Racially conscious whites throughout the world are puzzled and disturbed by the Russo-Ukrainian war being fought along the southeastern edge of Ukraine known as the Donbass (“Donbas” in Ukrainian). Two parts of that region–the self-declared Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics–are seeking autonomy from Ukraine.
This is the first large-scale armed European conflict (defined as having produced thousands of casualties) since the Kosovo war, which was fought between Christian Serbs and Muslim Kosovars, and ended in 1999.
There are many factors involved that go beyond race and ethnicity. Economically, the Donbass region wants close ties with Russia, since much of its trade is across their shared border, and most of the mines and factories still maintain production lines inherited from before the Soviet collapse.
The Donbass elites worked to deepen ties with Russia when they held power at the national level in 2010-2013, under the Yanukovych regime that was overthrown at the time of the Euromaidan Revolution. Indeed, among the key demands of the rebels today is the right of Donbass to form economic ties with regions of Russia, independent of the authorities in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital (“Kiev” is the Russian spelling).
The Donbass region is also interested in close political ties with Moscow. Its people have little interest in Western liberal democracy and aren’t much bothered by authoritarian rule. They also reject Western concepts of “social justice,” and largely embrace the values of the “Russian World” (“Russkiye Mir” in Russian), the concept of a patriarchal, traditional Russocentric civilization promoted by political philosopher Aleksandr Dugin and adopted by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On a cultural level, the people of the Donbass speak Russian and reject Ukrainianizaton efforts. They also belong to the Moscow patriarchate and reject Ukraine’s autonomous Orthodox Christian churches. Indeed, the Donbass war differs from the Yugoslav wars in that majorities on both sides are Orthodox Christians.
On the Ukrainian side, the national Armed Forces are doing the fighting. Most of the troops are young conscripts who are the first generation to have grown up in an independent Ukraine, with little or no memory of the Soviet Union. They view their opponents as extreme Russo-centric radicals, or opportunists who are serving Moscow’s geopolitical goals.
Race and ethnicity
Racially conscious whites are right to bemoan the fighting as the latest misguided fratricidal war, but what is the role of race and ethnicity in the conflict? Are they driving factors or are they peripheral issues?
The Ukrainian side is exclusively white, because Ukraine is among the world’s few remaining exclusively white nations. The Russian side is majority white, and the Russian government claims that the Donbass rebels are mostly locals, with just a few volunteers from Russia. Western and Ukrainian sources allege that the majority of pro-Russian fighters in the Donbass are from Russia.
A significant minority among the pro-Russians are from the darker Caucasus ethnicities in southern Russia, particularly the martially talented Chechens. Ossetian, Abkhazian, Ingusheti, and Dagestani units have also fought in Donbass on Russia’s side.
The Chechens fought a bloody insurgency for independence from Moscow that ended in defeat–which greatly boosted Mr. Putin’s popularity. Separatist movements remain alive in Chechnya and Dagestan, though they are firmly suppressed by Moscow.
Why are Muslim people from the Caucasus willing to fight for the Russian World (which is firmly rooted in Orthodox Christianity) in Ukraine? Some observers believe their reasons are financial–they are paid to fight–and that they want to get experience with modern weapons should there ever be another opportunity to win independence for themselves.
Ethnic Russians do not consider people from the Caucasus white. They were famously derided as “chornozhopy” (black asses) in the 1997 Russian cult film Brat (Brother). The glossary of crass terms has grown more “colorful” since then.
However, when Russians want to distinguish themselves from the people from the Caucasus, they do not use the word “white.” Instead, they call themselves “slavianye” (Slavs) or “russkiye” (an adjective that would be best defined as “a Russian-speaking, ethnic Slav”).
They use the word “white” (byeliye) when they are talking about non-Russian-speaking whites–in Europe, for example. When they speak of darker people, they most commonly use the words “dark-skinned,” or “black” for people of African descent. “Nyegr” (or negro) used to be common but has been largely sanitized in the last decade.
