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[Ukrainian Statehood in the Twentieth Century: Historical and Political Analysis. Kyiv: Political Thought, 1996. pp. 83-94.]

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The Geopolitical Component of Ukrainian Nation-Building Thought
(First Half of the Twentieth Century)


Ukraine's geographical position, fertile lands, advantageous transport routes, and absence of insurmountable natural borders along the whole of its perimeter has made it a regular object of expansionism. The logic of international relations bears witness to the great influence of a country's geography factor in governing its fate and the destiny of its people. In 1923, Stepan Rudnytsky (1877-1937), a Ukrainian student of political geography, noted: "In failing to clarify for themselves even the size of Ukraine and her people, both our gray intellectuals and prominent political figures place the Ukrainian cause on the same footing with that of other "small peoples." It needs no great effort to demonstrate how this has damaged the ideology of Ukrainianism. In practical matters, insufficient geographical knowledge is fraught with simply fatal consequences. Suffice it to recall that in the past several years our politicians not only made light of Ukraine's borderlands, but, in their ignorance, even failed to lay claims on huge expanses of Ukrainian lands. Not one of them has known how to use and take advantage of the host of politico-geographical, economic-geographical, academic-geographical, and other arguments which speak for Ukrainian statehood in Southeast Europe."1

1. Origins of Ukrainian Political Geography

In Ukrainian political thought, interest in geopolitical issues grew when conditions ripened for the struggle for na-/84/tional liberation or when the results of such struggles were reviewed. As early as in Pylyp Orlyk's Code of Ukraine's Rights, one can find hints of independent Ukraine's geopolitical role as a unique barrier against Russian imperialist aggression in Europe. Early in the nineteenth century this theme was romantically addressed by poet Yevhen Hrebinka (1812-1937): "O, if only one could throw cordons of wide and deep seas and high mountains around Ukraine, then... we might be independent, but now she is like a willow on the roadside trampled by all who pass by."2

At the end of the nineteenth century, problems of Ukraine's geopolitical position were taken up by Mykhailo Drahomanov (1841-1895), who in his Letters to Dnipro Ukraine wrote: "Without the north coast of the Black Sea Ukraine is inconceivable as a culturally advanced country. We possessed this coast in the times of the Ugliches, Tiverians and Tmutarakan Rus'; we recovered some of it before the Turkish invasion in the fifteenth century and had to in one way or another fight and take them back later. Under Polish rule, we failed to do so, even with the aid of the Cossacks, but this was to happen under the rule of the Muscovite tsars. (Poland was, in fact, a country of the Baltic basin, and for that reason indifferent to Black Sea issues concerning Dnipro Ukrainians. Muscovy was a state of the Baltic and Caspian basins and thus also indifferent to them, but its annexations along the Don drew it to the Black Sea. Here lies the fatal cause why the pan-European and not specifically Ukrainian task of crushing Turkey of the fifteenth-sixteenth centuries was fulfilled in the seventeenth-nineteenth centuries by Muscovy rather than Poland...)."3 It was by this fact that Drahomanov explained the Zaporizhian Cossacks' orientation to the Russian state, for this very "Muscovite tsardom fulfilled Ukraine's elementary geographic-national task!"4

Mykhailo Hrushevsky (1866-1934), Stepan Rudnytsky, and Yuri Lypa (1900-1944) all pointed out that from time immemorial Ukrainians have inhabited a wide strip of /85/ steppe and forest-steppe north of the Black Sea. As A. Syniavsky (1866-1951), one of Ukraine's best Ukrainian Orientalists of the first half of the twentieth century, noted: "Ukraine's territory, in the periods of river and Mediterranean cultures and later, especially after the Baghdad Khaliphate emerged in southwest Asia and the Cordoba Khaliphate was established in the far west of Europe in Spain, was at the crossroads of East and West. From then on it became a well-trod road for peoples who moved from the Ural Mountains and the Caspian Sea to the West,"5

Solving the Black Sea problem has been one of Ukraine's main geopolitical tasks. In outlining these tasks, Yuri Lypa emphasized that Ukraine's expansionist goal was to reach the Black Sea. Simultaneously, he explained that from ancient times Ukrainians inhabited the banks of the greatest, rivers which flow into the Black Sea from the Danube to the Kuban and alternatively retreated upstream under the pressure of nomads or went downstream if circumstances permitted.

While the Black Sea in the south, the Polissian marshes in the north and, in part, the Carpathian Mountains in the west were natural borders of the Ukrainian lands proper, there was no such border in the east and southeast. It was precisely along this steppe corridor that hordes of Asian nomads passed through the territory of Southern Ukraine, throwing our ancestors back from the Black Sea coast.

