TWO UKRAINES: What you need to know on the ethno-historical causes of the ongoing crisis

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The typical distribution of the pro-Western Euro-Ukrainians (Y.T. Block) and pro-Russian Russo-Ukrainians (Party of Regions) based on the election results of 2007.

By Periklis Deligiannis


You can also read this article of mine translated in Russian  by Helena Meteleva, here:  http://elramd.com/dve-ukrainy-vzglyad-grecheskogo-istorika/ Many thanks to Helena.

For many months, we are watching a ongoing confrontation   in the large country of Ukraine, among the so-called Euro-Ukrainians and the Russo-Ukrainians, a confrontation which finally developed to a real war. I will attempt to fathom the ethnological factor of this confrontation, which I always believe to be one of the key factors of such encounters (and a factor always – and wrongly – downgraded by modern analysts). I will not deal with the other parameters of the situation in Ukraine, i.e. the geopolitics on the confrontation between Russia, the EU and the US for the geopolitical influence in Ukraine, the economic parameter about the pipelines of gas and the role of Gazprom, the religious on the effort of the Catholic Church and its “subsidiary” Uniate to expand to Ukraine and the reaction of the Orthodox Church, etc. These parameters have been analyzed in many articles and books worldwide, except maybe the religious one.

The statement of a Russian official in the 90s on the problem between the Western and South-Eastern Ukraine with which I shall deal in this article (a statement characteristic of the Russian troubleshoot on the problem at that time), is already well known: “Sooner or later East Ukraine will return to us. The Western country can go to hell.” But since then it’s been almost 20 years and then the now burgeoning gas issue was not as pressing, nor the influence of the EU in Ukraine so intense.




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By Periklis Deligiannis

Russian-speaking combatants gather ammunition from the place of crash of a Ukrainian fighter aircraft.

Many of us remember the classic book “Clash of Civilizations” (1996) of Samuel Huntington, the main successor to the geopolitical school of the British historian Arnold Toynbee, and his remarks on the bipartition of the cultural identity of Ukraine and Turkey, which is dramatically verified for both of them in the last twelve months. Yet Turkey, despite the dramatic events taking place in the country during the last year, does not wobble as much as Ukraine.
Let’s see how things have developed for the Ukrainian crisis and then some scenarios on its solution. The terms of the recent agreement were not really implemented and the Ukraine is possibly moving towards a more violent confrontation. The “big players” (Russia, U.S., E.U. and China) are rather cautious preferring keep waiting, except the rapid Russian annexation of Crimea.
The Western media have probably overstated the financial dependence of Russia from the Western economies, although the American financial reprisals on her have already been felt in the country. Neither Russia can seriously threaten the U.S. in retaliation, but can push to a certain extent the European Union using energy reprisals. Of course the latter did not have any serious problems of energy supply before the energy agreements with Russia, but it now appears to depend a lot on the inexhaustible Russian gas resources, especially Germany, France and the other Northern European nations.
The Ukrainian crisis is the outcome of the constant attempts of the U.S. and the E.U. to penetrate a geopolitical region which Russia considers exclusively her own since at least 1793. However it seems that they have not anticipated the extent of the internal struggle in Ukraine.

What are the reasons of the current embarrassment of the “major geopolitical players”?





A typical image of the orientation of the Western Ukrainians to the West (EU and the USA): two Ukrainian protesters before Yanukovich’s expulsion, wearing helmet, armor and shields of Western Crusader types (rather of the Teutonic Knights). They obviously prefer this kind of arms and armor than the traditional Russian ones of Alexander Nevsky and Dmitry Donskoy (copyright: Associated Press).



By  Periklis  Deligiannis


The country now called Ukraine consists of two main geophysical areas, inhabited almost always by different ethnic groups until around 1790, when the entire country became ethnically homogeneous, overwhelmingly inhabited by Slavs. Although the Crimea, since 1954 belongs to the Ukrainian SSR and then to the independent Ukraine, this large peninsula is a geographically and ethnologically   independent area. But because Crimea is a part of the modern ‘problem’ of the Ukrainian division, I will additionally deal with her in this article.

