Staunton, August 24 – Stalin made “an error” in annexing Galicia to the Ukrainian SSR via the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact because what Moscow needed with war on the horizon was “the establishment of buffer states on the border of the USSR and not their being pulled into the Union itself,” with all the border changes that would involve, according to Vladimir Kornilov.
“It was possible and necessary to draw Galicia into its sphere of influence,” the director of the Moscow Center for Eurasian Research says, “but to join it to the USSR or even more to the Ukrainian SSR was a mistake,” one that had fateful consequences for the future of the region.
Kornilov’s argument, made in an interview with Dmitry Rodionov of Svobodnaya Pressa, is important both historically and politically. Historically, it represents a rare dissent among Russians from Stalin’s annexations under the secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, annexations that involved the three Baltic countries, Bessarabia, and Western Belarus as well.
And politically, it can be read and certainly will be seen by many as an implicit criticism of Vladimir Putin’s Anschluss of Crimea, an action that also has had enormous consequences for the Russian Federation both in terms of alienating Ukraine and the West and in terms of that country’s domestic development.
According to Kornilov, there has always been “a struggle between at a minimum two Ukraines,” a conflict which one can capture by the two phrases, “Together forever,” or “Get away from Moscow.” That was true in the 18th century, the 19th century, the 20th century and even now.
“There have been times,” the historian says, “when it appeared that one Ukraine had finally defeated the other.” Thirty or forty years ago, anyone who said that portraits of Bandera would appear on the streets of Ukrainian cities would have been viewed as mad. At that time, that “other Ukraine” appeared to have finally been suppressed or destroyed.
But now the political “wind” has changed direction, and some imagine that that is permanent as well, Kornilov says. However, in his view, “a financial victory in the war of the two Ukrainians can never be,” and that is something which “both the one side and the other must understand.”
At the very least, the two must reach an agreement either about “how to co-exist in a civilized fashion within the framework of a single state” – something Kornilov says he thinks will be increasingly difficult given the intensity of conflict now “or alternatively split up in a civilized way.”
The existence of the two Ukraines, Kornilov says, has another consequence. When one side thinks it has one, the other becomes a supporter of federalization. When it appeared that the pro-Moscow Ukraine had won, Galicia and Western Ukraine more generally were the chief advocates of federal arrangements.
When the reverse appeared to be true as now, the advocates of federalism shifted as well. What has to happen, the historian says, is that both Galicia and the Donbas need to understand that neither has the chance to defeat the other forever – and they need to understand that “at the same time and without illusions on the part of one or the other.”