The Coming Partition of Ukraine

Those of you who followed the link on my essay of yesterday and watched the 10 minute interview with Kiev mayor Vitali Klitschko on TRT World’s “Newsmakers” program will surely agree that this high visibility Ukrainian politician is leading the remaining residents of the country’s capital and the broader population of Ukraine straight to disaster in the name of patriotic self-defense.

 I will not waste time here on Klitschko’s vicious lies about the Russian invaders, about their intentions, their deeds and so forth. In my own time at the microphone in the show, I argued that Klitschko’s rejection of any imposed return to the Soviet empire under Russian diktat is total nonsense. Russia has had enough of empire and control of Ukraine would only be an interminable drag on the Russian economy and political focus. The Russian motivation is just to rid Ukraine of NATO formations presently embedded, of NATO membership still projected by the Alliance, and of the neo-Nazi radicals who since 2014 have been the force behind the throne in the Kiev regime.

 My point here is to highlight the consequences of the determination of Klitschko and others in the Ukrainian government not to seek any compromises to end the fighting and to save what is left of their country at this point, before the Russians pursue their demolition work to its logical conclusion. If Kiev fails to raise the white flag, fails to negotiate a peace in good faith, the war will end with the civil and military infrastructure of Ukraine totally shattered, with the permanent mass emigration of millions, including the most able-bodied segments of the population, and with a decade or more of destitution for those unfortunate enough to remain.

Last night I received a note from one reader of my essays, who said that the war will not end with a treaty on Russia’s terms. Instead, aided and abetted by the United States and Europe, the Kiev leadership will launch an insurgency against the ‘occupiers’ and this will grow and become as painful and costly for Russia as anything the United States experienced in Afghanistan.

I do not deny that a Ukrainian insurgency is a plausible next phase to the war, especially given the irrational position on ‘compromises’ that we see in Klitschko’s interview. However, there are obvious ways for the Kremlin to respond so as to contain the risks to themselves.  To begin with, they can realize the threat Putin issued before the war began: to deprive Ukraine of its statehood.  Not entirely, but to deprive them of the state in the configuration that has existed since 1991.  This means to partition Ukraine, to hive off the territories west of Kiev and the Dnieper River, forming a land-locked rump state with its capital logically in Lviv, near the Polish frontier.

To use the language of the banking community, Russia would thereby create a ‘bad bank,’ containing the poisonous assets of Ukrainian radicalism, very few industrial or other major economic assets, and removed to a distance no longer threatening to Russia.   The ‘good bank’ would be central Ukraine, the territories east of the Dniepr River, which have a considerably larger population of Russian speakers, who should respond to Russia’s call to defend their own interests in the public life of the country and come out from the bullying they were subjected to by the nationalists over the past 8 years. This central Ukraine would receive back the Black Sea coast now occupied by the Russians and would enjoy the agricultural and other major economic assets that always defined Ukrainian prosperity. Presumably the Donbas republics would remain independent as the third part of a divided Ukraine. However, if central Ukraine is properly reconstituted with all due protection for minorities and with properly working federalism, there is no reason to exclude the possibility of the Donbas returning to the fold in the Ukraine east of the Dniepr. Their inclusion would greatly assist the balancing of language communities in the entire recombined state.

The aforementioned denouement is, of course, only one of many that may be floated in the weeks ahead as the Russians close their stranglehold on Ukraine’s main cities and bring closer the moment of truth, when the Ukrainian leadership has to decide whether or not to sue for peace on the victor’s terms.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022

20 thoughts on “The Coming Partition of Ukraine

  1. Wow you are really wrong on history. The Baltic States were the first to leave the Soviet Union.


    1. Score one to you on a technicality. The departure of the Baltics PRECEDED the break-up of the Soviet Union. And unlike the other Union republics, the Baltic States were never recognized as part of the USSR by the USA and other countries. The break-up of the Soviet Union came months later and that is when the Russian Federation under president Yeltsin made its move first. This is counter to the normal pattern of break-up of multinational empires. The way the Ottoman Empire disappeared is the rule: first the subject nationalities secede and after they are largely gone the ruling nationality finally throws off the dynastic yoke.


