Ukraine's Civil War


To understand why "civil war" might be considered an appropriate term, don't just ask yourself whether or not the case meets standard definitions from the community of cross-national conflict scholars (e.g., whether there have been 1000 dead with 100 on the government side, whether the plurality of combatants were members of the same polity at the onset of hostilities, etc.). 

Consider also the following three data visualizations.

The first is a slideshow of maps, visualizing the disintegration of Ukraine's Party of Regions that occurred in the Ukrainian Parliament (the Rada) on February 20-21, 2014.  The Party of Regions was, in most relevant respects, a party representing "Eastern" interests, with only token representation in single-member districts West of the Dnieper River (the first slide).  After the Maidan  protests had escalated to a violent showdowns with armed protesters, there was a motion introduced onto the floor of the Rada -- a bill demanding that the police stand down and censuring the government for its role in escalating and provoking the crisis.  The motion passed due to the defection of representatives from the West and Center (the second slide).  Over the next night, there was a cascade of defections from the party.  The map of the country still represented by Party of Regions representatives on the following day, February 21, is shown on the third slide.  (Click on the map below three times to see the animation cycle.  I like to imagine a tide receding to the East, leaving tidal pools of beached Russian influence).


The second map shows voter turnout in the October 2014 Parliamentary Election.  In addition to the obvious missing votes in Crimea and the Donbas Region, results suggest an ongoing crisis of representation in Ukraine's East that will not likely be resolved in a convincing way until the next Parliamentary election in 2019. 


Finally: Consider the following hand-drawn predictive map.  The map was sketched for me by a prominent Ukrainian intellectual in September of 2014.  I asked him how he thought his country would be different in thirty years.  He replied that he did not think his country would exist in thirty years: "[T]here will be three Ukraines."  I asked him to explain what he meant and, as he drew a map in my notebook (reprinted in Warlords on page 191), his speculation was as follows: At some point in the next few decades, Putin would find some pretense to "come to the defense of Russian-speakers" and seize the entire north shore of the Black Sea, linking up with Transnistria (Zone B).  In response to this, Galicia and other parts of "Polish Ukraine" would replicate the political strategy of the Slovaks (or Slovenes) and democratically secede by referendum from the Ukrainian polity, forming a new state in the hopes of acquiring Western security guarantees (Zone A, note the "hard" line, indicating an active hand in the midst of emphasizing the motion).   This would leave a landlocked rump Ukrainian state, or perhaps a collection of ambiguously-federated city states, providing Russia with strategic depth (Zone C).  Two decades of research suggests that the transition to an independent Zone C would entail a very high risk of political violence.

Thankfully there is, as of yet, little evidence that this extreme pessimism is warranted.  Dominique Arel and I summarize the argument of a paper presented at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association.