"Rivers," as Lypa formulated the elements of geopolitics, "these most convenient highways of old, played a great role in molding national communities: a river network forms a single territory, its trade, power, customs, and, eventually, language and religion."6 A network of navigable rivers with a quiet plain course facilitated not only the formation of the territory's internal integrity, but also consolidated its tics with the outside world. "The river system of Ukrainian transport terminates with its rivers' mouths. But this is not the end of this network, this is its development into a still greater system, that of seafaring. The Black Sea is linked or-/86/ganically to Ukraine's rivers by manifestations of both material and spiritual trends of the Ukrainian territory," Lypa argued.7 He held that it is precisely this system of interior waterways that forms the geopolitical axis of Ukraine: "Only the North/South axis serves as a real axis for the Ukrainian lands."8 The Dnipro "is the central nerve of Ukraine."9 The basic movements of huge numbers of people went in this direction practically up to the beginning of the twentieth century, when the Russian autocracy diverted the colonizing energies of Dnipro Ukrainians to Siberia, northern Kazakhstan, and the Far East, while Galician Ukrainians, due to the position of the Austro-Hungarian government, were channeled overseas. And the settlers never considered these new lands ethnically Ukrainian.

A great role in Ukrainian history was played by the fact that its territory was a crossroads of both trade and migration routes. While the river system formed relations along the North-South axis, land routes facilitated contacts between East and West through its territory: the shortest land route from Western Europe to India passes through Ukraine.10 From time immemorial important lines of commerce and communication between Baltic and Mediterranean countries, Western and Central Europe, on the one hand, and Central Asia and China, on the other, were on its territory.

Trade ties to a huge extent determined which outside cultural influence would predominate Greek in ancient times, Byzantine and Norman in the days of Kyivan Rus', West European in the later Middle Ages. Taken together, they were also instrumental in defining Ukraine's geopolitical orientations. As Mykhailo Hrushevsky pointed out, one can argue for an overwhelming Western influence, beginning in the late twelfth century: "This began as early as the times of the Galician-Volhynian princes and was strengthened and augmented as these lands came under the Polish rule."11 Poland was a sort of way station for West European influence on Ukraine. Notably, while spiritual cultural relations /87/ developed primarily with Italy and France, technocultural ones were mainly with Germany. "Wroclaw and Gdansk, these two major historical markets for Ukrainian exports (which were violently ruined by the Russian government in the eighteenth century) were the principal middlemen and sources of these Western and German influences."12

2. Russia as a Geopolitical Problem

The problem of Ukrainian-Russian relations, of Russia in general and as a factor governing its historical fate, is one of the most important problems in Ukrainian geopolitical thought.

A commonplace of Ukrainian independent social thought in the first half of the twentieth century was the idea that Ukraine's annexation by Muscovy led to a disruption of Ukraine's traditional ties with Western Europe and arbitrary change in its foreign trade priorities and geopolitical orientation. The tsarist government's conscious policy of centralization in social and cultural life led it to proscribe study abroad without special permission and was reflected in a series of official instructions restricting Ukrainian foreign trade only through northern ports of the empire. "Russian trade and customs policy stopped at nothing in order to disrupt and destroy Ukraine's trade ties with its historic Western markets, in order to ruin Ukraine's trade in general, hand it over to Muscovite merchants, and bind Ukraine economically to the northern centers of Great Russia, St. Petersburg and Moscow."13