  2. Thank you, Dr. Doctorow, for continuing to write and speak out. I was a big fan of Professor Cohen and used to listen to his podcasts on Russia and Ukraine for years. His calm, insightful, and knowledgeable analysis was a breath of fresh air and he is deeply missed during these times. Your blog posts and TV appearances actually remind me a little bit of him and I hope to keep on hearing your analysis. When all is said and done, I (optimistically) think that we (western society) will come to recognize that every person that resisted this information war actually did immense good in preventing our collective slide into a genuine Orwellian nightmare.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t think a good bank / bad bank analogy would work. What would happen in practice if Russia created a client state in Central and Eastern Ukraine, while allowing Western Ukraine to remain its own country, would be massive Western support for Western Ukraine in the form of using Russian Central Bank reserves as reparations to that state, while sanctioning the rump Ukrainian client state to the hilt. Western Ukraine would do much better economically, making the partition untenable over time.

    Russia could try to create a client Ukrainian state and then hold a referendum annexing it, which would be better economically for Eastern and Central Ukraine but would require massive vote tampering to work. Crimea would have voted to become part of Russia even without vote tampering, but it is very unlikely that a large, ethnically majority Ukrainian state including Kyiv would do so.

    Maybe Russia is willing to “pay the price” of annexing the majority of Ukraine or creating a rump client regime in the medium term. Maybe Putin views this as a historic regathering of the Russian world, and 10-20 years of pain is worth it. I don’t know.

    I think a likelier outcome is what Dr. Doctorow suggested before, trying to force the current Russian peace terms (or really terms of surrender) on the Zelenskyy government. This is also not a perfect outcome for Russia, shall we say, because Ukraine will absolutely turn its back on Russia after this invasion regardless of any constitutional protections for the Russian language that might be put in place. You can’t force people who now hate Russia to keep speaking Russian and remain in the Russian world. But at least Russia will have a semi-demilitarized Ukraine (you know the USA/UK/Poland will press remilitarization as far as they can, regardless of what is written down), officially not part of NATO, and Russian official legal claim to Crimea and Donbas. I can’t imagine the Donbas republics will stay independent, if I were a resident being part of Russia would be infinitely preferable from a practical standpoint. If the Russian negotiators aren’t idiots they will also have a minor provision requiring water flow to Crimea.


  4. I guess another option for Russia would be to see this campaign through to the point of occupying Eastern Ukraine and the Black Sea coast including Odessa, and create a new republic out of that (which could potentially be annexed after say 5-10 years). There were rumors or maybe a trial balloon of an independent Republic of Kherson about a week ago. Everyone including Russia and Putin understands that Western Ukraine is a poison pill to any hope of maintaining a Russia-tilted Ukraine. I think at this point, Kyiv is as well. Taking a large city like Kyiv would also be an enormous task for Russia.

    Kharkiv is offering fierce resistance and has suffered heavy damage, I don’t know how potentially friendly people there would be to Russia. Maybe it was Western Ukrainian “carpetbaggers” causing all the trouble, or maybe the broader population really has become anti-Russian, or maybe it’s a significant minority segment of the local population that would just leave if Russia takes over. Kherson seems pretty peaceful now despite the first few days of protest. I suspect this would be true in most of Eastern and Southern Ukraine. So the Novorossiya option is also still there, from a Russian perspective.


  5. Sorry for the continuous comments. To finish my thought, a Novorossiya option would have the downside for Russia of not coming with a peace agreement. No Ukrainian government in Kyiv would ever accept it. So you would have the problem of a remilitarized rump Ukraine (minus Novorossiya) and no international recognition of Novorossiya or a Russian annexation. I think it is very important to understand that in this conflict between NATO and Russia, that Russia is much the weaker party overall. This is obvious, look at the population disparity, and GDP disparity. The West can afford to subsidize Western Ukraine, they even have the money sitting right there to do it in the form of Russian frozen assets. Russia does not have a near infinite amount of money to subsidize Novorossiya or a rump Ukraine including Kyiv.

    And whatever you say about the Russian-Chinese partnership, it absolutely has limits, it is the opposite of no limits. The best that can be said is that China didn’t completely abandon Russia and is unlikely to do so from pure Chinese self interest. China is behaving in a very mercantilist way (as usual), while Europe and the USA really went to bat for Ukraine in all ways short of direct war with Russia. Yes America is using Ukraine as a tool against Russia, but China is not using Russia as a tool against America, except very passively. Russia is in its conflict with the greater West basically on its own.