The racial/ethnic dimension of the Ukraine conflict is both complex and nuanced. The “Russian World” proponents in Moscow argue that both sides in the Donbass are of a single Eastern Slav ethnos–“slavianye” or “russkiye”–that includes Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. They reject the idea that these three nations are distinct, arguing that they developed under a single Muscovite government and Russian culture for most their history until the Soviet collapse in 1991. (Mr. Putin has famously called the collapse the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.)
Although they admire the Soviet Union, “Russian World” enthusiasts criticize the early Bolsheviks for setting up the Ukrainian and Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republics, which broke up what they believe was a single Eastern Slav ethnos. Some point to the fact that many of the Bolshevik leaders were Jewish–with alleged ties to Wall Street–which feeds widely shared theories among Russians and Russophiles that the Bolsheviks created the republics to divide Eastern Slavs against each other.
The Ukrainian view is that the Bolsheviks had no choice but to create a distinct republic since they had to recognize the Ukrainian nation and culture in order to muster enough support for the Soviet government, which was established only after five years of civil war.
Mr. Putin has also charged that the Bolsheviks made the mistake of including “significant territory of southern Russian” within the borders of Ukrainian Soviet Republic. At a press conference in April 2014, without directly saying so, he called upon southeastern Ukrainians–spanning the entire region from Kharkiv to Odesa–to rise up against the Kyiv government to establish a state to be called Novorossiya (New Russia), which was the name for this territory in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Though pro-Russian activists responded to that call in Ukraine’s second- and third-largest cities, Kharkiv (“Kharkov” in Russian) and Odesa (“Odessa”), their rebellions were undermined by the Ukrainian government and only the residents of Donbass were successful–though with Russian military support.
The mainstream view in Ukraine, where I have spent more than a decade as a Westerner, is that Ukrainians are a Slavic ethnic group distinct from ethnic Russians, just like Poles or Slovaks. Most of those fighting on behalf of the Ukrainian state consider themselves to be ethnically Ukrainian and not Russian.
Ukrainian nationalists go so far as to argue that Russians are not even Eastern Slavs descended from the Kyivan-Rus civilization of the 9th to 13th centuries. They argue that Russians are instead descendants of Finno-Ugric tribes, with little common blood with Ukrainians.
So Russians and Ukrainians have sharply different conceptions of who they are and where they come from. However, anyone familiar with Ukraine, and its society and culture, will agree that ethnic identity is not a motivating factor in the Donbass war. It plays a secondary role to ideological and economic concerns.
The evidence for this is that ethnic Ukrainians are killing each other on both sides. Those fighting with the rebels deny their Ukrainian ethnicity, and insist, as the “Russian World” proponents do, that they are “slavianye” or “russkiye.”
And yet, many of the surnames of the self-identified slavianye/russkis have roots and suffixes based in the Ukrainian language. Consider the leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Aleksandr Zakharchenko. This is as pure a Ukrainian surname as anyone could find.
Indeed, surnames are among the only things left that distinguish many Ukrainians and Belarusians from Russians, given that so many speak Russian in their daily lives. Why do Ukrainians–even many of those who repudiate the “slavianye/russkiye” identity–speak Russian? The question is highly debated, with Ukrainians blaming brutal Russification policies (similar to the British Anglicization in Ireland).
Russian World adherents dismiss Ukrainian as an obscure dialect, positing numerous theories as to how it emerged, including a Masonic conspiracy to divide the Eastern Slav peoples with an artificially created language.
Many have attempted to describe the complex mixture of languages in Ukraine. The way I would explain it is that both languages co-exist, with no norms or protocols to define when one or the other is to be used. This situation is quite different from that of a multilingual country such as Switzerland or Canada, where linguistic lines are clearly drawn.
In the Soviet era, Russian had supreme status. Now there are no rules, and the two languages are used interchangeably by Ukrainians, even in mid-sentence.