The two major geophysical regions of Ukraine is the southern steppe and the wooded or semi-wooded area of the North. Of course nowadays, both areas have been delivered largely on crops, thereby this distinction is now very relevant (almost non-existent), but this geophysical situation existed until the recent centuries. Since the Middle Ages, the wooded area of the North have been delivered largely on crops, while the South remained a steppe until the 18th cent.

On the ethnological status of the Ukrainian lands in Antiquity, I have already written in my article ΤΗΕ BOSPORAN KINGDOM (CIMMERIAN BOSPORUS) – PART I and PART IIwhere although the main theme is the kdm of Cimmerian Bosporus, I refer also to this topic.

In the 5th century AD, the steppe of the South was inhabited by Hunnish tribes while the northern woodland was inhabited by Slavs. The steppe was occupied by a succession of Altaic peoples (Avars, Proto-Bulgars, Khazars, Pechenegs, Cumans-Kipchaq-Polovtsy, Mongolo-Tatars, Tatars and others) until the 18th century. The same tribes controlled the neighboring Crimea except its southern coast which was controlled successively by the Byzantine Empire, Genoa and the Ottomans until 1783.

Northern Ukraine together with the neighboring SE Poland, is the metropolis of all the Slavs, who extended their lands in all directions except the steppe, due to the presence of the dreaded nomads there (except some sporadic attempts  like  the  ones  of the Ulichi, the Tiverchi  and the  Kievan  Rus). The Slavs were formed in this area during the first millennium BC, when they were detached ethnically from the Baltic Indoeuropean group, in which they originally belonged.




By  Periklis  Deligiannis


King and Queen of a Scythian tribe in  a representation based on the archaeological finds from Central Asia. Since around 300 BC, the Scythians systematically attacked the Bosporan kingdom but a part of them settled in its territory becoming subject to the Bosporan king.  In the  last  centuries of  the  Bosporan  history,  the  Iranians (Scythians and Sarmatians) became the main population of the kingdom.

In this way, the city-state of Panticapaeum turned into an extensive hegemony, which later evolved into a Hellenistic kingdom. Generally speaking, Panticapaeum had the same evolution as Syracuse, the birthplace and capital of the Hellenistic kingdom which was founded in Sicily. The Greeks and the Hellenized Thracians were originally the ruling class of the Cimmerian Bosporus, but the status of the indigenous population and the Scythian/Iranian minority, was also important. The two peoples (Greeks and non-Greeks) supported each other: the natives were Hellenized and the Greeks gradually adopted the spirit and the habits of the natives. This duality is obvious in every aspect of the social life of Cimmerian Bosporus. Thus a special Bosporan Greek identity was formed in the Northern Black Sea coast, based on the Ionians.

King Paerisades I died in 310 BC. His eldest son, Satyros, was proclaimed king but soon faced the rebellion of his younger brother Eumelos who claimed the throne. Eumelos had secured the support of Aripharnes, king of the Thataeans as mentioned by Diodorus Siculus, the people who lived on the region of the river Thatis. This river was probably one of the tributaries of Hypanis (Kuban River). It is almost certain that the “Thataeans” (a name which is not national but geographical) are identified with the Siracae, a major Sarmatian tribe who had settled in the Kuban region during the reign of Paerisades I who made them his tributaries. The Sarmatians were a group of nomadic peoples of Central Asia, belonging to the Northern Iranian (Saka, Sakic) stock together with the Scythians. Since the 4th century BC, most of them began migrating towards the steppes north of the Black Sea, while some of their tribes began to move towards China. The various Sarmatian tribes (Sauromatae, Siracae, Aorsi/Alans, Aspourgi, Roxolani, ‘Royal’ Sarmatians, and later the Iazyges, the Alans, the modern Ossetians etc.) were independent and often fought each other. The Sarmatians fought primarily as horsemen and cavalrymen with a long cavalry spear called ‘kontos’. Other arms used by them were their typical medium and long swords, the daggers and a kind of compound bow, less powerful than the Scythian.

