Books on Ukraine
Update No: 332 - (29/08/08)
The next on the agenda?
The big question facing not just Kiev, but the West, is whether Ukraine is to be
the next target of the newly aggressive Russia. On August 26 President Medvedev
issued an ominous challenge to the Western world: "We are ready for a new
At least this has the merit of candour. It also makes it quite clear that the
new Russian president is no different from his predecessor. Indeed he is little
more than his mouthpiece.
The logical sequel to the Georgian debacle is encroachment on Ukraine - more
specifically Crimea, which was only ‘given’ to Kiev in 1954 by Khrushchev, a
former First Secretary of the Ukrainian Communist Party, as a gesture. It would
never have occurred to him that it really mattered, because of course in those
Soviet days everything was run from Moscow.
In fact the new Russian imperialism has a logic to it. Only encroach on those
territories where one would be welcome. The South Ossetians and Abkhazians were
jubilant at being given recognition of their independence by Moscow on the same
day in late August, because, although non-Russian by ethnicity, they are very
pro-Russian in sympathies.
In Crimea's case, the majority of the population are ethnically Russian and
would welcome a return to the fold. A pretext to occupy the peninsula could
doubtless be contrived.
There is no doubt that the Ukrainian leadership needs to tread very warily,
unlike the Georgian, which handed a pretext for intervention to the Kremlin on a
plate on August 7 by launching an invasion of South Ossetia, de facto
independent since 1991-3, itself. No similar provocation should emanate from
How should the West re-act?
This is the first thing that the West should caution Kiev to do. If Crimea went,
it could lead to the unravelling of their entire country. For one fifth of its
population is ethnically Russian. The entire eastern marches, where they
predominate, could be lost to Russia.
Western politicians are rushing to bolster Ukraine's pro-Western government amid
fears that the former Soviet Republic is becoming the frontline of the "new
Cold War." A day after Russia threw down a fresh challenge to the West by
recognising Georgia's breakaway territories as independent states, the UK
Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, was the first Western official in Kiev to
show support for the president of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko. The US vice
president, Dick Cheney, is travelling to both Georgia and Ukraine in the first
week of September.
Yushchenko, who fell victim to a mysterious poisoning that almost cost him his
life after he led the Orange Revolution in 2004, fears that his country could be
next on Vladimir Putin's hit list.
But are the Western visitors telling the Ukrainian leader "we're all
Ukrainians now", after the Republican presidential candidate Senator John
McCain expressed solidarity with the Georgian people by saying "we are all
Georgians now"? Not exactly.
Everyone concerned is aware that the conflict in the Caucasus pales into
insignificance compared to the risks for regional stability, if there were a
conflict between Russia and Ukraine. It not only has a population of 47m but is
also home, as we have seen, to a significant ethnic Russian minority which is
mainly Russian-speaking, located in its eastern regions and in the Crimean
Yushchenko, who is campaigning to take his country into both the European Union
and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation - as is his Georgian counterpart Mikheil
Saakashvili - has strongly condemned Russia's latest move. He believes that
membership of the Western military alliance offers the best insurance policy for
Ukraine against attack.
"What has happened is a threat to everyone, not just for one country. Any
nation could be next, any country. When we allow someone to ignore the
fundamental right of territorial integrity, we put into doubt the existence of
any country," the Ukrainian leader warned.
Mr Miliband offered strong words of support during his talks in Kiev, but did
not stray beyond EU and NATO policy on offering Ukraine eventual membership of
both organisations. "My visit is designed to send a simple message" he
told an audience of diplomats and students gathered at Kiev's oldest university:
"We have not forgotten our commitments to you. Nor shall we do so." He
went on: "The Russian president says he is not afraid of a new Cold War. We
don't want one. He has a big responsibility not to start one."
Mr Miliband, who advocated a "hard-headed engagement" with Russia,
discussed with the Ukrainian leaders how Ukraine could avoid falling into the
same trap as the Georgian government, which responded to Russian provocations.
