‘Zelyonyi Klin’ isn’t Only Ukrainian ‘Wedge’ in Russia, and Some in Moscow are Nervous

June 12, 2014
Map of Zelenyi Klin by topwar.ru

Staunton, June 12 – Russian writers occasionally refer to the existence of the Zelyonyi Klin [“Green Wedge”] in the Russian Far East as an historical oddity, but now in the midst of the Ukrainian crisis, they have gone all out not only to blacken its reputation by linking Ukrainians there to foreign intelligence services but also to raise the spectre of other Ukrainian “wedges” across Russia.

But while these commentaries are unanimous in portraying these Ukrainian areas as marginal and anachronistic, they appear to reflect the fears of some in Moscow that either the Ukrainians themselves or foreign governments sympathetic to Kyiv or antagonistic to Moscow might be able to use these groups and a decision to blacken their reputation among Russians.

A classic example of an article of this type was offered yesterday by Ilya Polonsky in Voyennoye Obozreniye, an online journal directed at the Russian military.

The article begins by asserting that “naïve people assume that Ukrainian nationalists in their political aspirations limit their claims to such historically Russian lands as Crimea or Novorossiya,” places that are of course within the internationally recognized borders of the Ukrainian Republic.

In fact, Polonsky says, Ukrainians have shown an interest in absorbing portions of Belgorod, Kursk, Voronezh, and Rostov regions, and all of the Kuban. “But few know,” he continues, that Ukrainians have had their eyes on what they see as Ukrainian territories far beyond the borders of that country.

There are at least four such territories, Polonsky says, known as kliny or “wedges,” where there are compact settlements of ethnic Ukrainians. Three of them remain relatively obscure – the Yellow Wedge in the Volga region, the Gray Wedge in the southern Urals, and the Crimson Wedge in the Kuban – but one – the Green Wedge in the Far East has a long history.

“In each of these regions at the time of the beginning of World War I there existence significantly large colonies of Malorussians, who in rural areas preferred to settle compactly and thus formed their own kind of enclave and a way of life” which set them apart from the Russians in nearby cities and towns.

Polonsky focuses most of his attention to the Green Triangle, which was largely coterminous with the Ussuri Territory. Ukrainians had come there between 1884 and 1913 because there was a great deal of fertile agricultural land and because it was a place where they could continue to farm as individuals rather than as part of communal organizations.

The Russian military commentator says that the Ukrainians never formed more than 20 percent of the population of the entire region, although he acknowledges that they had majorities in many localities and were sufficiently large to have an impact on the politics and culture of the region.

He writes that the first Ukrainian nationalist organizations emerged in 1905-1907 but suggests that this happened primarily because of the efforts of a German from Poltava who was working for the Japanese intelligence services. And he says that the Zelyonyi Klin continued to be a project of them, the German, and the Austro-Hungarian intelligence services through World War I.

The implication of this tendentious account of the subject is that the Ukrainians themselves had no interest in promoting their own interests relative to the rest of the population and that they only did so because of the work of foreign intelligence services, a trope that Moscow writers have developed for Ukraine more generally.

During the Russian Civil War, the armed forces of the Zelyonyi Klin numbered more than 40,000, a significant number given the relatively small units in the White Russian and Interventionist forces in Russia east of the Urals. After the end of that conflict, many fled abroad, and some 11,000 Ukrainians settled in Harbin.

But that was not the end of the Zelyonyi Klin, Polonsky writes. Japanese intelligence officers formed units and provided training to Ukrainians in Tokyo’s puppet state of Manchukuo in the hopes that they could be used in the course of an eventual Japanese invasion of the Soviet Far East, and the Japanese backed the publication of Ukrainian-language propaganda.

Again reflecting Russian propaganda about Ukraine more generally, Polonsky says that if the Japanese had won, they probably would have been killed to get them out of the way of Japan. “Soviet power,” he says, “treated them more humanely. After its victory over Japan, the leaders of Ukrainian nationalists arrested in Manchuria were given ten years in the camps.”

Polonsky adds that “the present-day population of the Far East, including that which is Little Russian by origin, mostly does not associate with Ukrainians. With the end of the artificial ‘Ukrainianization,’ the Little Russians of the Far East finally defined themselves as Russians and now do not separate themselves from other residents of the region who speak Russian.”

And that allows the Moscow writer to say in conclusion that “thus ingloriously ended the history of Ukrainian separatism in the Far East and attempts at creating an independent Zelyonyi Klin state. Its key characteristic, like that of many other such projects, is is obvious artificiality.”

But that doesn’t mean it can’t be dangerous, Polonsky continues, because such projects can lead to “the destruction of thousands of people,” an indication that he and his colleagues, however much they try to treat the “wedges” as historical curiosities are more than a little worried about what may happen next.