2 – Is Ukraine European at Last?
BSSB.BE https://www.stratfor.com 19.06.2015
For the first two decades after its post-Soviet independence, Ukraine’s government constantly swung back and forth between supporting Russia and supporting the West. These swings were driven by cultural and political divisions in the country that were used and manipulated by foreign powers.
However, the 2014 Euromaidan uprising was unprecedented in its intensity and its polarizing effect on the country; the movement caused a political and psychological transformation within Ukraine. In effect, the Ukraine crisis ended the country’s initial post-Soviet phase of stable oscillation between Moscow and the West, casting it on an entirely new path, domestically and internationally.
Persevering Through Hard Times
When analyzing Ukraine’s challenges and its political future, it is important to consider that Ukrainians have an extensive capacity to endure economic hardship. For one thing, the major contractions in gross domestic product and increases in unemployment shown in official statistics belie the fact that much, if not most, of Ukraine’s economy is informal.
Many people perform odd jobs for cash or do not fully report their incomes for tax purposes, a practice many employers encourage. Furthermore, most people have access to a plot of land or a small farm, or know someone who does, and can secure food staples during particularly hard times.
The country is known for its rich black soil – in traveling through rural Ukraine from one major urban area to another, it has often seemed to me as if the entire country is one large farm dotted by a few major settlements. These factors add to people’s self-sufficiency and also mitigate the extent to which Russia can use economic pressures to force political change on the country.
There are other factors framing Ukraine’s new political and foreign policy trajectory.
- One is generational: The fall of the Soviet Union is now nearly a quarter century in the past, and a new post-Soviet generation is coming of age.
- Another is Russia’s own geopolitical decline: Moscow is less capable of projecting power abroad than it has been for a decade, as shown by its inability to foresee or prevent the Euromaidan uprising.
Russia is certainly still a relatively strong power in the former Soviet space, but its ability to shape and influence the entire region is deteriorating, just as the West is proving more capable and willing to challenge Moscow in Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.
Ukraine has entered an unprecedented period in its post-Soviet history.
The Ukrainian military is engaged in an active war with Russia, something most of its residents could not have foreseen even just two years ago. Now, the only point of consensus that I came across while visiting the country was that everyone thinks the war in the east will be a long one.
Ukrainian flags are draped throughout the streets of its major cities, billboards advertise the country’s war effort and the need for all citizens to pitch in, and anti-Putin T-shirts have replaced the Soviet memorabilia in tourist stands.
Though Ukraine remains diverse and divided, its political spectrum has changed.
Overtly pro-Russia parties have become marginalized, while radical organizations such as the Right Sector have been officially integrated into the country’s security apparatus. The appointment of former Georgian President and fervent pro-Western advocate Mikhail Saakashvili as governor of Odessa reveals just how polarized the country’s atmosphere has become. The appointment underscores that the political reintegration of separatist regions Donetsk and Luhansk is now a distant possibility – and the chances are even more remote for Crimea.
Ukraine’s fundamental shift away from the East should also be considered in the context of the broader standoff between Russia and the West, which was precipitated by the Ukrainian conflict and which has brought relations between the two sides to their lowest point since the Cold War.
Though there have been continuous negotiations to address the Ukrainian crisis from the start – several cease-fire agreements have been negotiated but never fully enforced – these talks have so far failed to produce a permanent resolution. In fact, EU and U.S. sanctions, Russian countersanctions and constant NATO and Russian military drills and buildups have only divided the two sides further.
This is not to say that some meaningful progress or broader understanding cannot be achieved eventually, but the days when Ukraine tried to balance between Russia and the West are effectively over – after nearly 20 years. After all, there is nothing like a war to harden attitudes and chart a new course in history.
*This is the second part of the provocative article about Ukraine crisis and it`s European way. More information You will find in the previous part of this article