It is understood that Britain has cautioned Ukraine against giving Moscow a
technical pretext for intervening in Crimea which has the potential to trigger a
Sebastopol is one key
Ukraine's main concerns focus on the presence of the Black Sea fleet which is
based in Sebastopol. This of course has an immediate resonance in everyone's
ears, for it was the site of the main battle in the Crimean War of 1854-56, the
last time Russia and the West clashed in a hot war!
The port is leased to Moscow until 2017. Yushchenko warned in an interview with
Reuters that the base had been leased at below market rates and that it was time
to think about raising the price. " (We need to) raise the question about
the lease payment, and new financial conditions because those old conditions
were set when there was no market for land deals ... and assets which the
Russian fleet uses were not considered as assets which must be paid for,"
Under a 1997 pact, Russia leases the Sebastopol base for an annual fee of $98
million. Mr Yushchenko has said in the past that he is opposed to renewing the
lease in 2017, and his latest comments are likely to incense Russia. Has he gone
NATO membership is another
Diplomats are aware that unlike public opinion in Georgia, Ukrainian opinion is
fiercely divided on whether it should join NATO. Opinion polls show that while
27 percent are in favour of NATO membership, about the same percentage is
opposed - although the number of those in favour has risen since Russia's armed
intervention in Georgia.
On the streets of Kiev in late August Ukrainians voiced fear and support for
Moscow in equal measure. Denys Bilko, a molecular biologist said: "Ukraine
is a buffer zone between Europe and Russia which has energy resources and could
pull the plug on Europe. NATO membership would be very provocative because of
the Russian fleet in Sebastopol. So maybe it's better not to join at the
Teacher Vera Kyrylova, took Moscow's side: "Russia did what was necessary
to protect its people. If they hadn't protected the Ossetians it would have been
The divide at the top of the Ukrainian leadership is yet another
The government itself is also divided - only a year away from presidential
elections. While Yushchenko has called for closer ties with the West, his former
ally in the Orange Revolution, Yulia Tymoshenko, who is now prime minister, has
kept a more discreet silence. The two allies are now rivals and she has been
accused by her detractors of taking a more nuanced approach in hopes of gaining
support in the presidential election from the Russian-speaking voters.
The third leading political figure in Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovich, the former
President, has criticised Yushchenko for his stance on Georgia, saying that
Ukraine must remain neutral and not be drawn into a dispute with Russia.
Membership of EU and NATO - the fragile absolute
The ultimate question is whether Ukraine defines itself as Western or Eastern.
It obviously is basically drawn to the West. But it needs to have an
accommodation with Russia, an increasingly Eastern affair.
Although both NATO and the EU have agreed to set Ukraine on the path to future
membership, no date has been set. NATO leaders are due to assess whether to
extend a formal timetable to Ukraine - known as the Membership Action Plan - at
their next summit in December. Diplomats say that Russia's actions in Georgia
now make it more likely that the 26-member alliance will agree to MAP for
On the EU, the political infighting between the president and his fiery prime
minister has held back progress. Also Ukraine needs to demonstrate results in
fighting corruption, reforming its constitution and overhauling its justice
system. Although the economy is doing well, with a 7 percent growth rate, there
are serious concerns about it overheating, and inflation is running at a record
in the Western world of more than 30 percent.
Yushchenko has reaffirmed his bid for NATO membership, which has infuriated
Putin, "Our policy has not changed," he said. "We aim to enter
the pan-European system of security because we are convinced that today there is
no other alternative way of protecting Ukraine's territorial integrity, her
The sting in the tail
Bush and Putin are great pals, in a way. They have the confraternity of very
At the last NATO summit in Bucharest, which agreed to extend the offer of
eventual membership to Ukraine, Putin reportedly told George Bush that Ukraine
could be dismantled by Russia if it joined Nato. "Do you understand,
George? Ukraine is not even a state,” he reportedly said.
This not good news for Yushchenko, a bit player by comparison. It all depends,
as so much else, on the outcome of the US presidential election in November.