    1. No, the West cannot afford to subsidize Ukraine.

      The West already stole the Afghan money for a “good” cause, and they can certainly do it to the Russian money – it will kill our financial system even faster but then the West seems suicidal. That will hit the common western citizens. How will Western Elites explain to their own citizens that there is money for Ukraine but not for them?

      The West will not let Rump Ukraine fall – but it will not give it much money, and mostly loans that the country will have to pay back. Given the rampant corruption that riddles Ukraine, they might not even be willing to let Ukraine control that money – Ukraine will become like Bosnia-Herzegovina. A colony, whatever they choose to call it.

      A landlocked Western Ukraine would be a poor country – an even poorer country than it is now. Industry, mineral deposits, agriculture are mostly in the East. Eastern Ukraine would have the seaports. I read somewhere that Mariupol alone is responsible for 10% of Ukraine’s GDP.

      So Western Ukraine could not offer a military seaport to the US / NATO, could not host heavy weapons near Russia’s borders, and would have a greatly reduced population leading to a vastly reduced military if it remilitarizes. It would be a lot less attractive from a geopolitical standpoint than it is now.

      Some speculation says that Putin lets the LNR and DNR militia’s free their own republics so that they can earn their statehood instead of having it given to them. If Eastern Ukraine has to build its statehood from scratch but with lots of the old Ukrainian elite out of the picture, with Russian support they might have a better chance then Western Ukraine.

      The West cannot give Ukraine gas and coal – it doesn’t have any to spare. Eastern Ukraine has both. Western Ukraine will have to buy it – using the money given to it by the West.

      And there might even be Western parts of Ukraine that decide to split off. The Hungarian minority in Ukraine wants to join Hungary. A sentiment that Hungary nurtured despite Kiev’s misgivings. I don’t know hat Hungary’s stance is today, we hear so little from other EU countries (and even less that can be trusted).

      Once the tearing apart starts, there will be no stopping. Whatever is left of Ukraine afterwards are those parts that nobody wants. And there certainly will be no outside money to pay for its needs.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. +1 for no way would the West subsidize Ukraine. United States cannot even summon the political will to invest into its own infrastructure, or to solve its own social and economic problems.

      Unfortunately, it seems that many Ukrainians fell into a common trap of cultural misunderstanding with the US. They took everything that the Americans said far too seriously and too literally. SNL choir cold opens, blue and yellow social media profile pictures, and swooning over Zelensky, these are not signals for some kind of broader support but rather the full extent of the support offered.


  6. I do not believe Russia will come to terms with the Zelenskyy regime. It is simply not possible for many reasons, the most important of which that such agreement would not be worth the paper it is written on. The moment Russian soldiers leave, Ukraine would be re-armed and the anti-Russian terror in the country would intensify. This would be the repeat of the “peace with Chechnya” in 1996, only much worse. Russians know this. They also know that the only way how to change anything on the ground in Ukraine they have to do most of the clean-up themselves.
    The diplomatic babblefest from Peskov and Zakharova needs to be understood as an ongoing smokescreen that started with their denying they had “any plan” to invade Ukraine. The “maskyrovka” now has, insofar as I see, three major functions. First, it is to provide relief to China from the US economic pressure, by “showing” Russia is trying to deal with the problem diplomatically. Second, it is a way to lure Erdogan away from the US, by providing a role for him as a great peacemaker of our time. Third, it buys Putin time to put in place the pieces needed to restore Central Ukraine, Odessa a Charkov regions to Russian dominance. In this plan, the army will exhaust the Ukrainian garnisons of the large cities before taking them, and then create new regional administrations locally that would be completely out of Zelenskyi reach. This was already done in Cherson. Then a new state will be born by bringing them together. (Zelenskyi would remain in Lvov. Russian intelligence leaked, that the visit of the Polish, Czech, and Slovinian PMs, with him last week took place in Lvov, and not in Kiev as was announced by the western media).
    So, I agree with Mr. Doctorow about the partition end-game, except that I believe Putin actually had this scenario up his sleeve all along as his preferred solution. Read his essay on Unity from last summer! Google “Vladislav Surkov” who was Putin’s main advisor on Ukraine until he was fired two years ago ! The failed coup in Belarus last April convinced Putin that Surkov was right. The idea of “gathering of the Russian lands” is actually Solzhenitsyn’s but Surkov adapted it, and Putin used his version as the theme of his essay.


