By Michael Averko
On pages 285-286 of Oleh S. Fedyshyn’s book “Germany’s Drive to the East and the Ukrainian Revolution, 1917-1918,” (Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1971) there is a translation of Pavlo Skoropadsky’s November 14, 1918 “Edict Calling for the Formation of an All-Russian Federation,” as cited from pages 414-415 of Dmytro Doroshenko‘s Volume 2 “Istoriya Ukrayiny – History of Ukraine, 1917-1923” (Svoboda, Uzhgorod, 1930).
Skoropadsky’s aforementioned edict is as follows:
The armistice between Germany and the Allied powers has been concluded. The bloodiest of wars has ended, and the peoples of the world are confronted with the difficult task of creating the basis for a new life.
As compared to other parts of Russia that has suffered long, the Ukraine’s fate has been considerably happier. With the friendly assistance of the Central Powers, she has managed to maintain law and order to the present. Being sympathetic to all the tribulations experienced by her dear Great Russia, the Ukraine has done all in its power to aid her brothers by offering them full hospitality and supporting them in the struggle for the restoration of a stable state authority in Russia.
We are now confronted with a new political task. The Allies were always friends of the old united Russian State. Today, following a period of turmoil and dissolution, Russia has to adopt new conditions for her future existence. The old might and power of the All-Russian State must be restored on the basis of a different principle – that of federalism. The Ukraine should assume the leading role in this federation, since it was she who gave the example of law and order in the country; it was also within Ukrainian borders that the citizens of the old Russia, oppressed and humiliated by the Bolshevik despotism, found freedom and security. The Ukraine took the initiative in developing friendship and cooperation with the glorious Great Don and the glorious Kuban and Terek Cossacks. These principles, which I hope are shared by Russia’s allies – the Entente – and which cannot but be viewed sympathetically by all peoples, not only in but throughout the world, should be the basis for the Ukraine’s policy in the future. The Ukraine should thus take the lead in the formation of an All-Russian Federation, the principal goal of which should be the restoration of Great Russia.
The achievements of this task shall guarantee not only the well-being of all of Russia, but the further economic and cultural development of the Ukrainian people as well, on the basis of national and political independence. Being deeply convinced that any other course would result in the Ukraine’s collapse, I appeal to all who care about her future – so closely linked to the future and happiness of all of Russia – to unite behind me for the defense of the Ukraine and Russia. I believe that this noble and patriotic cause should be supported sincerely and strongly by the citizens and Cossacks of the Ukraine, as well as by other segments of her population.
The newly formed cabinet is hereby instructed to proceed immediately with the implementation of this great historical task.
Skoropadsky’s edict exhibits the idea of a post-Romanov governed and non-Soviet alternative for Russian-Ukrainian togetherness, with an emphasis placed on Ukrainian cultural identity and self governance. From a Soviet perspective, there was the theoretical ideal of national republics in a multinational union. The inclusion of Soviet era Byelorussian and Ukrainian United Nations (UN) delegations, minus the individual UN representation of other Soviet republics was explained by stressing the role that Ukraine and Byelorussia each played during World War II. This Soviet UN representation was a compromise among the key founding UN member nations. The Soviet government sought all of its republics represented. Instead, there were Soviet, Byelorussian Soviet and Ukrainian Soviet UN delegations.
Post-Soviet Ukraine’s standing as an internationally recognized independent state and the varied Ukrainian attitudes towards Russia are influenced by a lengthy historical process. After several centuries as a unit, Rus (the 9th to mid-13th century state, which modern day Russia, Ukraine and Belarus are descended from) came under a prolonged era of Mongol subjugation. The post-Mongol occupation period of that land saw Rus territories come under different rule. Coupled with that aspect, the relatively large land of Rus was ripe for nurturing different cultural and linguistic attributes, while not completely eliminating a feeling of kinship, dating back to Rus’ pre-Mongol subjugated existence. Upon the defeat of the Mongols, the territory making up much of the contemporary European part of Russia emerges as the most independent of foreign domination and strongest of Rus territories. There are signs that Rus was undergoing a shift of greater influence to its north (away from Kiev) before the Mongol subjugation. At around this time, there was some evidence of regional differences as well.
The rise of Poland and Ottoman Turkey as major powers and their at times tense relationship with the territories comprising Rus served as one reason for bringing together much of the Rus entity into the Russian Empire. The common past with Rus provided a further unifying base.
Pavlo Skoropadsky (1873-1945) was born into a family of prominent Cossacks on the territory of what is now independent Ukraine. He is related to Ivan Skoropadsky (1646-1722), who opposed Ivan Mazepa’s shift of allegiance from Russia to Sweden and Poland. Ivan Skoropadsky was to replace Mazepa as leader of the Russian Empire Ukrainian situated Cossacks.
