By Jordan Morris
|Territorial Evolution of Ukraine|
Life in Southern and Eastern Ukraine has been recently characterized by rhetoric, uncertainty, and violence. In the face of all of this tumult, the very idea of representation and democracy that ousted Viktor Yanukovych in February of 2013 has been forgotten by international politicians and media outlets. Most reports about the recent annexation of the Crimean peninsula by the Russian Federation have been filled with fear mongering about Putin’s ambition of reuniting the former Soviet states rather than an in-depth exploration of what the people of the region truly want. Despite the fact that Putin is accused of sending in security forces with no insignia and what some would say holding elections ‘at gunpoint’ to forward the referendum that declared the regions wish to join Russia, it appears there was no real local opposition to Russian presence in the first place.
This is the question that has been painfully absent from the focus of leaders and media; ‘Is life in eastern and southern Ukraine generally better than it would be in if those regions were Russia’? The evidence paints a statistical picture that suggests that the lives of people in eastern Ukraine may be better in Russia, and maybe this suggests the willingness of people to fight for Russian inclusion. As of 2012 Russia’s GNI per capita was $12,700 compared to Ukraine’s $3,500. According to The World Bank, Russia also experiences longer life expectancy and lower infant mortality rate in 2009 and 2010 respectively.
Statistics can be misleading but they do serve a purpose. These numbers, combined with the willingness of the people in eastern Ukrainian cities to put their lives at stake, portrays a narrative that suggests the people desire Russian inclusion. Issues of state sovereignty are always concerning, and the slippery slope fallacy about Russia’s annexation and what that means for the rest of the world are not entirely false because Putin is notorious for igniting Soviet sentiment, but in all of this we miss a lot of what is really going on. We forget that people’s livelihoods are at stake. Kofi Annan’s 'two sovereignties,' the idea that not only states but individuals have sovereignty as well, is quickly becoming the norm in international politics and these norms should apply to all people, no matter who their loyalty lies with. In the upcoming elections it is unlikely that eastern Ukraine will participate, let alone recognize the new president as their leader.
It is true that Russia has significant stake in eastern Ukraine with a significant military presence in Sevastopol and the gas fields that line the eastern third of Ukraine. To examine the true importance of this issue, the people, we must remove the political veil of economic and military interests that Russia may have in the region. There are still people living above those gas lines and around those military bases. There is life beyond geopolitical conflict in eastern and southern Ukraine. The people there similar to people everywhere who want what they would consider to be the best possible life.
Finally, consider this. Russia’s geopolitical and economic enterprise, the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), only has two other members in it, Belarus and Kazakhstan. This union is no different than NAFTA, the TPP, NATO or the EU in its aims, but still is held under suspicion by the West as being an appendage of Russian expansionism. Even though it is claimed that Russia is exerting unfair influence over eastern Ukraine, and will ‘take a mile if they are given an inch,’ the leaders of Kazakhstan and Belarus are vocal about their wish to let the EEU develop at an agreeable pace, with assurance that all policies made within it are mutually respected and beneficial.
We cannot say whether life will be better as part of Russia or Ukraine for those who live in the conflict zone, but it is safe to suggest life will largely remain the same, if not improve. If it is the will of the people to join Russia, the state they ethnically identify with, let them.