  7. In a way, the current Ukraine kinetic conflict is a pebble thrown into the geopolitical pond and whose ripples are already serving to reveal many geopolitical contours that heretofore were more hidden under the placid surface. I think it important never to forget this context.

    Indeed, it is quite possible that the decision to finally opt for the bold, expensive move into Ukraine in force was taken with these geopolitical ripple effects in mind.

    And don’t discount the possibility that on some deep level this is, like WWII, a manufactured crisis wherein although the conflict on the ground is real and bloody, there are power networks above sponsoring both sides. What we need to know, for example, are things like: is Russia-China (aka New Eurasia) axis part of the Davos-led Great Reset business, or are they opposed to it. This would mean there is a struggle between unipolar and multipolar advocates. But if so, is not China’s society already much more in line with the techno fascist views expressed by the WEF?

    Maybe that is going too far already for pundits like yourself to discern (though would love to read your take on that sort of geopolitical level), but at the least we can see already in a few short weeks that both sides (US-NATO-EUROPE vs RUSSIA-CHINA) have been rapidly effecting a bifurcation of world finance and trading, changes which are likely to shape the entire next century. Big stuff. That Ukrainian pond sure does have a widespread ripple effect, just as Makinder hypothesized so long ago…

    Great blog…


  8. Joseph Schumpeter: [Ukrainian] “Politicians are like bad horsemen who are so preoccupied with staying in the saddle that they can’t bother about where they’re going.”

    Zelenskiy pushed the start button when he announced Ukraine would get nuclear weapons. He just announced Ukraine has lost this war by bleating about the need for negotiations. Zelenskiy compared Mariupol to the Leningrad siege. Mariupol isn’t Leningrad; it’s Stalingrad. There won’t be any rescue for Zelenskiy and the West’s favourite bigots this time either. BIden claims that his war will last decades until Russia is defeated. His administration plans to fund and supply weapons for an urban insurgency. The only possible Russian response would be the elimination of any sanctuaries, rear area bases, and supply depots. Ukraine won’t be partitioned. It will be reconstructed as part of a new Russian defence network and economy.

    Putin has heard all the promises, watched the treaties signed, and quickly ignored. He knows of the racist genocides committed and planned. It won’t be the vacuous opinions of irrelevant Westerners that define this war. It will be blunt demands and brutal facts on the ground that outline NATO’s public defeat. This war will end with Russian tanks shaking the ground at western borders.

    John Stuart Mill (1806 – 1873): “I did not mean that Conservatives are generally stupid; I meant, that stupid persons are generally conservative.”

    Thomas Paine: ”To argue with a person who has renounced reason is like administering medicine to the dead.”

    This war will proceed cautiously until the Nazis are cornered and all the power plants and pipelines are secured. The first strategic goal was achieved with the complete destruction of Ukraine’s air and sea power. It’s amusing to hear Zelenskiy demand a no-fly zone. Ukraine has a no-fly zone; it’s owned and operated by Russia. The second strategic goal is in sight: cutting Ukraine off from the sea. Number #3: surrounding the cities east of the Dnieper River. Number #4: cutting Ukraine in two by driving north and south along both banks of the Dnieper. Russia’s attacks west of Lviv show that are no safe areas in Ukraine.

    Russian military power is restrained east of the Dneiper because of Russian ethnic majorities living there. Once west of the Dneiper, a now battle hardened army enraged by Western lies and Banderite atrocities will flatten any possible source of resistance, and drive the population west into Europe. Westerners think Trump, 3%ers, Proud Boys, skinheads, and Klucker Klan were bad? The last thing Ukraine supporting ninnies will hear is an Azov or Right Sector monster shouting, “Kill the Jew.’ The US and Europe will have a goose stepping moron problem for decades so get used to NAZI murderers. They will never be allowed to return, even with a tourist visa.