The different accounts of Mazepa serve to highlight the historical division in the assessment on a number of Ukrainian territory based issues thru the centuries. Some emphasize Mazepa’s change of alliance on the premise that Sweden and Poland would be victorious in a war with Russia. Others stress the notion that Mazepa’s move was made out of opposition to the situation the Cossacks had with the Czar. The record on this matter reveals that Mazepa’s geopolitical shift was not supported by most of the Cossacks and much of the rest of the population in his area.
Between the time of Mazepa’s downfall and World War I, the development of a separate Ukrainian national identity gradually gained in stature. At the same time, there was a noticeable degree of commonality.
Napoleon’s 1812 attack on Russia was actively supported by tens of thousands of Poles, in what was (at the time) the latest historical twist to troubled Russian-Polish relations. That degree of Polish activity against Russia was not evident among the population related to modern era Ukrainians – who instead were generally loyal to the Russian Empire’s war effort. Another example of this mood, is the literary relationship of Nikolai Gogol to Russia and Ukraine. Gogol identified with Russia, while expressing pride in the part of the Russian Empire (present day Ukraine) where he was from. In 2009, Russia and Ukraine honored Gogol’s 200th birthday.
As World War I was drawing to a close, Pavlo Skoropadsky found himself in a unique situation. The initial post-Czarist Ukrainian government, known as the Ukrainian People’s Republic (UPR) had ties with the Russian Provisional Government as an affiliate of Russia. (The Ukrainian People’s Republic is also referred to as the Ukrainian National Republic.) Faced with a difficult situation in Russia, the Provisional Government was not in a good position to deal with matters in Ukraine. Following the Bolshevik overthrow of the Provisional Government and testy Bolshevik-UPR relations, the UPR declared Ukraine’s full independence. With World War I not yet over and Germany in an influential position in Ukraine, the UPR became close to Berlin.
With German support, Skoropadsky overthrew the UPR and proceeded to head a new government supported by Berlin. The impression is given that the Germans turned to Skoropadsky because they felt that the UPR was not doing a good job at governing a society benefitting German war aims. In addition, the monarchical Germany of that period likely felt more at ease with the socioeconomically conservative Skoropadsky, when compared to the politically left of center leaning UPR. (Alexander Kerensky writes in his memoirs of a German policy of that era seeking deals across the political spectrum in Russia and Ukraine. The Germans gave support to the Bolsheviks, while also considering ties with some conservative Russian anti-Provisional Government and anti-Bolshevik elements.)
Skoropadsky’s roughly eight month period of governance in 1918 was an eventful one. His government is credited with increasing the stature of the Ukrainian language. Skoropadsky faced criticism and opposition from the Ukrainian political left for favoring a conservative socioeconomic approach. Skoropadsky was also criticized for being too subservient to Germany and taking authoritarian measures. (On that last particular, a kind of “whataboutism” of sorts contrasts what was evident or became evident in parts of former Russian Empire territory, including Ukraine.) As German power declined, Skoropadsky’s stature became more vulnerable. An increasingly tenuous situation in Ukraine served the interests of the political left, opposing a government viewed as (among other things) conservative and favoring the wealthy.
Problematical aspects existed between Skoropadsky’s German supported Ukrainian government and the anti-Bolshevik Whites. The former initially proclaimed a continuation of the UPR’s stance on Ukraine as an independent nation. This position suited the geopolitical interests of Germany and the rest of the Central Powers. The breakup of lands making up the Russian Empire decreased the stature of an adversary. In contrast, the Whites favored Russian Empire Ukrainian territory and Russia as part of the same nation. The Whites (at least most of them) felt obliged to honor the Provisional Government’s ties with the Entente against the Central Powers. During World War I, the Entente was not so keen in seeing the territories of the Russian Empire and its Provisional Government successor broken up. When backed by Germany, Skoropadsky, was nevertheless able to attract some pro-White advocates into his government.
Skoropadsky and the UPR government he overthrew shared a similar process towards Russia. At different points in time, each stated a willingness to see Russia and Ukraine as one country. A weakened Russia, coupled by a strong German presence in Ukraine challenged Russian-Ukrainian togetherness. In addition, there were Ukrainian separatist leaning tendencies, especially noticeable within the UPR body politic. Simultaneously, a good portion of Ukraine’s population was not against some form of a national entity consisting of Russia and Ukraine. When the Russian Civil War became concentrated in Ukraine, the warring Whites and Reds found a mix of native support and opposition for their respective causes, as well as individuals who were not enthusiastic about any of the factions in conflict (Reds, Whites and Ukrainian separatists). Despite their differences, the Reds and Whites each favored Russian-Ukrainian togetherness.
