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1948 CIA Report: Don't Try to Separate Ukraine From Russia - It Wont Work

Remarkably prescient analysis. The reasons given are as true today as they were then, even more so

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This article originally appeared at Fort Russ

Source: NSC 20/1, section 4: "US objectives with respect to Russia" 

US National Security Council,  August 18, 1948 

...The Ukrainians are the most advanced of the peoples who have been under Russian rule in modern times. They have generally resented Russian domination; and their nationalistic organizations have been active and vocal abroad. It would be easy to jump to the conclusion that they should be freed, at last, from Russian rule and permitted to set themselves up as an independent state. 

We would do well to beware of this conclusion. Its very simplicity condemns it in terms of eastern European realities. 

It is true that the Ukrainians have been unhappy under Russian rule and that something should be done to protect their position in future. But there are certain basic fads which must not be lost sight of.  

While the Ukrainians have been an important and specific element in the Russian empire,  
they have shown no signs of being a "nation" capable of bearing successfully the responsibilities of independence in the face of great Russian opposition. 

  • The Ukraine is not a clearly defined ethnical or geographic concept.

  • In general, the Ukrainian population made up of originally in large measure out of refugees from Russian or Polish despotism shades off imperceptibly into the Russian or Polish nationalities. 

  • There is no clear dividing line between Russia and the Ukraine, and it would be impossible to establish one. 

  • The cities in Ukrainian territory have been predominantly Russian and Jewish. 

  • The real basis of "Ukrainianism" is the feeling of "difference" produced by a specific peasant dialect and by minor differences of custom and folklore throughout the country districts. 

  • The political agitation on the surface is largely the work of a few romantic intellectuals, who have little concept of the responsibilities of government.

  •  The economy of the Ukraine is inextricably intertwined with that of Russia as a whole. 

  • There has never been any economic separation since the territory was conquered from the nomadic Tatars and developed for purposes of a sedentary population. 

  • To attempt to carve it out of the Russian economy and to set it up as something separate would be as artificial and as destructive as an attempt to separate the Corn Belt, including the Great Lakes industrial area, from the economy of the United States.

Furthermore, the people who speak the Ukrainian dialect have been split, like those who speak the White Russian dialect, by a division which in eastern Europe has always been the real mark of nationality: namely, religion- if any real border can be drawn in the Ukraine , it should logically be the border between the areas which traditionally give religious allegiance to the Eastern Church and those which give it to the Church of Rome. 

Finally, we cannot be  indifferent to the feelings of the Great Russians themselves. They were the strongest national element in the Russian Empire, as they now are in the Soviet Union. They will continue to be the strongest national element in that general area, under any status. Any long-term U.S. policy must be based on their acceptance and their cooperation. The Ukrainian territory is as much a part of their national heritage as the Middle West is of ours, and they are conscious of that fact. A solution which attempts to separate the Ukraine entirely from the rest of Russia is bound TO incur their resentment and opposition, and can be maintained, in the last analysis, only by force.  

There is a reasonable chance that the Great Russians could be induced to tolerate the renewed independence of the Baltic states. They tolerated the freedom of those territories from Russian rule for long periods in the past; and they recognize, subconsciously if not otherwise, that the respective peoples are capable of independence.

With respect to the Ukrainians, things are different. They are too close to the Russians to be able to set themselves up successfully as something wholly different. For better or for worse, they will have to work out their destiny in some sort of special relationship to the Great Russian people.

It seems clear that this relationship can be at best a federal one, under which the Ukraine would enjoy a considerable measure of political and cultural autonomy but would not be economically or militarily independent. Such a relationship would be entirely just to the requirements of the Great Russians themselves, it would seem, therefore, to be along these lines that U.S. objectives with respect to the Ukraine should be framed. 

It should be noted that this question has far more than just a distant future significance. Ukrainian and Great Russian elements among the Russian emigre-opposition groups are already competing vigorously for U.S. support. The manner in which we receive their competing claims may have an important influence on the development and success of the movement for political freedom among the Russians. It is essential, therefore, that we make our decision now and adhere to it consistently. And that decision should be neither a pro-Russian one nor a pro-Ukrainian one, but one which recognizes the historical geographic and economic realities involved and seeks for the Ukrainians a decent and acceptable place in the family of the traditional Russian Empire, of which they form an inextricable part. It should be added that while, as stated above, we would not deliberately encourage Ukrainian separatism, nevertheless if an independent regime were to come into being on the territory of the Ukraine through no doing of ours, we should not oppose it outright. 

To do so would be to undertake an undesirable responsibility for internal Russian developments. Such a regime would be bound to be challenged eventually from the Russian side. 

If it were to maintain itself successfully, that would be proof that the above analysis was wrong and that the Ukraine does have the capacity for, and the moral right to, independent status. 

Our policy in the first instance should be to maintain an outward neutrality, as long as our own interests—military or otherwise—were not immediately affected. And only if it became clear that an undesirable deadlock was developing, we would encourage a composing of the differences along the lines of a reasonable federalism. The same would apply to any other efforts at the achievement of an independent status on the part of other Russian minorities.

 It is not likely that any of the other minorities could successfully maintain real independence for any length of time.

However, should they attempt it (and it is quite possible that the Caucasian minorities would do this), our attitude should be the same as in the case of the Ukraine. We should be careful not to place ourselves in a position of open opposition to such attempts, which would cause us to lose permanently the sympathy of the minority in question.

On the other hand, we should not commit ourselves to their support to a line of action which in the long run could probably be maintained only with our military assistance.

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