Speaking of the of geopolitical orientations in Ukrainian and Russian history, Stepan Rudnytsky noted that "nature determined that Muscovy was allotted water routes completely different from those of Ukraine..."14 Lypa pointed out that while Ukrainians were formed as a nation on northern Black Sea littoral, the Russian nation was molded in the Volga river basin. In his book The Partition of Russia, Lypa argued that while Russians occupied and settled a huge area /88/ over the centuries, they nevertheless failed to make many of these territories truly Russian. And this is not only an issue concerning areas where Russians never became an ethnic majority Ukraine, the Baltic states, the Caucasus, Central Asia, etc. but also that of the Siberia and the Far East. "Recent years in Russia's history have seen an increasingly harsh struggle of the central authorities with a variety of peoples and lands. Most tragic in the struggle was the fact that the centralist idea has proven ineffective on Russia's expanse. Each time it delivers ever harder blows on human life."15 These blows have cost millions of lives both of peoples subjugated by the empire and of ethnic Russians held hostage to the Russian imperial idea. In analyzing the geographical peculiarities of Russia proper, its areas of settlement, locations of industrial centers, and lines of communication, Lypa concluded that under condition of a democratic political system and free development of industry and economic ties, territories outside European Russia will begin to break away. The first among them will be the Siberia, which, "is, in fact, a Russian America located next to Russia itself and connected to it and Central Asia by railroad."16 Symptoms of this have been Siberian separatism and the numerous Siberian governments of the Civil War period. Siberian industry has had greater interest in economic lies outside Russia than within it. These trends become all the more apparent in the case of the Far East, whose range of economic interests lies in the Pacific zone: export of raw materials to the US, Japan, Australia, and South-East Asia; import of industrial and agricultural products from those areas are far more profitable than dealings with the rest of Russia. Lypa's conclusion on Russia's future is straightforward partition. In his opinion, it was only a matter of when it will happen, how, and at the price of how many lives. A democratic future is possible for Russia only if it does not waste all the vital forces of the nation in trying to prolong the subjugation of others.

An analogous idea was expressed in Stepan Rudnytsky's /89/ Why We Want an Independent Ukraine: "In a renovated democratic Russia, the Great Russian nature will certainly continue the foreign policy of tsarist Russia. This is why Ukrainians should, even if they fail to win complete independence, exert utmost vigilance never again to fall into Muscovite servitude, already no longer tsarist but progressive. If not the independence, then autonomy of Ukraine must be put forward so forcefully and defended so skillfully against any encroachment by Moscow centralists that Ukraine might profit from its advantageous geographical position rather than lose by it."17

3. Plans for the Future

Both the specifics of Ukraine's history and its prospects arc determined to a very great extent by the nature of the territory inhabited by Ukrainians: "The Ukrainian land appears as a distinct geographical unity independent of and separate from the neighboring lands of Moldova, Hungary, Poland, Belarus, and Muscovy. It rests on the Black Sea, the Carpathians and the Caucasus in the south, and Polissian marshes and forests in the north. While Ukraine does not have reliable natural borders in the west, southeast and east, as a littoral country north of the Black Sea it has important features of integrity... The Ukrainian people has a separate land of its own which is a distinct and single geographical unity."18 The advantage of this integrity, which under normal conditions could be an important prerequisite for the normal development of a state, was negated by another geographical feature of the Ukrainian territory: its lack in important directions of natural borders. In this connection "political borders have always had an unstable and incomplete character."19

Ukraine's lack of natural borders obstructed its gaining political independence. Its achieving independence creates preconditions for the accomplishment of its historic mission. Its geographical position and the specifics of its history /90/ make plain the essence of this mission. After Russia, Ukraine has the second largest territory in Europe, with tremendous industrial potential, human resources, fertile soil, and moderate climate. "The Ukrainian people belongs to the Western, European, or, in short, the proper European domain not only due to its historical ties which for many centuries connected Ukraine's life with that of the Western world and also due to the nature of its national character."20 This is why it must first of all renew its traditional ties with European nations and above all with Germany.21

Contacts with Europe can help Ukraine overcome its technological gap and revive its cultural relationships, thus ensuring its national security. This was the point of departure for Hrushevsky, who argued Ukraine's need to orient itself toward the West and end its orientation toward Moscow.

Clearly, this idea could only be realized by an independent Ukraine. For example, in 1927 A. Syniavsky described Ukraine's geographical position within the Soviet Union as follows: "Ukraine is also a bridge between the eastern part of the Union, Asia, and Western Europe. Ukraine is a projection into the West, into the hostile environment of Western Europe."22

Contrary to Hrushevsky's ideas about orientation to the West, Ukrainian politician and monarchist Vyacheslav Lypynsky (1882-1931) maintained in the mid-1920s that "at present no one in Europe wants a strong and great Ukrainian State. On the contrary, there are many forces which are in fact interested in there being no Ukraine or that it be as weak as possible. This is why in restoring our traditions of nation, statehood, and Hetmanate we must not pin our hopes on receiving help because of our. orientation but, on the contrary, we should anticipate that various outside forces will hinder us in this as much as possible."23 Our historical experience shows that even if Ukraine should find some allies, they rather quickly become apprehensive of prospects of a strong Ukraine and begin to ruin with one /91/hand what the other hand helped to build. This was the case in the Khmelnytsky period and the fratricidal Ruin that succeeded it, when Ukrainian Hetmans alternatively sought outside support from Warsaw, Istanbul, Bakhchisaray, and Moscow, and all these "helpers" merely contributed to the ruin of our country. During the national liberation struggle of 1917-1920, we again paid too a high price for support from the Germans, Austrians, and Pilsudski's Poland. This is what convinced Lypynsky that outside support would, at best, help Ukraine become a buffer state between Europe and Russia.