Eumelos and Aripharnes of the Siracae confronted Satyros and his Scythian allies in the great battle of the river Thatis , one of the  greatest cavalry battles in Antiquity, in which 10,000 Scythian and 20,000 Sarmatian horsemen and cavalrymen participated. It is certain that the Siracae were supported by many other Sarmatian horsemen, because the Sarmatians in  general were trying to oust the Scythians from the Black Sea steppe.




By  Periklis  Deligiannis


Map  of  the  Kingdom  of  the  Cimmerian  Bosporus,  the  other  Greek  states  in  the  region,  the  Scythian  territory  and  the  last  refuge  of  the  Scythians  after  their  defeat  by  the  Sarmatians  (Historical  Atlas  of  Ukraine:  Greek  colonies  and  the  hinterland)

Since  the  Mycenaean  Age,  the  Greek  navigators  and  colonizers  expressed  their  interest  in  the  Black  Sea  and  the  rich  countries  that  surround  it.  The  Mycenaeans  had  explored  the  region,  as  shown  by  the  tradition  of  the  Argonauts  and  other  evidence,  philological  and  archaeological.  Before  the  Mycenaeans,  Minoan  Crete  was  never  really  interested  in  the  Black  Sea  region.  Generally  speaking,  the  Black  Sea  was  inhospitable  for  the  Mediterranean  seafarer  because  sailing  in  its  waters  was  difficult  and  the  countries  surrounding  it  were  inhabited  by  savage  peoples,  who  used  to  kill  those  who  landed  on  their  shores.  For  these  reasons,  the  original  Greek  name  of  the  Black  Sea  was  the  ‘Inhospitable  Sea’  (Axeinos  Pontos).  The  chaos  of  the  12th  century  BC  in  which  the  Greek  world  sank,  with  the  devastating  raids  of  the  Sea  Peoples  in  the  entire  area  of  the  Eastern  Mediterranean,  the  destruction  of  the  ‘Mycenaean    Commonwealth’  and  the  collapse  of  the  palatial  sociopolitical  system  and  their  aftermath,  removed  the  Greek  navigators  of  the  Black  Sea.

Since  Early  Antiquity,  since  the  time  of  the  ancient  Tripolye  civilization  of  the  3rd  millennium  BC,  the  modern  Russo-Ukrainian  steppes  were  inhabited  by  sedentary  agricultural  and  stockbreeding  populations.  These  populations  were  subdued  by  the  nomadic  peoples  who  arrived  successively  from  Central  Asia,  moving  north  of  the  Caspian  Sea.  The  Indo-Aryan  or  Iranian  Cimmerians  were  the  first  known  (historical)  nomadic  people  to  arrive  there,  followed  by  the  Iranian  Scythians  and  Sarmatians,  and  then  by  the  Turko-Mongol  Huns,  Avars,  Cumans,  Pechenegs  and  others.  The  nomadic  invaders  considered  the  Russo-Ukrainian  steppe  as  a  very  suitable  environment  for  the  growth  of  their  flocks.  The  resident  population  of  modern  southwestern  Ukraine  was  rather  Thracian  in  origin,  while  that  of  southeastern  Ukraine  and  the  steppe  north  of  the  Caucasus  belonged  to  the  people  of  the  older  Shrubnaya  (Timber-grave)  culture.  The  lands  of  the  natives  were  relatively  rich  in  agricultural  production,  so  they  could  pay  without  much  difficulty  the  taxes  imposed  on  them  by  the  nomad  rulers.  Various  nomadic  tribes  retained  as  long  as  they  could  their  power  on  those  lands,  substantially  as  long  as  their  military  superiority  against  external  threats  lasted.


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