Ukraine is said to be on the brink of civil war. Southern and Eastern Ukrainians look toward Russia, who recently wooed the Ukrainian Government with an offer of financial support. Western Ukrainians favour the EU, whose proposed association agreement with Ukraine was recently postponed, the trigger for the current unrest in the country.
As a kid I remember learning of Ukraine’s strategic importance as the “bread basket of Europe”. Nowadays, it seems to be equally important, as the conduit through which Russia’s gas is piped to Europe. It’s also the second largest of the former Soviet Republics, and the furthest west. No wonder the East and West are fighting over it.
Ukraine is very poor, and has fallen well behind fellow former Eastern Bloc states such as Poland. This is why Russia, with its substantive financial support package and supply of cheap gas to Ukraine, outmanoeuvred the EU with regard to the association agreement. Thanks to people power, the EU has a second chance, but what should its stance be?
A recent poll showed Ukraine to be equally divided between those looking East and West. It’s not like Poland during Communism, where I’m sure it’s fair to say the great bulk of the people wanted to throw off Russian influence. In such circumstances, we do have to be a little cautious before condemning the Russians as machiavellian in their intentions. No doubt they have their own strategic interests.
That said, they are hardly a model democratic regime, and the Government of Yanukovych seems cut from the same cloth. Its reaction to the recent protests was… to ban protests. Even more sinister, the Ukrainian rebel leader Bulatov, recently found left for dead outside the capital, who had literally been crucified, claims his abductors spoke with Russian accents.
I think the EU and the rest of the West need to play a more canny game, taking Ukraine much more seriously, and upping the ante – but recognising the delicate ethnic balance in the country, and Russia’s inevitable interest. They need to do more to allow the Ukrainians themselves to take the right decision.
It is a worrying state of affairs in Ukraine at present, where there has already been loss of life. Both sides in and outside the country need to do their utmost not to allow things to deteriorate. But in the end, no evil regime – if that’s what we think of Yanukovych’s – endures. The will of the people will out, and it’s all about whether the road is a velvet or rocky one. Rest assured: Ukraine will come right.