Republican Reference - Area (sq.km) 603,550 - Population 45,134,707 - Capital Kiev - Currency Hryvnya (UAH) - President Viktor Yanukovych - Principal ethnic groups Ukrainians 72.7%, Russians 22.1%, Jews 0.9%.

ukraine

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Key Economic Data 
 
  2012 2009 2008 Ranking(2012)
GDP
Millions of US $ 176,309 180,354 180,354 52
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 3,500 3,210 3,210 136
Ranking is given out of 213 nations - (data from the World Bank)

  

Background:
Ukraine was the center of the first Slavic state, Kievan Rus, which during the 10th and 11th centuries was the largest and most powerful state in Europe. Weakened by internecine quarrels and Mongol invasions, Kievan Rus was incorporated into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and eventually into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The cultural and religious legacy of Kievan Rus laid the foundation for Ukrainian nationalism through subsequent centuries. A new Ukrainian state, the Cossack Hetmanate, was established during the mid-17th century after an uprising against the Poles. Despite continuous Muscovite pressure, the Hetmanate managed to remain autonomous for well over 100 years. During the latter part of the 18th century, most Ukrainian ethnographic territory was absorbed by the Russian Empire. Following the collapse of czarist Russia in 1917, Ukraine was able to bring about a short-lived period of independence (1917-1920), but was reconquered and forced to endure a brutal Soviet rule that engineered two artificial famines (1921-22 and 1932-33) in which over 8 million died. In World War II, German and Soviet armies were responsible for some 7 to 8 million more deaths. Although independence was achieved in 1991 with the dissolution of the USSR, true freedom remains elusive, as the legacy of state control has been difficult to throw off. Where state control has dissipated, endemic corruption has filled much of the resulting vacuum, stalling efforts at economic reform, privatization, and civil liberties.  The so called 'Orange revolution' of late 2004 seems to offer the prospect of Ukrainian government being less subservient to Russia and suggests some reduction in the power and influence of regional Oligarchs, and perhaps a reduction in corruption.

UPDATE - MARCH 2014

Realpolitik and The Ukraine
The Ukraine crisis is an ugly reminder of how powerful nationalism remains in the modern world.

Obviously there will be positions taken, gestures made, and calls for action, but after all that, it is in everybody’s interests that it be resolved soon and peacefully. There is no solution that will appeal to all parties but common sense indicates that perhaps the most equitable way forward is to listen, by referendum, to what the peoples in the disputed areas want.

Ukraine is a strange construct. Kiev is, after all, where Russian history began!

In the 1991 ‘overnight’ dissolution of the USSR, Ukraine was pronounced ‘independent’ along with the other fourteen ‘All Union SSRs,’ just one of which, the biggest of course, was the Russian Federation (of 89 republics).

The Ukrainian internal frontiers were just those that had suited at the time, the CCCP administrators of the Soviet Union. They paid little heed to the matter of ethnicity which is now rearing its head, or anything else, other than administrative convenience. Crimea for example had for seven centuries been largely peopled by the descendants of the Mongol invaders of the 13th century, who were removed by Stalin in WWII and sent en masse to central Asia as a security threat, given German military advances. Over the many years since then, although widely dispersed across the former USSR they have been returning, even now trickling back.

Certain facts just won’t go away. Russia does have ‘a dog in this fight’ not only because of the millennium long shared history, it’s long existing frontier with Ukraine, and a large Russian civilian presence within Ukraine. There is a curious situation in the Crimea where its balmy Black Sea location has made it a favoured Florida-like retirement area, for senior Russian military, politicians and civil servants, over many years past, going back to the Tsars. The ethnic makeup there includes many Russians, probably a majority, and almost certainly a referendum would confirm a majority for inclusion in the Russian Federation. Also the traditional centre of Russia’s Black Sea fleet (just as Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay is leased to the UN navy, so similarly are Russia's important naval facilities there in Crimea, long-leased from the government of Ukraine).

Hence the existing Russian military presence in Crimea, and the not unreasonable claim that they are entitled to protect their national interests.

In our view it is right that the west should protest the Russian action, particularly if it deteriorates into military threats, but to refer to it as some have done (presumably US Republicans), in terms of this being ‘Obama’s biggest test’ is the kind of nonsense talked by those who think there is a military solution to all problems, and would like to see the US and Russia muscling-up to each other.

Although the US as notional ‘leader of the west,’ is bound to be involved, it is much more of a European problem and it is resolvable if the leap can be made of redrawing Ukraine’s untidy frontiers.

It also should be remembered that only two short weeks ago during the protest and riots in Kiev, foreign ministers from Germany, Poland and Russia with the UN, worked on and agreed a deal that there would be elections by the end of this year and a coalition be formed to govern Ukraine until then.

That was hailed as a satisfactory outcome but has been quickly forgotten in the west, given the ‘force majeure,’ ('coup' as Putin describes it), obviously illegal, of the immediate occupation of the President’s office – and his flight, together with the only remaining legal authority, the national parliament taking a number of measures to control the situation, as it happens in favour of the westwards-leaning power elements in the country.

At the same time, the eastern, Russia-leaning part of Ukraine was rioting against the actions of the Kiev mob in driving out the elected president, one of their own. (In reality of course that 'mob' action was co-ordinated by the proponents of the EU).

With the elected President driven from power, what was to be the most appropriate outcome of the earlier weeks of struggle in the streets of Kiev and in the European- inclined western Ukrainian cities? This resolved itself, temporarily at least, in a new European-leaning government in Kiev legitimised (sort of) by the Ukrainian parliament . But this outcome is virulently opposed in the ‘Russian Federation-inclined’ Eastern provinces and cities of Donetsk, Kviv, etc .

In our view Eastern Ukraine could be a more intractable problem than that of the Crimea, if the just and appropriate decision was to follow a referendum of what the peoples of the disputed territories wish for themselves. 'More intractable', because of where exactly between East and West Ukraine, would the boundary lie? Careful negotiations would be necessary.

In terms of realpolitik, the autonomous region of Crimea is already gone. It should be tested by a referendum impartially supervised, (and surely referenda have to be the best tools to resolve such a difficult situation). In the eastern provinces and cities nothing would be gained (it would be storing-up trouble for the future), by forcing Russian Ukrainians in the East to submit to a western-leaning Kiev, just as it would for those in the west who don’t want to be reincorporated into Putin’s Russia.

In the west they have already asserted their rights in that matter by street protests and sadly, deaths. So it is hardly surprising that those in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea have been doing the same, even if in the East less well publicised in the world media, which has homed in on Crimea.

What is important is not to go the route of ‘one size fits all’. The frontiers, the state entity of Ukraine itself is not sustainable in its present post-Soviet format.

Politics in Ukraine is additionally complicated by the depth of corruption in both the east and west- leaning persuasions, with oligarchs on both sides being critically important political players. This has been the case since Ukraine became independent of the Soviet Union in 1991 as it was, even before, within the USSR. In the context of today, it seems clear that there was a preponderance of that influential group who were frustrated by the failure to make a deal with the EU just as many Ukrainian citizens were satisfied that their then president had been ‘bought’ by Moscow on behalf of Putin’s revived Russian Empire and its ‘Eurasian Economic Union’. That they were being steamrollered without their permission, into a permanent (and worse-off) Russian dominated sphere of control.

When all the outrage real and otherwise, is done, a pragmatic solution is needed. What could be more democratic in such a case, than carefully (by regions) to hold targeted referenda to let the people decide their own future along the lines suggested above, by the national groups.
 

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