greatness. At their request and in exchange for their technical assistance Stalin ordered the German Communists to support Hitler during the 1931 coup. This support brought the Nazis to power, though it killed the German Communists.
Collectivization and “disillusionment” provoked thousands of peasant uprisings across Ukraine. People demanded that land and self-governance were returned to the village. In order to eradicate the peasant rebellions and guarantee the control over land and grain- the soviet main currency in the world’s trade – Stalin killed millions of Ukrainian peasants by famine in 1932 – 1933 (Holodomor). While people in Ukraine were dying out of the hanger, the world was silent so as not to spoil relations with the Soviet Union. Even countries like the UK and the USA were buying grain from the soviets. Later on, the money for the grain, sold out on international markets made on death helped Stalin to implement industrialization. The Soviet Empire, which was in isolation for decades, returned to world’s arena as a ‘’new market’’ and a great trading partner.
Hitler’s Germany attracted Stalin’s attention the most. Hitler and Stalin used each other’s resources in preparing for their own wars. Stalin intended to move to the West to establish control over the seas and increase the “sanitary zone” under the banner of the socialist revolution. Hitler, on the other side, needed Ukrainian land and human resources for building his own future empire.
Between 1939 and 1941, Germany and the Soviet Union signed five economic and security treaties. The most famous of these is the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which allowed each of the parties to move a few steps towards achieving their strategic goals. Stalin, at the same time, expected that Hitler would be exhausted by the war in Central Europe and that it would be easier for the Soviet army to “liberate the fraternal peoples.” However, Hitler’s resources began to deplete only at Stalingrad.
Ukraine, or to be more precise – its land, remained the main trophy in the war between the two dictators. Therefore, people were not sorry. About 40% of all human losses of the Soviet Union in the Second World War constitute Ukrainians.
Although the Second World’s War was resolved by both of dictators, only Hitler was ever punished. Stalin ended the war as a winner who dictated conditions. As a result, the Soviet empire in 1945 pushed its borders to Berlin. Stalin intended to move further west. Initially, he besieged the West Berlin, but later violated the conditions of maintaining the occupation zones, establishing the German Democratic Republic (another “ORDLO”). In 1952 he attempted an expansion to the West again, proposing German leader Konrad Adenauer to unite the DDR and the Federal Republic of Germany in exchange of amnesty for former Nazis, new elections, and non-aligned status of united Germany. Chancellor Adenauer replied that quitting German’s integration with the West will lead to control of Germany by the Bolsheviks and will be tantamount to «political suicide».
Despite unsuccessful attempts at further expansion to the west, the Soviet empire achieved the cherished dream of all Russian tsars. The control over the Baltic Sea was guaranteed by the Kaliningrad enclave – the remnant of the Kingdom of Prussia with the capital in Königsberg, as well as the occupation of Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and the DDR. The Black Sea was under control due to control over Crimea and the Ukrainian coastline, which was guaranteed through Russian occupation of Georgia, as well as establishing socialist satellite states -Bulgaria and Romania. The sanitary zone was expanded enough to keep the empire’s “line of life” safe.
Meanwhile, Europe had to recover from the past war, defend itself against the imminent soviet military threat, and prevent the wars in Europe in the future.
After the Second World War, the European economy was eroded not only by physical, human and infrastructure losses. There were no governments, currencies, banks, productions. European countries on their own did not have the chance to quickly regain economic capacity and economic ties. Understanding the economic and geopolitical role of a democratic Europe as an ally, the US government actually funded the economic recovery of European countries through the Marshall Plan. And the newly established World Bank managed the first major project, spending over tens of billions of US dollars in the years 1947-1951 alone.
The rebuilding of post-war Europe inevitably affected the restoration of German sovereignty in territories controlled by the United States, Britain and France. Adenauer demanded “full sovereignty”, which for many, including the French, meant something like this: “the Germans will return to Ruhr again, make tanks again and start a war again.” Germany was rigorously pacified, and Alfried Krupp, the heir to the main manufacturer of Hitler’s weapons, after the Nuremberg process was sentenced in the United States for the use of slave labour during the war.
Only the genius of Jean Monnet and Robert Schumann, who offered to exchange German sovereignty for the extraterritorial management of steelmaking in European countries (that is directly related to weapons production) helped to resolve the situation. In 1951, the European Coal and Steel Community was established, giving birth to the European Economic Community. US involvement in the balance of powers was veiled, but significant. In particular, in February 1951, John McCloy, US High Commissioner in Germany, and previously the President of the World Bank, released Alfried Krupp from prison. Alfried returned to his property, personal possessions and business, which he managed until 1967, becoming a famous German philanthropist. Today, the Alfried Krupp Foundation finances, in particular, the summer Ukrainian school at the University of Greifswald.
