If you want to understand Ukraine properly, an understanding of the Kievan Rus is necessary. Russia as an entity stems from the Kieven Rus which was an empire which stretched from the Black Sea and further to the Arctic. Kiev was a civilized city when Moscow was a backwater and St. Petersburg was a bog. Kiev is the birthplace of the modern Russian state. It is also the birthplace of the Orthodox Church and the three languages Russian, Ukrainian and Byelorussian. If you read only the history of the Lavra Percherska itself, you get an idea of why there is a strange relationship between Russians and Ukrainians. Russians have, believe it or not, an inferiority complex vis a vis Ukraine because of the whole “culture” thing stemming from the Kievan Rus.
Last Saturday, a friend was at home with her parents in Kharkov and she was shocked when 30 coachloads of Russian agitators were bussed into Kharkov from Belgorod in the neighbouring Russian Krasnodar province. They surrounded the Lenin statue in Kharkov’s Ploshody Svoboda (Freedom Square) and were drinking beer and vodka all day. Eventually they became very aggressive and hurled abuse and then bottles and bricks and so on at passing Ukrainians, men, women and children.
All Ukrainians in Kharkov speak Russian. ALL of them. And all of them are Ukrainian who do NOT want Russian in their country wearing uniforms. The Kremlin lie that these Russian speakers are in fear of their lives is bullshit. As my friend said to me, “you speak English but you certainly don’t feel English, do you?” And that is the point. Russian is spoken in a great many ex-Soviet republics by non-Russians. Sure, there are Russians in Ukraine, particularly in the east, but they are certainly not under threat from anyone. Even the Ukrainian nationalists in the west of Ukraine realize that many of their fellow Ukrainians are married to Russians in the east. The vast and overwhelming majority in mainland Ukraine (ex-Crimea) want to maintain Ukraine as a unitary state. This is true even in Donetsk. Even Rinat Atmekhov wants the Russians out and he used to “own” Yanukovich.
So it is against such a backdrop that Ukraine should be assessed in my opinion. The first thing the new government elected on May 25th should do is to veer away from any language legislation which downgrades Russian in any way. In fact, it should go the great lengths to stress all Ukrainians have equal rights and enshrine this inclusiveness in the constitution. The new foreign minister could help by visiting Russia first after his appointment and mending fences with Putin, Mededev, Lavrov etc. and assuring them that at this point in time, Ukraine will not join EU but will not be forced into any other “customs union” either. He/she must stress that unique nature of the bond with Russia and a willingness to strengthen that bond informally.
Ukraine must also sign an association agreement with the EU which gives it the same status as Switzerland and Norway, if it can. The foreign policy balancing act must be brought into a determination to pursue independence in its decision-making as a sovereign state.
Reforms are badly needed and reform of the police, the legal system and corruption laws are needed immediately. If it can hit the ground running in the summer, Ukraine could have a bright future. We are a long way away form the summer right now, though.
Slim Buddha 7th March 2014
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