Skoropadsky’s November 14, 1918 edict for an All-Russian Federation came shortly after the armistice agreement, leading to the end of World War I. Before the end of the year, his government was toppled by Ukrainian forces loyal to separatist/socialist Symon Petliura. (Thereafter, Skoropadsky lived the rest of his life in Germany.) Petliura’s support came from many of the individuals associated with the UPR. Towards the end of 1918, the Whites were not yet at their pinnacle of prowess, in a way that made it difficult for them to militarily assist pro-Russian/anti-Bolshevik elements in Ukraine. The following year saw the Russian Civil War greatly move into Ukraine, when for a period, the Whites were at their strongest.
After Skoropadsky’s government was overthrown by Petliura’s forces, the latter faced a series of challenges. It appears that Petliura was unable to successfully mobilize enough of former Russian Empire Ukrainian territory to oppose his White and Red adversaries, who in turn opposed each other. Muddying things further in Russian Civil War era Ukraine were the differences between many Galician Ukrainians and Petliura’s supporters. Overall, the former were more rural and conservative than the latter.
These circumstances serve to explain Petliura’s decision to make an alliance with Poland, that included his agreeing to have the majority Ukrainian inhabited portion of eastern Galicia (which had been part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire) come under the rule of Warsaw. That move motivated the Galician Ukrainians (by and large) to come under the military command of the Whites. Poland was willing to recognize a pro-Polish Ukrainian state comprising former Russian Empire Ukrainian territory; whereas the Whites viewed that land as being in unity with Russia, as they tended to view eastern Galicia as foreign territory, that was not a part of Poland. Concerning Russian-Polish differences on Ukraine and other Russian Civil War related issues, George A. Brinkley’s “The Volunteer Army and Allied Intervention in South Russia, 1917-1921” (University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Indiana, 1966) and Dimitry V. Lehovich’s “White Against Red: The Life of General Anton Denikin,” (W W Norton & Company, New York City, 1973) have an array of detailed insight, based on primary sources.
Two leading Petliura allies Volodymyr Vynnychenko and Mykhailo Hrushevsky were to go over to the Soviet side. Before his death in 1934, Hrushevsky fell out of favor with Soviet officialdom. Vynnychenko became disenchanted with the Soviet Union and settled in the West.
When reviewing the Russian Civil War situation in Ukraine, several factors should be considered for clarity sake. During this period, some national independence movements were more advanced than others, as worldwide imperial possessions remained quite evident. At about that point in history, many Brits came around to acknowledging an independent Ireland, unlike the independence of other British colonies. Ethnically and linguistically, Russians and Ukrainians are more closely related than English and Scots.
The Whites are considered to be reactionary when compared to their Red counterparts. Note that the Whites supported Finnish and Polish independence, unlike some other independence movements. (The White view on Finnish and Polish independence has been clearly stated and is well documented in the previously mentioned books by Brinkley and Lehovich.)
The Russian Civil War era suggests a growing separate Ukrainian national identity, which was lacking from what it was to become. Following the Soviet breakup, the 100% international acknowledgement of an independent Ukrainian state sees many Ukrainians revealing an interest in having close ties with Russia. (The post-Soviet polling done on this particular includes a May 25, 2009 Research and Branding Group study and a February 18, 2010 announced IFAK-Ukraine International Research Agency survey.)
Every post-Soviet Russian government has recognized Ukraine’s independence on the basis of the latter’s Soviet drawn boundaries. The outcry against this stance is limited in Russia. Among those in Russia and Ukraine favoring a single Russian-Ukrainian state (along with the possibility of some other former Soviet territories), there seems to be (for the most part) an understanding that such a move should be mutually agreed upon and non-violent.
These facets put into perspective the at times overly hyped perceptions of Russian revanchist thoughts. Russia’s response to not being a part of other former Soviet republics is arguably not so relevant as how some influential analysts are prone to negatively portray closer relations between Russia and Ukraine (and perhaps some other former Soviet lands). Seeking to unnecessarily tweak reasonable agendas is counterproductive to the promotion of greater stability.
In the foreseeable future, it does not seem so unreasonable to envisage closer Russian-Ukrainian ties, which could very well fall short of a multinational state. The May 6, 2011 Russia Profile Weekly Experts’ Panel provides insight on the practicality of that kind of relationship.
NOTE: This article is a longer version of the one which initially appeared in the American Thinker on May 21.