The economic recovery of Europe had its “side effects”. “In Europe, it has become increasingly apparent our aid, though life-giving and welcome, has not uniformly endeared us to our allies. Indeed, the growth of anti-American feeling has assumed in certain quarters dangerous proportions.” This is the experience of John McCloy in 1953. Stalin, according to McCloy, “… confidently predicted that differences between non-communist nations would grow as Germany and Japan seek to expand their markets. At the same time, “… the Soviets today is combining [political, militaristic and ideological] all these threats carry out a far-reaching policy of division among free peoples of the world. … Wherever the Communists find natural or artificial divisions they act rapidly to accentuate and encourage them. ”
In order to maintain a geopolitical balance on the European continent, a North Atlantic Alliance was created, which, in the words of its first General Secretary, Lord Ismay, was to “keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.”
The democratic world correctly assessed the aim and methods of the Soviet threat. It was mistaken only in the nature of this threat – for decades of the Cold War, the West regarded communism itself, not the imperial nature of Russia, as a threat.
That is why the Western world in the second half of the eighties became interested in the idea of democratization of the USSR, and later of Russia. That is why US President George W. Bush, speaking in Kyiv on August 1, 1991, called Ukrainians’ desire for independence “suicidal nationalism.” That is why the Budapest Memorandum became possible – the Americans sought to reduce the number of territories with nuclear status, in viewing Russia an equal geopolitical actor, instead of a threat, and Ukraine as a “small beer” in the sphere of Russia’s geopolitical interests. That is why Germany considers Russia as its partner and, forgetting history, builds the Nord Stream with Russia without any remorse or concern. That is why Russia has, over the past two decades, been able to penetrate almost unnoticed in key democratic processes in the West through election interference, media control, political party funding, participation in hydrocarbon production and transportation.
That is why, unfortunately, Russian aggression against Ukraine was inevitable. Russian President Vladimir Putin has not accidentally called the collapse of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century.” Without control over the Baltic and Black Seas as well as without control over Ukrainian resources, “Greatest Russia” is impossible. Initially, Russia took advantage of the fact that Ukrainians lacked the experience of statehood and the management of their resources after independence and during the large-scale privatization they freely bought strategic enterprises and critical infrastructure. Most of those who are now called “oligarchs” have monopolized the Ukrainian regional gas companies, power companies, thermal power plants, shipyards, and access to key natural resources for Russian money and in Russia’s interests. They have never had a Ukrainian identity or interest in the development of Ukraine, so they have easily withdrawn and continue to withdraw money from Ukraine, enriching offshore jurisdictions. At the same time, in order to maintain their monopolies and guarantee the movement of Ukraine in the Russian fairway, these people established control over Ukrainian politics through dependent media and political projects. After all, today, these oligarchs no longer hide their dependence on Russia, openly lobbying both in Ukraine and in the US the Russian “reconciliation” scenario.
However, even such a great control of Russia over Ukrainian political and economic life still lacks the main component. . Generations of people were born and raised in Ukraine for whom any pro-Russian sentiments is alien and who increasingly look into the West, identifying themselves with European civilization rather than with the “unified Slavic people.” Time was playing against Russia – the territory was getting out of control.
The revolution of dignity was only a pretext for the Russian invasion. The major objective of the illegal annexation of Crimea is to gain control over the Black Sea and to increase geopolitical leverage in the greater Mediterranean region. In the same way, the major reasons for the occupation of Eastern Ukraine are obtaining leverage over Ukraine in persuading Russian interest both in the internal and foreign policy of Ukraine.
Understanding the nature of the conflict shapes the reflections on it. The historical context defines the words that are used to describe reality. There is no “conflict in Ukraine”, there is “Russian aggression”, “Russian military intervention”. There are no “militants”, there are “Russian armed forces invading Ukrainian sovereign territory” and “Russian proxies”. There is no “civil war”, there is “Russian-Ukrainian war”. And the words create the world because the words you use design the things you believe. If you use the right words, there will be no mistakes in the maps.
And the last but not the least, the place you stand defines your perspective and often determines the words you use. From early post-soviet times, Moscow remains the headquarter place for major international media covering Ukraine. Notwithstanding the unbiased position of specific journalists, general coverage of Ukraine is very often soaked with a Russian flavour. Considering Russian war against Ukraine, it is very high time to find a better location that will broaden the perspective of respective media.*On November 6 The New York Times corrected the map of Ukraine. The earlier version of this article published on November 3 included a map of Ukraine suggesting that it was separate from Crimea. The map should have indicated the area, annexed by Russia in 2014, with a dashed borderline.