    Napoleon: ‘The army marches on its stomach.’

    The idea the most corrupt failed nation on Earth could successfully manage a war is laughable. Wars are fought and won based on logistics: on supply, training, and timely movement of troops. Ukrainian defence is designed to protect Swiss bank accounts. The Russian offensive is designed to interrupt all three of these absolutely necessary military acts. Logistics have never more important than recently as weapons are more complex, vastly more expensive, and incredibly destructive. This has slowed research, development, and serial construction to the point wars will now be fought with weapons on hand until exhaustion compels defeat and surrender.

    Isaac Asimov (1920 – 1992): “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that your ignorance is just as good as my knowledge.”

    Bruce Cockburn – Call it Democracy


  9. Great analysis and great comments too (Mr Richard Graham). I don’t think the confiscated fortunes means a lot. They were the pillaged fruits of the immediate dissolution of ussr. The minute they’re placed in UK, they’ve gone already. The visuals; buying soccer teams, yachts, extravaganza etc is pure bs. Some oligarchs understood this, some not. Some Western could keep those fortunes, some western will be paying back via quadrupled resource prices. Zero sum game after the balancing period. Russia and subservient states learned the liberal market economy the hardest way possible. They survived. But the expansionist nato, end of history, manifest destiny global version.. arab spring, orange revolution.. world peace hypocrisies came to a natural end. 2008, georgia&ukranie decision was the tipping point for realist offensive russia. (Can’t they have their own Monroe doctrine?) Crimea voting or Invasion of Georgia had to teach this, but, couldn’t. Ukranie lost to western illusions, -now as a fighting ground- has no meaning other than a step towards the new world order; a new peace probability without a pinkerton police, a new transaction convenience mechanism for sharing resources. I always tried to simplfy west & east differences. West says “the world is wrong, faulty, imperfect, adversary etc.. we have to correct this”.. east says “that’s the nature of things, in the long run we all gonna die, why the hurry, haste, enmity?” The worldly peace has other alternatives than all countries, nations, groups must join a free market economy, [countries with mc donalds (or democracies, or international proletariat) will not fight, their constituents, workers won’t permit.] That didn’t worked out. May be this time a pragmatic version of confucianism will alter the bistory and we are observing it’s making..


  10. The partition of the Ukraine is not some theoretical plan B, it has been actively voiced for years and long been seen as one of the desirable outcomes amongst Great Russian nationalists, including the Russian government. This is consistent with Putin’s dismissal of Ukraine as a “real state” and the long standing tradition of treating the “Little Russians” as some sort of bastardised, Polonised version of the real thing. Of course, Western Ukraine, which only ended up in the Soviet sphere after the second world war is inimcal to this project and is therefore always discarded. The whole denazification business is just a convenient fig leaf and effective way to sell the project to the Russian public brought up on decades of this language. If partition does happen, which it might, it will be entirely thanks to the neo-imperial policies emanating from Moscow.


    1. “The whole denazification business is just a convenient fig leaf and effective way to sell the project to the Russian public brought up on decades of this language.”

      Strange. I’ve been watching these neo-nazis march around in their finest since 2014 from my little perch in the West. Then again, maybe you’re right and it’s all been a hologram.

      “If partition does happen, which it might, it will be entirely thanks to the neo-imperial policies emanating from Moscow.”

      Then again, it might just have been from the neo-imperialist policies of NATO, the neo-cons and their ‘captive nations’, not to mention their captive neo-liberals. Frankly, I find it downright bizarre that a ‘neo-imperialist’ nation like Russia should spend 8 years trying to KEEP Donetsk and Lugansk in Ukraine, instead of just swallowing it up when the populace began crying for it to.

      You’re a strange fellow. Not unique certainly, and even more so in your lack of uniqueness.


  11. Does anyone know exactly what Western democracy-promoter it was that urged the Social-Nationalist Party of Parubiy and Tyahnybok to rename their swell party as Svoboda, to appear more palatable to us simple Western folks? If I were to guess, I’d say it was Nuland but I don’t really know.

    If one really wants to dig into the rise in the Western consciousness of this Ukrainian ‘Birth of a Nation’ (and I mean the term in all its Clansman glory), I think that’s where one would have to start. That would seem logical, no?


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