Less-educated people speak a mix of the two languages, often unknowingly. Foreigners need to learn both languages in order to live and function in many regions, because someone may switch on you in mid-sentence or speak a “mix” (called “surzhyk” in Ukrainian) without being aware of it. For the most part, though, Russian is still the language of the big cities and the southeast, while Ukrainian is the language of the countryside and the central-western regions, though this dichotomy is slowly breaking down.
Some argue that there are physical traits by which Ukrainians and Russians can be distinguished. However, the Soviet era erased them to a large extent through mass population transfers, cultural integration, and intermarriage.
Russia vs. the West
It is widely accepted that the fighting in Eastern Ukraine is a war of civilizations on territory that is the Eastern frontier of Western Civilization. (“Ukraine” literally means frontier, or borderland.)
Following the Soviet collapse, Western institutions and values expanded eastward–all too aggressively, in the view of Russians–and it was inevitable that Ukraine would be part of this expansion, especially with the largely Catholic population in its Western regions.
The West’s first onslaught on this frontier was the so-called Orange Revolution of 2004. Russian President Putin had reportedly asked then-Ukrainian President Kuchma to repress it with violence, only to be firmly rebuffed. Viktor Yanukovych, on the other hand, had no problem fulfilling a similar request from Mr. Putin, and tried to suppress the Euromaidan in November 2013. This was the movement that erupted after he resisted intense pressure by EU leaders to sign the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement.
The authoritarian Yanukovych presidency was supposed to keep Ukraine in the Russian sphere for at least a decade, but it was overthrown by the Euromaidan revolt. Russians allege this was a coup, while Ukrainians argue that Yanukovych voluntarily fled the country–he now lives in Russia. Mr. Putin saw the overthrow as an intolerable second incursion by the West into the Russian World, though any objective observer must acknowledge that it would not have been successful without the grassroots support of hundreds of thousands of average Ukrainians, who prefer to integrate with the West.
Mr. Putin could not wait for a new presidential election–which would have been unlikely to produce results to his liking anyway–so he decided to take action. As for the Donbass uprising, there certainly were a number of rebels in the area, but most observers believe that without the direct involvement of the Russian Armed Forces, the rebels would have been annihilated, especially during the fighting of August 2014. To believe that the Russians are not heavily involved in Donbass–and that this is truly a civil war among Ukrainians–is to swallow Kremlin propaganda that is not even taken seriously by well-informed Russians.
To a lesser extent, this is also a conflict over the ethnic identity of Ukrainians–between those who consider themselves a distinct, Ukrainian people and those who consider themselves members of a greater Eastern Slav nation.
If Moscow restores its influence in Ukraine, which would follow from the establishment of Donbass autonomy as stipulated by the Minsk accords, it will continue to promote economic and cultural integration with that region.
That’s because fulfilling the Minsk accords would ensure that Donbass remains a part of the Ukrainian state, though with enhanced autonomy and representation in parliament and in executive bodies. Mr. Putin would then use these Donbass representatives in Kyiv to put constant political pressure on the government and try to undermine Ukraine’s integration efforts with the West.
If Ukraine manages to withstand the current Russian aggression (I cannot objectively characterize it in any other terms) and maintain its attempt at civilizational integration with the West, the Ukrainian ethnic identity and, to a lesser extent, its language, will further solidify, potentially burying Putin’s Russian World concept. It is yet to be seen whether the Russian World and the attempts to build a “Eurasian” model of civilization will survive this current conflict.
Mr. Putin’s detractors, mostly in Western foreign policy circles, argue that Russia’s wars are a desperate attempt by an autocrat with an extensive web of corruption to maintain his grip on power and deflect public dissatisfaction by creating foreign enemies. However, his defenders argue that he could have easily “pulled a Gorby” (or a “Yeltsin,” for that matter) and maintained his grip on power by compromising and accepting Ukraine’s integration with the West.
