Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Brookes expert Sarah Whitmore on BBC evening news "Ukraine unlikely to break-up"

Friday, 28 February 2014

Brookes expert Sarah Whitmore on BBC evening news; “Ukraine unlikely to break-up” Yesterday evening, Brookes’ post-Soviet political expert, Dr Sarah Whitmore, was invited to speak with BBC News to offer perspective and context to yesterday's events, bringing her total number of live interviews in the last week to 20. Her interview with the BBC focused particularly on the emergence of ex-President Viktor Yanukovych in Russia, the seizure of the Crimean parliament by unidentified armed pro-Russian forces and also mass Russian troop movements near the Ukrainian border.

Asked about the potential for the break-up of Ukraine and about the attitudes of Crimeans to the revolutionary events in Kyiv and elsewhere, Sarah explains that

Ukraine is unlikely to break up. In the East and South of the country people are demobilised and Viktor Yanukovych's rating has plummeted due to perceptions of the regime's corruption.

Sarah explains that the 'regional split' in Ukraine is often exaggerated,

In fact nearly everyone in Ukraine is bilingual, and although it does not predominate, Russian is spoken in the West and Ukrainian in the East, with a spectrum covering the vast territory in between. People in the East and South are also largely Russian-speaker, but this does not mean that they want to join with Russia.

The exception to this, Sarah explains,

is Crimea, which only became part of the Ukrainian Soviet republic in 1954 and where a majority of the population is ethnic Russian. They feel they have anomalously become part of Ukraine, a situation which enables Russian politicians to aggravate fears that the population won't be able to speak Russian anymore.

Sarah disputes this point as ‘nonsense’ as Russian is widely spoken throughout Ukraine, and Crimea also enjoys autonomous status within Ukraine, but

people in Crimea are mainly obtaining such misinformation from Russian TV. The situation is further complicated by the presence of the indigenous people of Crimea, the Crimean Tatars who were deported en-masse by Stalin in 1944 and were only permitted to return in the late 1980s. They tend to be anti-Russian and very supportive of Crimean's continued status as an autonomous republic in Ukraine.

At the time of the interview last night, Sarah pointed to a number of conflicting signals coming out of Russia with regard to Ukraine,

as the new government in Kyiv has not been recognised, but the foreign minister has ruled out intervention, yet there are troop movements and it is unclear who took over the Crimean parliament. At that point it seemed as if Russia was sabre-rattling to de-stablise the situation in Ukraine without intervening militarily, which would involve breaking its international commitments.