My fourth interview from Ukraine with David C. Speedie, director of the program on U.S. Global Engagement at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, first published on April 10, 2014.
DAVID SPEEDIE: I'm David Speedie, director of the program on U.S. Global Engagement at the Carnegie Council.
I am delighted to welcome back today Professor Nicolai Petro from Odessa, Ukraine. Professor Petro is in the Department of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island and is currently on a Fulbright Fellowship in Odessa in southern Ukraine.
Nicolai, welcome back for another round.
NICOLAI PETRO: Hello, David.
DAVID SPEEDIE: It seems that every time there appears to be a lull in the Ukraine crisis it is not only ongoing but spreading. When we think Crimea has settled down, now we are riveted on Donbas in southeastern Ukraine.
First of all, we always begin with an overview. Can you give us something of an overview of how you see what is happening in the southeast at the moment?
NICOLAI PETRO: Well, it seems to now be less meaningful to talk about the south and east together and more sensible, perhaps, to talk about the east, where we have the Donbas, and to the north of that the region known in Ukraine as Slobozhanshchyna, sort of a Cossack land, and the south itself, with the region known here as New Russia, or Novorossiya.
What we have been seeing these last couple of days is opposition movements seizing government buildings in the Donbas regions, but not finding similar support in the south, finding moderate support in Kharkiv, which is to the north in Slobozhanshchyna.
So that's where we are right now, sort of a divided front in the south and the east.
DAVID SPEEDIE: Obviously, one of the questions that comes into play here is the role of Russia in fomenting this. Some fairly inflammatory rhetoric has been used--special forces and agents, provocateurs, inspired by Moscow. So I guess the key question--it certainly is reported here as if Moscow is stirring this particular pot where there is a new wave of protests. Is that your perception?
NICOLAI PETRO: I don't have any particular way of knowing. But I would say that politicians here in Ukraine are divided on that. In other words, there seems to be one group who are in charge in Kiev right now who are indeed arguing that this is all a creation of Moscow, whereas a number of spokesmen and leaders for the Party of Regions and the Communist Party have argued that this is essentially the result of Kiev not listening to the demands of the indigenous population.
And we have one other actor, a very influential actor, in the person of Ukraine's richest individual, Rinat Akhmetov, who, according to reports, is also probably one of Ukraine's largest employers, with over 300,000 employees across the country, who hails from the Donbas region. He too argues that this is mostly motivated by frustration of the local population with not being heard in Kiev.
DAVID SPEEDIE: Doesn't this go back really to the origins of the conflict, Nicolai, where at least one perception would be that this is very much a divided country, what happened in Kiev and Maidan was very much choreographed by the West from Lviv and western Ukraine, and that this was followed by, as I recall, some western governors and officials being appointed to important posts in eastern provinces? Hasn't there been something of a buildup to this that really goes back to the origins of the crisis?
NICOLAI PETRO: Well, throughout this crisis, and even before, there have been two narratives in the country. These narratives go back many decades, even perhaps to before not just World War II, but even before World War I.
One narrative has it that the western Ukraine is the heart of the true Ukrainian identity, if you will, Ukraine's equivalent of Piedmont in Italy, the source of inspiration for nationhood. According to this narrative, the western region's influence in the Maidan, both in 2004 and now in 2013 and 2014, was decisive in achieving political transformation.