The West would not have been an unwilling partner. Until this crisis, it had made overtures towards Mr. Putin, including Hillary Clinton’s “reset” and generous technology transfers to Russia. Western leaders have always been willing to turn a blind eye to corruption and political repression in order to gain concessions in other spheres.
But for Mr. Putin, the Euromaidan revolt crossed the line. He rejected the notion that it was a zeitgeist uprising of the soul and spirit of a distinct Ukrainian nation that refuses to surrender (its national anthem is “Ukraine has not yet died”), insisting that Western NGOs and western, Catholic Ukrainians played a disproportionate role. In Crimea, he demonstrated the public’s support for Russian annexation. In the eyes of his admirers, therefore, Mr. Putin has shown that unlike many 21st century politicians, he is a statesman concerned about the well-being and future of his people–not merely his own political survival.
I see this as a conflict between two civilizations: that of the West and that of Russia, or Eurasia. And the war in Ukraine offers valuable lessons for the white people of the West.
1. Ethnicity is a subjective concept, grounded in objective reality, that can be defined and developed to achieve political aims. To a large extent, Russia’s success in keeping Ukraine in its geopolitical sphere will depend on whether Mr. Putin can succeed in convincing Ukrainians–through mass media and education–to see themselves as part of the Eastern Slav people, or the “Russian World.”
President Yanukovych tried to accomplish this by introducing Russocentric themes in education and culture. Since the Euromaidan, Ukraino-centrism has returned. What both Russian and Ukrainian leaders alike understand is that ethnic identity forms the basis of the nation’s political and economic orientation. This is something Western elites refuse to understand.
Unfortunately for Mr. Putin, his hope for the Russian World in Ukraine is only in the southeastern regions. The revolts of 2004 made it apparent that western and central Ukrainians consider themselves a distinct nation that is part of the “European family,” as it is often called in Ukraine.
Could there ever be partition? In promoting his Novorossiya (“New Russsia”) concept in 2014, Putin was openly calling for the residents of southeastern Ukraine (which is home to five of Ukraine’s six largest cities) to rebel against the Ukrainian state and realign themselves with Russia.
However, now that they know of the carnage and terror in the Donbass–dissatisfied residents have even compared it to life in North Korea–it is doubtful that the otherwise Russophile residents of southeastern Ukraine will ever take up arms to fulfill Mr. Putin’s vision of Novorossiya.
At this point, that can be achieved only with the collapse of the Ukrainian state–which is not so far-fetched an idea. But the southeastern Ukrainians won’t do it themselves.
Just as ethnic identity has played a critical role in the geopolitics of Ukraine, the ability of whites to determine and assert their racial identity will determine their political and geopolitical futures in Western states, particularly in North America.
Ukrainians are opting for a distinct ethnic status that will lead to integration with the Western way of life and an attempt to establish Western institutions such as rule of law and private property rights. Ironically, the survival of these institutions in the Western nations in which they first originated depends on whites asserting a renewed racial identity and even possibly carving out ethnic territories.
At the same time, even Western-oriented Ukrainians–like many central and eastern Europeans–are acutely aware of the dangers of adopting Western postmodernism and multiculturalism, which are rapidly undermining social conditions and stability. Western-oriented Ukrainians are aware that in carving out a distinct identity from Russia–an identity that had been denied them for centuries–they could just as easily lose it if they adopt nihilistic Western values. The Svoboda (“freedom” in Ukrainian) nationalist party advocates a Balto-Black Sea alliance rather than European Union membership.
2. Whites continue to demonstrate a capacity to fight each other over ideological questions. By supporting the rebel forces in Donbass, Mr. Putin is partly responsible for the deaths of both Russians and Ukrainians. His drive to build a Russian World, or a Eurasian model of civilization, is costing the lives of thousands of whites who could be rebuilding their countries and producing children for two nations that arguably offer the best future for whites. Both are free of state-imposed historical guilt complexes and social justice idolatry. Instead, these slaughters reduce the numbers of whites and lay the groundwork for immigration–and not only from the traditional sources such as the Caucasus and Central Asia, but now from throughout the Third World.
