In the case of Ukraine the main change was about the meaning of the borders not their change. When the USSR still existed the “proletarian brotherhood” was a pretended Iconography, false but efficient in making the function of the borders among “brother” countries irrelevant. In fact it was the dominance of the socialist Russian state and the Communist Party which drove that irrelevance. One of the secondary consequence of that dominance was the spread of Russian-speaking people in all the 15 Socialist Republics. With a special situation of Ukraine, considering its historical legacy and dynamics: Russia considers itself as the heir of the so-called Rus of Kiev; eventually Ukraine was formally joined to the Russian empire since more than three centuries, so that the communist leader Khrushchev was able to “donate” Crimea to Ukraine in order to remind it without any kind of changes in the economic and social dynamics in the interested areas.
But after the collapse of the URSS the Iconography of all the socialist countries changed dramatically and the concepts of sovereignty and territorial integrity took a completely different meaning. And the presence of Russian-speaking people moved from the dominant and sometimes privileged position to the one of a minority, even if sizeable in some case.
This is the specific case of Ukraine, but everywhere in Europe and in the European Union there are similar situations; in the past they were managed sometimes peacefully, sometimes not, but the EU policy was and consists in funding the cross-borders cooperation along almost all the internal borders of the EU states and giving money to the less developed parts of the Union. Even if not all the problems are completely solved the EU way to solve those dynamics is clear: economic cooperation without changing the borders and support local autonomies also trough cross-border cooperation. Why not in Ukraine? Because all the former socialist countries moved from the internationalist iconography to the nationalist one and in the new symbolism and narratives borders, territorial integrity, sovereignty are the pivotal, undisputable points of reference.
So the case of Crimea and the case of Eastern Ukraine (inhabited by a majority of Russian-speaking people) have been managed according to the nationalism/iconography and not according to cooperation also by Germany (Merkel) and France (Hollande) leaders, who took a (self-elected) negotiating role with Russia and Ukraine. Within this impeding conceptual frame the dynamics of Crimea (fast managed, already Russian military presence in Sevastopol, referendum, annexation to Russia) got a peaceful result while the Eastern Ukraine dynamics (slowly managed, with rolling symbolic declarations by the opposite political leaders, asymmetric presence of military forces on the ground thus Russian “hidden” help to the secessionist forces) fell in an armed conflict.
The situation (March 2018) still remains stable at a low conflict level (which but provoked about 10.000 victims on both sides and about 2 million of displaced people), despite two agreements signed Minsk 1 and Minsk 2 (September 2016).
Simple solution: dismiss the “territorial integrity” iconography: the human rights must be granted regardless of the juridical status of the territory where the individual is; see the article 2 of the Declarations of the Universal Human Rights. The annexation of Crimea is acceptable; the “separatist” areas of Luhanks and Donetsk (along the current conflict lines as temporary administrative borders) should be autonomous recognized parts of Ukraine (the juridical structure of the Italian Sud Tirol – Alto Adige province could be a good example for the future status).
Libya was a case for a “perfect war” (Eva 2011). Geographically the territory is mainly desert, non so much inhabited, a state established in 1950-51 by a (English) colonial approach, with the two main inhabited areas, Tripolitania and Benghazi, traditionally separated and often in reciprocal opposition and separated also by hundreds of kilometers of an almost arid area, little inhabited only along the strip along the coast, with the gas-oil wells and facilities mainly divided in two parts between East and West. With this socio-geographical structure when the rebellion against Gaddafi aroused in Cyrenaica and the UN Council declared the no-fly zone the more useful and practical way to stop the fights would be to separate the combatant parts and to have for a while two, maybe three Libya: Tripoli (with Gaddafi), Benghazi (guided by Senussi tribes), maybe Fezzan, controlled by Tuareg and Toubu tribes. For giving time to negotiate.
But the ideological discourse of the leaders of the major powers and the narratives of the mass media supporting the “unity” and the “territorial integrity” of the Libyan state drove the local dynamics to a blind support (by France, UK and USA) to all the militias fighting against Gaddafi until his physical elimination. With the result to have now (in 2016) many, many Libyas: the one of the moderate Islamic government in Tripoli in the West, the one of Tobruk in the East recognized by the major powers but without an efficient territorial control of the surrounding areas, then the many local militias (more or less Islamic) in Zintan, Misurata and many others cities, finally the traditional tribal militias in the Fezzan. The final growing force of the Daesh-affiliated militias signs the concrete failure of the managing of the dynamics by the so-called international community (i.e. the major powers). And now the growing presence of Daesh is the official reason for a announced military intervention again in Libya. Currently (March 208) the situation changed a lot formally but only a bit geographically: in Tripoli there is an international recognized government which got a unstable agreement with part of the Muslim Brotherhood leaders and militias (Misurata, Zintan, Sabrata and minors), in Benghazi the general Haftar (supported by Russia, Turkey and Egypt) is the main leader and controller of the eastern troubled area. The internal tribes and municipalities were included in the Italian program for ameliorating the border controls towards Niger and Burkina in order to stop/reduce the migration pressure; Italy is offering economic funds for the local communities needs trying to be more attractive than gaining money by the migration flows.
