Monday
September 22, 2014

kiev marks 23-year anniversary

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Ukraine’s independence: cutting the post-Soviet umbilical chord

Ukrainian ambassador Yurii Diudin.
By Michael Soltys / Herald Staff
In the eyes of Ukrainian Ambassador Yurii Diudin, it has taken the 23 years of the independence being marked today for his country to finally sever the post-Soviet umbilical chord but the process has been irreversibly consolidated by the events of the last 10 months. With perhaps even the contribution of Russian President Vladimir Putin whose counter-productive pressures could be accelerating the orientation towards the European Union. If most governments of the first 22 years were at least “complacent” towards Moscow, there could be no return now to the old days even if Ukrainians wanted.

These last 10 months have seen the country successively united by the ouster of brutal President Viktor Yanukovich and the ruthless Russian annexation of the Crimea.

Diudin started by dismissing the general picture of his country as divided into a Ukrainian nationalist West and a pro-Russian East as misleading and simplistic. The population has become so intermingled that neither surnames nor region were any guide as to whether a person’s first language is Ukrainian or Russian. Now the unity is even more complete — on the day Crimea was annexed, everybody in the Ukrainian nationalist hotbed of Lviv made a point of speaking Russian for a day and everybody in industrial, ethnically Russian Kharkiv Ukrainian.

There should never have been a problem with Crimea, Diudin insists — its Russian character has always been recognized with a special status, including its own Parliament. Moreover the trend in Ukraine today is to question the previous centralization of power in Kiev with regional reforms now on the way permitting taxes to be spent locally. Whether autonomy or language, everything is negotiable, except the territorial integrity of the republic. Meanwhile Crimea has not gained from falling into Russian hands because its star tourism industry has suffered from sanctions.

Economic reforms are also needed and that is why peace is vital because conflict prevents the economy from recovering. If Russia stops sending mercenaries and arms to eastern separatists, the war can stop. These separatists are really terrorists, Diudin insists, not the moderate version which also exists. Numbering perhaps 12-15,000 when there are two million people in the Donbas basin, their ranks include criminals and foreign hirelings (with many Chechens). They shoot from family flats in their strongholds of Donetsk and Lugansk. As a result the Ukrainian Army is well-received in rebel areas with even many of those voting for separation in the referendum fed up with the terrorism. Now Kiev is seeking a bilateral ceasefire and the release of hostages with the peace proposals including an exit corridor for all separatist combatants but when 28 Ukrainian troops died during last June’s 10-day ceasefire, it is not easy.

Then came the Malaysian Airlines plane blown out of the sky in mid-July with nearly 300 dead. The equipment to down an airliner 10,000 metres high could only come from Russia, Diudin insists. The disaster is being investigated by the Dutch.

Despite the ferocity of Moscow’s propaganda, Diudin is satisfied with the international support, including Argentina’s. Asked if the sanctions against Russia were creating economic opportunities which might attract Argentina, the envoy replied that he could only go on the basis of Argentine official policy, which is to support the sovereignty of Ukraine.

European link

Turning from the Crimea to the fall of Yanukovich, the last straw for the pro-Russian president was going against an agreement with the EU which had taken five years to work out but was ready for 2013. Apart from a historic identification with Europe (a shared history with Poland and Austria-Hungary in various centuries), the people were fed up with the corrupt regime. The brutal repression of a Maidan Square student demonstration on November 13 only led to more protests until Yanukovich gave orders to shoot to kill with over 100 lives lost — he fell from power within days. If the Orange Revolution of 2004-5 was ultimately disappointing, the people now see their power and there is no return to the post-Soviet era.

Ukraine cannot join the EU immediately but has moved much closer. There is now an association agreement although it will take a couple of years to obtain ratification from the EU’s 28 members and zero tariffs for 97percent of Ukrainian products to enter Europe. Parliamentary elections are due in October with the Communists and pro-Russian parties only having two or three percent in the opinion polls and nationalists likely to prevail — there will be a new government as from March.

Turning away from russia

All this is very hard for Russia to digest. Historically, Kiev (and not Moscow or St. Petersburg) is the cradle of “Rus” and all Slavic states while Putin has said that the end of the Soviet Union was the biggest geo-political tragedy in history. The EU is afraid that Russia will not stop with the Crimea — Latvia is 40 percent ethnically Russian, for example.

In addition, Diudin compares Moscow’s propaganda to Joseph Goebbel’s with lies and the invention of a parallel reality.

Asked why most statistical comparisons between Ukraine and Russia today are negative when the country was the industrial and agricultural jewel in the Soviet crown, Diudin replied that this was precisely why it was necessary to turn away from Russia and towards Europe. The economy was too oriented to Russia and the transition was difficult but had to be made to redevelop the country’s great potential.

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