Ukraine's radically different conflict
Financial Times

From Dr Igor Torbakov.

Sir, Much as it is tempting to link London’s National Theatre’s new production of Mikhail Bulgakov’s The White Guard with Ukraine’s present-day chaotic politics, Misha Glenny misses the point (“Bulgakov is once again our guide to Ukraine”, February 12).

In the Kiev of 1918, Bulgakov was witnessing the unprecedented social upheaval born of the collapse of the Romanov empire and the Russian revolution. At the heart of it was the violent struggle between various political forces over the scope of social transformation and over how to define Ukraine as a political entity. It is utterly misleading to contend that the messy politics that we are witnessing today is a kind of repetition of the 1918-19 events.

Today in Ukraine we are observing radically different social conflicts. Mr Glenny errs when he sees at the centre of the current political battle the “debilitating struggle between its two constituent Slav nations, the Ukrainians and Russians”.

True, the ethno-linguistic cleavages in Ukraine still exist but the almost 20-year-long period of independence saw the slow emergence of common identity comprising all Ukrainian citizens in one multi-ethnic Ukrainian political nation. The struggle that is going on in Ukraine is not the one between “Russian east” and “Ukrainian west.” What is really at stake is which social model will ultimately prevail in Ukraine: a polity based on crony capitalism and oligarchic domination of political sphere, or a highly institutionalised and law-governed state of a European type.

I, as an enthusiastic Bulgakov fan, would suggest that Mr Glenny could do worse than look for an updated list of sources helping to make sense of Ukraine’s tangled political process.

Igor Torbakov,
Finnish Institute of International Affairs,
Helsinki, Finland