Is Ukraine an artificial state, as President Putin suggests, or a true state, as President Zelensky argues? What constitutes a nation state anyway?

At present, I am reading a fascinating history of Ukraine: “Borderland” by Anna Reid. What is clear is that the reality of Ukraine as a nation state is a very recent one.

For many centuries, most of what we now call Ukraine was ruled by Lithuania or Poland or a combination of the two. For many centuries afterwards, Ukraine was ruled by Tsarist Russia or the USSR.

Although calls for Ukrainian independence have ebbed and flowed, they have always come from a small minority. As Anna Reid puts it: “Ukrainians won independence on 24 August 1991 by default. Many had dreamed of independence, but none had expected it, none had prepared for it“. Writing in 1997, she refers to “Ukraine’s fuzzy sense of national identity”.

Over the past three decades, Ukraine has done a decent job of nation-building, even if that required a revolution and involved an insurgency.

Yet, before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there were still major cleavages in Ukrainian society: between Ukrainian speakers and Russian speakers, between the west and the east, between the cities and the towns & villages. Ironically what Putin has managed to achieve in the last month is a deeper and more uniform sense of national identity among Ukrainians than has ever been the case in its history.

In my view, Ukraine is now a nation state and deserves that status. Any doubts that anyone might have about this should be dispelled by the bravery and unity of the Ukrainians people in the last month.

But, all over the world, this issue of what defines nationhood is a major political problem. Around the globe, most countries have communities within them that believe that they have a right to statehood. Scotland in the UK, Catalonia in Spain, Kurds in Iraq, Western Sahara in Morocco, Quebec in Canada, Kashmir in India, Tibet & Taiwan in China. The list goes on and on.

Many years ago, I started to discuss this issue of nationhood and wrote a short essay which I think still stands up. You can read it here.


  • Ronnie Landau

    All ‘nations’ are imagined and synthetic. Nation-states and nationalism has, throughout history, especially the modern period, proved both a blessing and a curse … mostly the latter.

  • Roger Darlington

    You are right, Ronnie. But the alternative to nations is empires. On the whole, I prefer nations, but I think we have to consider carefully how nations are constructed and deconstructed.


XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>