Hrushevsky, being aware of the inadequacies of a onesided Western orientation noted that "while our nationality, the spirit of our people, draws us to the West, our country turns its energies and our efforts to the East and the South, to the domain of our sea, our communication center where our past leads us and where all our roads, as if they had been built by us, should lead us, and we do not embrace it as our goal, but, on the contrary, we struggle against this natural orientation of our economic and cultural life."24 In the south and the east lie countries which can supply Ukraine with raw materials for industry and become markets for goods whose quality renders them unsuitable for Western export. Extensive ties with Turkey, the Near East, and Central Asia along with the Mediterranean must create the external conditions for our country's economic stability.

4. Ukraine's Eastern Vector

In his studies of Ukrainian economy, Syniavsky also paid special attention to the Black Sea and Eastern Mediterranean countries. In his opinion, Ukraine is the segment of mankind and of the world's territory which can best form an integrated complex with nations of the Middle East on the basis of the most economically advantageous division of labor and exchange of products: "...The natural and geographic conditions and different levels of economic develop-/92/merit as well as a certain differentiation of the Middle East states and Ukraine constitute a firm basis for expanding trade relations. Their analysis and detailed evaluation should be one of the most urgent problems of our postrcvolutionary era."25 To Syniavsky's mind, while for Western countries Ukraine will long remain a supplier of raw materials and semi-finished industrial goods, for countries of the Middle East it could be a supplier of finished industrial products, agricultural produce, machinery, and equipment.

Ukraine's Black Sea orientation is, however, determined not only by economic but also geographical-political factors: "... The river system... along with the fact that the Black Sea, this only natural border of Ukraine, force our fatherland, with the finality of determinism, to seek its political geographical mainstay on the Black Sea coast: Polish and Muscovite political-geographical threats will demand that Ukraine shift its center of gravity to the Black Sea, rest permanently and firmly on its coastline, and seek relations and alliances with the powerful nations which dominate and have interests in Asia Minor," Rudnytsky wrote.26

The idea of Black Sea cooperation, so attractive to contemporary political figures, was popular with Ukrainian intellectuals even in the first half of our century. It was unequivocally embraced by Mykhailo Hrushevsky, Stepan Rudnytsky, and Yuri Lypa. Assuming that in the future an independent Ukrainian state would become the greatest power in the Black Sea region, these politicians emphasized that Ukraine should not strive for domination over other Black Sea states either politically or economically.

A special place in future Black Sea cooperation belongs to the Crimea which is the key to naval communications in the Black Sea. He who controls the Crimea will control Ukraine's access to the sea and the oceans beyond. Rudnytsky once noted regarding Ukraine's Crimean policy in the time of the Ukrainian People's Republic: "The loss of the Crimea, which even then (in 1917) had a sizable Ukrainian majority, immediately doomed Ukrainian statehood. For /93/ there can be no independent Ukraine without the Crimea: the latter breaks down the main support and mainstay of the former the Black Sea coast."27 Rudnytsky did not limit the problem of Ukraine's strategic partners to countries of the Black Sea region and Western Europe. In his opinion, various other nations are natural allies of Ukraine. He considered a possibility of establishing a Baltic-Pontic Federation, with Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine as members. Unlike today's proponents of the idea of a Baltic-Black Sea alliance, however, Rudnytsky excluded Poland from prospective membership in such a federation, arguing that "...Poland is a Central European country whose natural ties lie in Central Europe."28

Ukraine's foreign relations need not be directed against third countries, provided the latter do not threaten our nation. However, the Ukrainian "state is compelled by its position and basic idea to become a front-line against Russia and to cling as closely as possible to its single safe border, the Black Sea. Ukraine need only safeguard its independence against Russia in order to simultaneously defend the Mediterranean and Asia Minor against Russian expansionist encroachments.29

One of the founders of the Union for the Liberation of Ukraine O. Zhuk published in the weekly Deutsche Politik (May 1918) an article entitled "What State Relations Should Ukraine Develop?"

