Two Nations, Two 'Roberts' | Opinion | Salt Lake City Weekly

Two Nations, Two 'Roberts' 

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Ukraine's military is on a roll. They recently took back more territory in a weekend than Russia had gained during the previous several months. Some Ukrainian officials, including President Volodymyr Zelensky, are boldly expressing confidence in ultimate victory and in eventually expelling Vladimir Putin's Russian forces completely from territories they've held—or which Russian separatists have held—since the previous Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea in 2014.

However, some strategists are saying that Putin would never suffer such an embarrassment and may bring unthinkable forces to bear against Ukraine and possibly its Western supporters, since his ultimate aim has always been to bring all of Ukraine under his control.

As much as I fully support Ukraine's efforts to defend itself, let me interject here a big, "Whoa, wait a minute, you two Roberts!" (You see, Volodymyr and Vladimir are essentially the same name, and both share the same etymological meaning as our Anglican "Robert.")

Bobbie Zelensky, set aside national pride for a moment and ask yourself if reclaiming all of Ukraine's old territory would really be in your best interest, as it would come complete with a certain segment of the population that wants to be Russian. Such folks are culturally and linguistically tied to Russia, and many support a Putin-style government.

Do you really want them as Ukrainian citizens? You'd constantly have a separatist element in your eastern territories with nothing but permanent civil strife on your hands.

And to you, robber ... err ... Robert Putin: Do you really want as part of your reconstituted empire a population of people who hate you with a purple passion, and who maybe have hated all Russians since Joseph Stalin starved upward of 4 million Ukrainians in the 1930s prior to the continued exploitation of Ukraine by the Soviets right up to the collapse of the USSR?

Instead, you two Bobs should take a good, hard look at reality and seize a golden opportunity for long-lasting stability, both with your troublesome neighbor and within your own borders. And some helpful examples of how to achieve this are right in your own backyards.

In 1993, the former nation of Czechoslovakia split into two separate, sovereign states: the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Was that the result of a civil war? No—two peoples realized that they had different languages, cultures and objectives and amicably agreed to draw a line between their principal territories and go their separate ways.

In the process, they gave all citizens a year to declare which citizenship they wanted to have. Both nations retained membership in the European Union, so travel and commerce across the border is no big deal. Easy peasy.

And although what we remember most about the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s and early 2000s was the genocide by Serbs against the primarily Muslims residents of some territories, the breakup into six distinct nations primarily along cultural, linguistic and religious differences was a relatively peaceful process.

So, you two Roberts, rather than continue this fight with its attendant loss of life and destruction of property, why don't you chill down your egos and try something like this? First, determine how many Ukrainians would rather be Russian citizens and how many Ukrainians who have lived in Russian-controlled territory since 2014 would rather remain Ukrainian. Use that ratio to determine—perhaps with the help of the U.N. or another neutral body—how much of eastern Ukraine would be needed to give the Russophiles a homeland and cede it to Russia.

Any residents in the eastern Ukraine areas who would rather be Ukrainian could move westward. The governments could pack up their belongings and move them, and all relocated persons could be granted homes, businesses and land commensurate with what they left behind.

For good measure, each nation could make it a crime for its citizens to try to foment attempts to get their nation to be taken over by its opponent, similar to the way Germans made it illegal to express Nazi sentiments ever since the end of World War II. Any attempts at insurrection would result in deportation to the other side of the border without any buyout benefits, thus giving everyone the incentive to get out while the getting is good.

How could this be funded? Easy. Levy a tax on Russian oil and gas—let's say 5%—that would pay for these relocations as well as the reparations for the war damage Russia has caused. Russia's fossil fuels would still be sold at market rate, but the levy would be withheld from payment. Sorry, Bobby P. and your oligarch buddies, but your country's tax revenues and your profits would be lower until you fix what you broke. However, for good behavior on this point, sanctions against Russia could be dropped.

Oh, and while things are getting fixed, the U.N. charter should really be amended so a nation's seat on the Security Council is suspended, or its veto vote revoked, while it's actively involved as an aggressor in a conflict like the one we're seeing. That way, the U.N. isn't hamstrung from taking intervening action and could actually accomplish something toward establishing a more peaceful world.

Such international clout could even make a bellicose U.S. president think twice before pulling a move in the vein of George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq.

Private Eye is off this week. Jim Catano is a retired marketing executive who keeps busy hiking, biking, writing, editing and hoping—probably in vain—for a better world. Send feedback to

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