Support Russia Insider - Go Ad-Free!

World Affairs Gives Space to Argument for Collective Reprisals Against Donbass Civilians

The well-known Ukrainian-American commentator Alexander Motyl says it is only right the 3 million “Enclavians” in the Donbas suffer to pay for their support of rebels

This article originally appeared at Milakovsky.LiveJournal

The well-known Ukraine commentator Alexander Motyl published a recent piece in World Affairs called "Should Kyiv Blockade the Donbas Enclave?" He puts forward for and against arguments, in which he sees the for being that a blockade could "hasten the Donbas enclave’s economic decline and make the region ungovernable" and the against the obvious humanitrian consequences.

In the end he decides that the blockade is justified, and explains it with this terrible argument:

"Would the people of the enclave suffer as a result? Yes, but remember this. The choice before Kyiv is not who should suffer, but who should suffer more: the 40 million Ukrainians in Ukraine, who are already paying an exorbitantly high price in terms of blood and money for Putin’s war, or the 3 million “Enclavians” in the Donbas, who are also paying an exorbitantly high price for their misguided support of the separatist adventure? For me, 40 million who made the right choice beats 3 million who made the wrong choice hands down."

If you read the commentary after Motyl's argument you will see that I'm not the first person to take issue with his characterization of the Donbas as "the 3 million people who made the wrong choice" or the truly bizarre title for millions of Ukrainian as "Enclavians." But it's worth going at his logic in more detail.

Does Motyl really believe that the only way to end the suffering of the 40 million Ukrainians not in separatist-held territories is to make life unlivable for the 3 million in the "enclave"? (Actually, with 1.3 million already displaced as internal refugees, and up to 800,000 as external refugees I don't know if there are still 3 mln people in separatist-held Donbas).

The suffering has indeed spread across the entire country, and I don't mean to downplay the sorrow felt over the death of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers. But what he writes as if there's just one choice - starve and collapse the Donbas enclave or Ukraine will keep suffering.

Isn't it even possible any more to imagine ending the suffering across the entirety of Ukraine, gov't- and separatist-held both?

What about a major push to call Moscow's bluff and implement the political aspects of the Minsk agreement? Afford autonomy, language rights, special elections and the other political demands of the separatists in order to stay within Ukraine?

I have been told by some Ukrainian acquaintances that I am naive to believe this deal could be struck, and even if it could it would not be right to let Moscow and Donetsk dictate the terms (although Poroshenko more or less agreed to them at Minsk-2).

And yet while that is inconceivable, many people are seriously considering the idea of sealing off the "cancerous growth" of separatist-held Donbas (in the phrasing of Poroshenko's parliamentary leader Yury Lutsenko) which could only lead to several terrible outcomes: it's total loss to Ukraine in the form of a new Pridnistrovie or a continuation of the awful stalemate, with thousand and thousands more Ukrainians deliberately turned into refugees by government policy in an attempt to depopulate the enclave. These outcomes are inconcievably worse than an ugly compromise with the separatists.

(For the record, I understand that the military aggression of the separatists has done as much or more as Kyiv's obstinance about implementing the political portions of the deal to bring Minsk-2 to its current sorry state. They remain morally culpable for the prolongation of the suffering of "their" people. If I spend more time writing about what Kyiv should do it is because I think it is capable of much better policy than what is being implemented now.)

Motyl's logic becomes a little more comprehensible (but no less inhumane) when we understand that he thinks the enclave must be cut off if Ukraine is to recover from this crisis:

"The choice before Kyiv—and it’s one that Ukrainian policymakers have assiduously been pretending doesn’t exist—is quite stark. Either a reformed, Western-oriented, and prosperous Ukraine without the Donbas enclave or an unreformed, Russia-oriented, and backward Little Russia with the enclave. You can’t have both.

And if you don’t believe me, listen to Yuri Shvets, a former Ukrainian KGB agent now living in Washington: “The Donetsk and Luhansk province territories captured by the aggressor … are a Trojan horse. Putin created it; let him now feed it. To let that ‘horse’ into Ukraine is tantamount to political and economic suicide.”

Motyl is wrong, first of all, to image that there is a homogenous bloc of "Enclavians" who all think alike and who Ukraine would be better off excluding from the country.

He does not indulge the fantasy of some Ukrainian commentators that separatist supporters are a small, marginal minority in the Donbas, but he swings to the other side and imagines that everyone there is a dedicated separatist who made their choice and now must take their medicine ("the 3 million who made the wrong choice").

And so he neatly sews up the problem that should be haunting Kyiv - how to help those dedicated pro-unity Ukrainians who remain on the wrong side of the line? They simply aren't there, says Motyl, just a bunch of Enclavians.

If by some chance they do exist, well, let them become refugees and move to the government side. (I won't even mention the even more underexplored question of how Kyiv might try to win back the loyalty of some separatist supporters, make them want to return to the fold.)

I can somewhat understand Motyl's reasoning that if Ukraine is to give up on the "Enclave" it should first try to make it ungovernable by starving it of resources. I think he casually glazes over the huge human suffering this would cause, but it has a certain internal logic.

Separatist leaders have indeed claimed they wish to expand to the boundaries of Donetska and Luhanska Oblasts (although recently their rhetoric has been tamer, claiming they instead want a few key cities like Slavyansk that 'were always Republican'), so trying to starve them of resources is a comprehensible strategy for reducing further Ukrainian casualties.

What is just so damn sad is that Motyl (and numerous other commentators) are talking as if this is really the only way - the Donbas enclave is lost, for pro-unity Ukrainians there the only choice is to throw in their lot with the blockaded "Republics" or become internal refugees. Reconciliation, reintegration - just pipe dreams.

And meanwhile the ugly, ideologically suspect (but vastly preferable to war or a frozen republic) political deal of Minsk-2 is left to wither on the vine, with no seriuos attempt having ever been made to implement it.

Support Russia Insider - Go Ad-Free!

Our commenting rules: You can say pretty much anything except the F word. If you are abusive, obscene, or a paid troll, we will ban you. Full statement from the Editor, Charles Bausman.