May 23, 2019

A Brewing Problem in Ukraine

“The big takeaway from Sunday’s presidential election in Ukraine was the fact that a comic who had played the Ukrainian president on a television program led the first round’s voting. The bigger and more important takeaway should be the reappearance of the ethnic voting divisions that caused the country’s division, as well as Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the Kremlin’s support of anti-government separatists.

Ukraine’s independence after the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union was the first time the country had been free in centuries. Most of the country had fallen under Russian sway since the second half of the 18th century, and the eastern and southern parts of the country became home to many Russian migrants. The westernmost parts of Ukraine, on the other hand, did not receive as many Russians and some areas were controlled by Poland or Austria until the early 20th century. These divergent historical circumstances would soon emerge as crucial in Ukrainian politics.

Ethnic and regional voting became the most important factors in Ukrainian politics by the turn of this century. The regions with the highest portions of ethnic Russians and native Russian speakers, generally in the east and south, voted overwhelmingly for candidates and parties that favored closer ties with Russia. Those regions populated largely by native Ukrainians voted for candidates and parties that favored closer ties to the European Union and membership in NATO.”

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