I defined in 2011 the dynamics in Libya a “perfect war” because the geographical conditions were and still are “perfect” for a more useful and practical, even if temporary, partition solution in order to give time for negotiating a political exit. Is it better a partition with less casualties and with peaceful perspectives or an ideological “integrity” difficult to realize on the ground and at the cost of deaths and destructions as it is now the situation in Libya? Theoretic question: in the spring of 2016 the only iconographic idea for reaching the “stabilization” of Libya (i.e. to try to restore the territorial integrity) is a limited military intervention by the same leading powers of spring 2011; but rumors said that the special forces of France, UK and USA were secretly already in action in Libya and the USA didn’t hesitate at the end of February 2016 to bomb a coastal city in order to kill a Daesh leader: isn’t it a clear violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the state of Libya, a violation of the so-called international legality? This is the usual praxis in the hierarchical, real World Order: interpreting and/or forcing the rules by the powers or by the proxy states.
A similar dynamics initially happened in Syria. But the grave mistake was the expectation that the regime of Bashar al Assad could collapse rapidly. A simple socio-geographical analysis would allow to understand the many differences with Libya. There was more than the double of population than in Libya with a different distribution of the internal human groups, sometimes mixed and sometimes not, with different characters according to religion (Sunni, Shiite-Alawites, Christians and Yazides etc.) and language (Arabs and Kurds, some Turks), and a not irrelevant presence of Palestinian refugees. An unbalanced distribution of the population with the majority in the West and mostly of the Kurds in the North and North-East. A common sense of belonging to Syria by the inhabitants depending from the historical legacy of Damascus (capital of some institution since more than 2500 years, says a touristic slogan), Aleppo, Homs, Hama, Bosra, Palmyra and the surrounding areas witnessed by the huge presence of historical or religious sites; and also thanks to the regime for some group like the Christians who felt themselves like the more protected Christian group in the Middle East. Finally the strong link with Russia, one of the main world power, witnessed by the presence of the military and naval base in Tartus.
Instead to do an immediate pressure on the regime for pushing/forcing it to discuss and negotiate with the protesting (more or less spontaneous) political groups, the UN waited and the major powers in some way secretly supported the rebels. In a different way than in the case of the isolated Libya leader Gaddafi Syria was and still is in the middle of an “hot area” of geopolitical geostrategic interests with many actors: Western countries, Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, Egypt on one side and the Lebanese Hezbollah, Iran on the other side. In addition there are the Kurds claims by now linked with the Iraq internal dynamics after the previous “grave mistake” in managing the post-Saddam-Hussein-defeat situation.
This is not the place where covering the series of facts in Syria since 2011 but it’s possible to underline that also in this case the ideological-iconographic goal to defeat the Assad regime maintaining the territorial integrity and the unity of the state and the external multiple and contrasting “national” interests had as result the current fragmentation of Syria, the terrible conditions of the majority of Syrians (about 7-8 million displaced internally and more than 5 million sheltered abroad). Finally the surge and consolidation of Daesh-IS as a new kind of combatant subject with a mixed combination of iconographic-territorial-psychological message and attraction.
After the Afghanistan and Iraq military interventions the USA and the Western countries don’t want anymore to put “the boots on the ground”, as it is said in the media. So on the ground the best combatant forces are the Kurd Peshmerga in Iraq and the Kurd YPG in Rojava, the Shiites militias of Hezbollah, the Daesh fighters. Each of them with different political and geographical goals: territorial for the Kurds, political for the Shiites, mainly ideological-iconographic for Daesh.
Despite the formal declarations of the self-appointed caliph Abu Bakr al Baghdadi ISIS-ISIL-DAESH, now self-declared Islamic State, was conceptually and geographically locked in its territorial ambiguity: there were, in my opinion since the beginning, limited possibilities of local territorial expansion by war and also by the Islamic iconographies. Daesh hadn’t sufficient forces (in the sense of human beings) for prevail militarily; money can’t buy the victory. Also because on the concrete ground there are surrounding adverse iconographies against the caliphate vision: Turkish people are Sunni, but not along the rigid view of Daesh, Kurds are Sunni but they have more political-territorial claims, Iran and Iraqi population in the South are Shiites, Saudi Arabia for sure won’t give up with its pretended guiding role of the Sunni Umma being the guardian of the Holy Sites of Mecca and Medina and the main supporters of the Wahhabi Islam and finally Jordan and Israel have nothing good to expect from the caliphate.
