Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Difficulty of Being Ukraine

This article was written by Mark Medish, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment, served as senior director for Russian, Ukrainian and Eurasian Affairs on the National Security Council under President Clinton and published in New York Times on December 22, 2009. Here are some cuitations taken from this article that currently available at

"......The country of 46 million has been one of the hardest hit by the global financial meltdown, suffering a sharp currency devaluation and a projected 14 percent drop in G.D.P. this year.
President Viktor Yushchenko, once the Orange hero, is now polling in low single digits. Much like Lech Walensa in Poland a generation ago, the out-of-touch Mr. Yushchenko has unceremoniously morphed from national icon of change into political footnote.
The January ballot is likely to lead to a run-off between Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a feisty populist, and Viktor Yanukovich, a drab but steady former prime minister and Yushchenko rival, whose Party of Regions boasts the strongest organization.
Both are pragmatic leaders. But whichever wins will face enormous challenges, foremost restarting the anti-crisis program with the I.M.F., which suspended its $16 billion lending facility last month due to the bitter political impasse between Mr. Yushchenko and Ms. Tymoshenko.
The winner will also need to remember that to lead Ukraine is to balance East and West. This imperative reflects the pressures of both external geopolitics and internal demographics.
Russia and the United States tend to view Ukraine as a key battleground in a cosmic proxy war between East and West. Both have a bad habit of trying to pick winners in Ukrainian politics. These interventions, naïve in their own ways, tend to backfire, often at Ukraine’s expense.
Russian meddling fueled the Orange backlash against the mediocre Leonid Kuchma and his cronies and ended in a series of crippling winter gas cut-offs and sabre-rattling over Crimea.
Meantime, the U.S. expected far more from Mr. Yushchenko than he could deliver, deepening his isolation at home. The curse of U.S. foreign policy idealism, whether neoconservative or liberal, is to make the best the enemy of the good.
By putting more emphasis on the symbolism of a failed NATO membership bid than the unglamorous work of energy reform, the U.S. did no favor for Ukraine’s security. It should be clear that an independent Ukraine must not consume Russian-sourced energy as though it were still part of the Soviet Union.
By contrast, Russia’s designs on Ukraine are hardly idealistic. At the NATO summit last year, Vladimir Putin reportedly remarked to former president George W. Bush, “You understand, George, that Ukraine isn’t even a country. What is Ukraine? Part of its territory is Eastern Europe, and part of it, a significant part, was given by us.”
Political bullies can be clever at implanting a grain of truth in their predatory barbs. Like other European nations, Ukraine’s ethnicity is mixed and its borders were not God-given. These things emerged through collisions of tribes, ethnic intermingling and considerable bloodshed over centuries.
Western Ukraine — Galicia and Bukovina — were Hapsburg lands and never part of the czarist empire. The Crimean peninsula was transferred from the Russian Republic to Soviet Ukraine by Nikita Khrushchev in 1954, when both were part of the Soviet Union.
Ukraine faces deep identity issues. Ethnic Russians are roughly 20 percent of the population, and many more Ukrainians speak Russian. The languages are close, like High German and Bavarian or Danish and Swedish.
Europe prides itself on what Freud called “the narcissism of small differences.” However, Ukrainian nationalists would be wise not to overplay their hand, as Mr. Yushchenko often has done on sensitive language and historical issues.
In the 21st century, Ukraine needs to pursue its own path as a pluralist democracy and emerging market, balancing Western integration with a respect for its older cultural roots and affinities. Despite the present economic crisis and wide dissatisfaction with the political elite, Ukraine has a bright future. It has fertile land, solid industry and well-endowed human capital....."