Will Ukraine join the club of fractured Arab states?

Ever since the Arab Spring of 2011, I have been engaged in an interesting, informal, experiment. When meeting with colleagues and visitors, I would pass to them a map of the MENA region and request that they draw what they think the region will look like in 2020. All of the participants responded almost the same—fractured states across MENA, based on tribalism, ethnicity and regionalism. In other words, new proto-states, cantons and autonomous areas will likely emerge, according to respondents to my assignment. Overall, the evolution of the region signaled that the post-World War I Middle East system would evolve into a new order of states.

Such a notion is not limited to the MENA region. Over the past decades, separatist groups emerged launching terrorist and insurgent attacks for their causes from Peru to Sri Lanka to Thailand. New states have also emerged over the past few years, such as South Sudan, while others, such as Belgium, have appeared to be splitting apart. Also, Scotland is to pull away completely from Britain. Regionalism is on the rise as self-identity is becoming more and more powerful through the political use of social media and a growing demand for independence through autonomy.

The major attributes of regional trends, described above, in MENA are continuing. By far, Syria represents the largest threat simply because of the complexity of the situation on the ground between varying groups of extremist fighters, both Sunni and Shiite, as well as the Syrian military itself, which is backed by Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. The so-called “Syrian Effect” is clearly spreading beyond the borders of the rump Baathist state to include Iraq and Lebanon where violence is spreading. The millions of refugees fleeing the collapse Syrian state and surging into surrounding countries make the situation more serious. Libya and Yemen fall into the same category in terms of growing militancy and regionalism that threatens a wide swathe of land from North Africa to the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula.

Turning to Europe

Now Ukraine can be added to the long list of morphing states described above. It is a state that is, on the surface, divided between West and East. However, underneath, it is a different type of Syria but equally complex. Ukraine has various religious, ethnic, linguistic and regional groups. From left wing moderate groups to right wing elements and neo-fascists, they all possess their own set of root grievances that culminated in the ouster of former Ukrainian President Yanukovych. Before his ouster, more radical elements from across the Ukrainian political spectrum occupied and set fire to government facilities and stole weapons from a military depot.

Ukraine has various religious, ethnic, linguistic and regional groups. From left wing moderate groups to right wing elements and neo-fascists, they all possess their own set of root grievances

Dr. Theodore Karasik

Now the country may be on a path of disintegration through disagreement between various parties and the invasion of part of the country (Crimea) by Russia. Ukraine’s new leaders are united for now but the question as to how long that unity may last still lingers. All of this discussion raises a key point - in a sense, there are similarities between Ukraine and Syria: Islamist extremist elements in Syria turned the country into a non-functioning rump state. Will the same happen in Ukraine? Although some of the Ukrainian groups achieved their goals, there is an underlying level of tension across the country’s political and social spectrum. Much like Syria’s Islamist extremists, Ukraine’s extremists are armed and the potential for flashpoint violence, on top of Russia’s actions in Crimea, may lead to dreadful confrontations, weakening the bankrupt Ukrainian state into a state of un-governability augmented by growing poverty and disparity.

The point is that Ukraine is now entering a period of uncertainty, much like the MENA region where states may not be able to survive with the creation and growth of regional armed militias and the intervention of foreign forces either through proxy or actual on the ground operations. The emergence of ethnic and religious mercenaries also creates tension and violence. If taken together, political and security issues in Ukraine and the MENA region, brought about by social disorder and the search for identity, is likely to spread to other countries not yet subjected to such overt disturbances. Trans-regional disorder is likely in other states where other Yanukovych-type leaders misread the public and horde amazing amounts of financial wealth from state coffers. We have to ask ourselves what other states around the world possess the same attributes as a “Syria” or a “Ukraine.”

So the next time somebody gives you a map of the MENA region and asks you to draw what the region will look like in 2020, perhaps you should ask your host for a new map—a map of the entire Eurasian landmass, and beyond.


Dr. Theodore Karasik is the Director of Research and Consultancy at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai, UAE. He is also a Lecturer at University of Wollongong Dubai. Dr. Karasik received his Ph.D in History from the University of California Los Angles.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:42 - GMT 06:42
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