So the Islamic State couldn’t hope to have eventually any territory. But it has demonstrated the psycho-physical dimension of a successful brand via barbaric videos and a very smart use of the weak spot of the Western media system: foreign fighters coming from abroad also from Western countries, affiliation of self-declared Islamic groups in Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia etc., bomb-cars and “kamikaze-martyrs”. Thus Daesh can only get an a-territorial (and psychological motivated) individual terrorism as “successful” action (in Europe or elsewhere), but terror doesn’t drive to victory as evidence that “terrorism is the continuation of the political desperation with other means” (Graziano, 2014).
Since the direct Russian intervention (September 2015) no-one of the fighters on the ground was able to win and still now no-one could imagine to conquer the entire surface of Syria in order to get “stability” through the “territorial integrity” of a unique state. According to Mearsheimer (2001) that only the presence of the army on the ground grants the control of the territory not by chance the always-too-late current diplomatic action of the major powers and UN tries to get an almost stable ceasefire dealing with the forces concretely on the ground with the exception of al Nusra and Daesh, considered as iconographic enemies.
But a ceasefire implies the recognition and the substantial stabilization of the conquered terrain; i.e. giving way to imagine a fragmentation of Syria, maybe not only for humanitarian goals (primarily stopping the huge migration pressure in Europe!), but also for a future political structure. That’s why Turkey is against the general frame of the ceasefire, accusing Russia and bombing along the border the Kurdish YPG, accused to be allied with Assad, supporter of PKK and also terrorist like Daesh. The danger from the Turkish point of view, it seems to me, is not the existence of a second Kurdish area after the one in Iraq, with which Turkey has good relations, but the supposed/perceived danger that YPG could pursue with PKK the formation of a bigger Kurdish state joining the Syrian and the Turkish areas where Kurds are the majority of the population.
The cited EU solution (economic support) and negotiations can be more useful that fighting a terrorist war from both sides. It was useful in Italy, after the WWII, for solving the issue of the German speaking minority in the Northern province of Alto Adige – Süd Tirol after about two decades of bombs and attacks. Economic support (more than in the rest of Italy), official bilingualism, a major role in the local institutions for the Süd-Tiroler Volks-Partei (Popular Party of South-Tirol) after multi-parties elections, allowed not to change the border between Italy and Austria, to avoid violent rebellion and to make the province as one of the rich in the country. Of course the local and national leader have to accept a sort of “forgetting the past” in order to build the future for the new generations. Considering the official declaration of the jailed leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan: “The Democratic Confederalism in Kurdistan is an anti-nationalist movement. Its aiml is [… omissis…] the pursuing of democracy in all parts of Kurdistan without questioning the existing political borders. Its goal is not the foundation of a Kurd nation-state.” (Ocalan, 2011), and the ones of the leaders of Rojava and YPG (and their democratic structure) it seems to me that this kind of proposal could be acceptable by Kurds, but it seems to me also that the current Turkish political leadership is still too much inside the caging mental iconography of a rigid typology of sovereignty. Actually the first limited “invasion” by Turkey in 2016 in the Northern Syria area close to Jarablus, controlled by Daesh allies, was a warning (its goal was to keep separated the Kurdish areas of Rojava, in the East, from the Afrin canton in the West. Erdohan has no problem with the Islamist, but the Kurds, all the Kurds, are “terrorist”. Finally Turkey attacked the Afrin canton the 20th January 2018 with the theoretical excuse to fight/eliminate the “terrorists” of YPG: for what it’s worth Afrin is Syria and the always cited by leaders and mass media “international legality” strongly prohibits invasion by the army of a bordering state. But Russia on Turkish side and USA on Kurds side said to be moderate, Bashar Assad protested but opted to attack the Ghouta area close to Damascus, the Islamist militias caged in the Idlib bordering area of Afrin took the opportunity to fight again, protected and used by Turkey, the “infidels”: i.e. the Kurds, Sunni but not with the personal and very extreme interpretation of Daesh, al Nusra and similar. The so-called “international community” seems to have nothing to say.
The crude lesson of what happens on the ground in Syria-Iraq (and Libya) seems not yet sufficient for decreasing the theoretical iconographies still present in the mind of the decision makers: “sovereignty”, “territorial integrity” etc.. Unfortunately this blindness is paid by millions of innocent people.
Also in the case of Syria stabilizing autonomous areas, without changing the state borders, putting separation forces by the troops of USA and Russia (under the UN umbrella), and give money and time for the reconstruction could be the best exit strategy. But the Icon of the “national interests” should be damned.