Ethnic Ukrainians have set aside their common blood to kill each other, some in the name of the Russian World (and the “russkiye” ethnic identity that goes along with it), and others in the name of Ukrainian identity to defend the Ukrainian state from absorption into the Russian World.
This ethnic schism, similar to Irish Catholics and Protestants, is a consequence of the emergence of the Soviet Union in the 20th century, which suppressed or eliminated Ukrainian ethnic identity for 70 years until 1991. This was made possible by brutal tactics, such as mass population transfers of ethnic Russians and other Soviet nationalities to villages decimated by the Holodomor artificial famine in Ukraine of 1932-33.
Today, Donbass is a rare example of an ethnic identity conflict within the white world. The main conflict among whites generally, which will determine whether we survive as a race, is between the Left, which is working to ensure the displacement and disenfranchisement of whites, and those who are fighting to preserve the race and culture of their respective nations.
What makes the Donbass conflict even possible can be thought of as a good thing: Ukrainians and “Russkis” can indulge in old-fashioned nationalist conflict because they don’t live with hostile, alien races or ethnicities.
3. A potential for violence is created when racial or ethnic groups are denied self-determination.
The only regions of Ukraine in which the Russian World ideology was able to mobilize its residents to war–the Donbass, Crimea, and several other pockets in southeastern Ukraine–were those in which ethnic Ukrainian identity was fully eradicated or suppressed. Or, as Russocentrists would argue, Ukrainian ethnic identity never existed in most parts of southeastern Ukraine (Novorossiya), which was inappropriately made part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic by the Bolsheviks in 1919.
In the case of Crimea, there is some truth to this claim. Ukrainian ethnic identity was virtually non-existent, even among those who had Ukrainian surnames. This helped justify annexation of the territory, although Mr. Putin’s core motivation was probably not ethnic but geostrategic, including an interest in military bases and enormous offshore natural gas reserves.
Nation-states therefore leave themselves vulnerable when ethnic groups are not allowed to exercise autonomy, when they are denied territories in which they can exist or develop, or when there are polarizing political and cultural identities within a single ethnicity. This can lay the groundwork for violence and even war when power structures and psychological frameworks disintegrate, as happened in the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Something analogous could even happen in the United States.
After reaching its peak in January-February 2015, the Donbass war is still raging, though at levels that do not attract the attention of Western media. A handful of casualties occur every week or two, though shootings and shellings occur daily.
Both the first and second Minsk accords are widely acknowledged as failures. Western leaders are utterly baffled as to this conflict can be resolved and how to respond to Mr. Putin, whose methods are utterly unpredictable.
Though the West was able to bomb Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic into submission in Kosovo in 1999, it doesn’t have that option with Mr. Putin. So it largely tolerates his aggression in Ukraine, with the fulfillment of the Minsk accords ensuring that he will use an autonomous Donbass as a lever to pressure the government in Kyiv. Yet the Minsk accords are not being fulfilled, and Western sanctions–imposed for the annexation of Crimea and invasion of Donbass–continue to drain the Russian economy.
Essentially, Mr. Putin now has three options: (1) either get the sanctions removed by Western legislatures and governments, a task that could be aided by the election of Donald Trump; (2) create a frozen state of conflict and withstand Western sanctions for years; or (3) launch a war of foreign occupation that would mean access to natural resources and industrial assets for the Russian economy and create a new Iron Curtain with the West. Ukraine would be the first target of occupation.
Indeed, what we’re witnessing now is a war to determine whether Russia will keep its status as an empire, for which it needs to control Ukraine, or whether its empire begins to disintegrate. Mr. Putin’s drastic decision to get involved militarily in Ukraine has made this a life-or-death situation for his regime. He has backed himself into a corner from which there is no easy way out.
What is most disheartening is that no matter what the outcome, both Russia and Ukraine will have lost enormous economic potential, and most importantly, tens of thousands of lives in a conflict that has made two million people into refugees.