According to him, in view of its great territory, population, and natural resources Ukraine is enough strong to live its own separate life and defend its borders. However, as its nation-making progresses, Ukraine will seek external relationships in order to have be able to exchange for its population and resources. Ukraine cannot achieve this through relations either with Poland or Lithuania, whatever form of statehood they could assume, for the two states incline and arc obliged to gravitate toward the North Sea, which Ukraine is not interested in and would clash with interests of many countries of the region. /94/

Ukraine also cannot develop relations with Moscow for political or economic reasons. Moscow's treachery and hard national oppression are still too fresh in the memory of the Ukrainian people to agree to such a relationship.

This is why Ukraine has to direct its attention eastward where new state formations arise. They include the Don and Kuban territories with adjacent regions, Tersk, Astrakhan, Orenburg, the Urals and Stavropol. Three districts of the Don territory Taganrog, Rostov and Novocherkassk were largely populated by ethnic Ukrainians. A narrow strip of land near the Don River mouth connects the Ukrainian population with the Near Caucasus, inhabited mainly by Ukrainian Kuban Cossacks, especially on the Black Sea coast, in Stavropol and, partly, Tersk provinces.

Ukraine should enter into close contact with these state formations in order to obtain access to the Caspian Sea and Central Asia, first of all to Ural, Akmolinsk, Turgai, Semipalatinsk, Tomsk, Yeniseysk and Transcaspian regions and Turkestan, where several million Ukrainian settlers made their home.

Such a chain, in which Ukraine would be the main link, could be very advantageous. It would cut Moscow off from the Caucasus, open the way to Caucasian seaports, and establish close contacts with the Black Sea states.30

* * *

For the above Ukrainian geopoliticians, the answer to the question of the importance of Ukraine in the present and future destiny of the world was quite clear: "Ukraine's political significance for the world lies in the fact that, due to its great and outstretched territory, it must block Russia's expansion toward the Adriatic and the Aegean Seas, Asia Minor and Egypt, and render impossible its expansion toward India."31 "The Ukrainian lands arc not in any case a God-forsaken peripheral area. Given its geopolitical position and trade opportunities, it is one of the most important parts of the world. In this respect, Ukraine's importance is sure to increase at present."32

1 S. Rudnytsky, The Ukrainian Cause against the Background of Political Geography (Berlin, 1923: in Ukrainian), pp. 3-4.

2 Y. Okhrymovych, The Development of Ukrainian National Political Thought (New York, 1968: in Ukrainian), p. 14.

3 M.P. Drahomanov, Letters to Dnipro Ukraine. Literary and Political Works, (Kyiv, 1970: in Ukrainian), I, p. 144.

4 Ibid., p. 446.

5 A. Synyavsky, "Soviet Ukraine and the Middle East in the Light of Geopolitics," A. Synyavsky, Selected Works (Kyiv, 1993: in Ukrainian), p. 192.

6 Y. Lypa, The Vocation of Ukraine (New York, 1953: in Ukrainian), p. 57.

7 Ibid., p. 58.

8 Ibid, p. 286.

9 L. Yurkevych, What Kind of Ukraine Is This? (Kamyanets-Podilsky, 1919: in Ukrainian), p. 7.

10 S. Rudnytsky, op. cit., p. 50.

11 M. Hrushevsky, On the Threshold of a New Ukraine (Kyiv, 1991: in Ukrainian), p. 14.

12 Ibid., p. 15.

13 Ibid, p. 16.

14 S. Rudnytsky, op. cit., p. 72.

15 Y. Lypa, The Partition of Russia (New York, 1954: in Ukrainian), p.13.

16 Ibid, p. 88.

17 S. Rudnytsky, Why Do We Want an Independent Ukraine? (Lviv, 1994: in Ukrainian), p. 81.

18 Ibid., pp. 78-79.

19 S. Rudnytsky, The Ukrainian Cause..., p. 53.

20 M. Hrushevsky, op. cit., p. 19.

21 Ibid., p.21.

22 A. Synyavsky, op. cit., p. 194.

23 V. Lypynsky, Letters to Brother Farmers (Vienna, 1926: in Ukrainian), p. 98.

24 M. Hrushevsky, op. cit., p. 23.

25 A. Synyavsky, op. cit., p. 1%.

26 S. Rudnytsky, The Ukrainian Cause..., p. 72.

27 S. Rudnytsky, Why Do We Want..., p. 294.

28 S. Rudnytsky, The Ukrainian Cause..., p. 138.

29 Ibid., p. 205.

30 Foreign Press Review, No 12, 1918, May 24, pp. 1-2 (in Ukrainian).

31 S. Rudnytsky, Why Do We Want..., p. 294.

32 Y. Lypa, The Vocation of Ukraine (New York, 1953: in Ukrainian), p. 118.

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