Part of the series looking at Europe 20 years after the Soviet collapse, the current situation in Ukraine is put under the microscope.
Arguably, the country that has been most affected by the Soviet collapse is Ukraine. Now it sits between East and West, with divided loyalties. Despite overt attempts to align itself with the EU and European countries, Russia has other plans, and Ukraine still has a paranoid and totalitarian ethos in its government.
Just last week the government arrested opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko on corruption charges, in what the EU claims is a politically motivated charge. The EU was so concerned Commission President Jose Barosso cancelled talks with the current Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. European Council President Herman Van Rompuy even stated ‘Ukraine has much to learn’, and given the relative youth of the country, he may be right. So, if the young country is willing to adapt, what will it need to do to become fully part of Europe?
The main thing is political freedoms. The arrest of Tymoshenko was ridiculous, and whatever political gains it has bought Yanukovych, these have been outweighed by the international damage to Ukraine’s reputation as a reforming state. It needs huge judicial reforms as Ukraine comes very low in transparency international’s European rankings for judicial independence. To fully mark it’s separation from Moscow, Ukraine was told by Baroness Ashton to ‘’adopt European values’’ and this includes a full separation of the political and judicial systems (though I would love to hear Baroness Ashton’s remarks on the Italian and Romanian justice systems!). This Soviet era totalitarianism is common in Ukraine-dissent has been criminalised, with more and more activists, writers and business/political figures ending up in jail on corruption and other charges. Even though civic rights, enterprise and media ownership have improved, the state still cracks down on opposition and the recent arrest proves this.
It is worth mentioning Ukraine wants to be part of the EU. It has opened up its markets to the neighbouring Baltic states and Poland, which have the benefits that come with EU membership. It is an active member of NATO and has contributed to various NATO activities and has a variety of security and intelligence treaties with European states. This is admirable, and it is not more incorrect to envisage Ukrainian MEPs than Polish or Bulgarian ones ten years ago. But Ukraine is suffering, and as Putin gains more of a hold over Russia, it will not let go of their controleasily. However, popular attitudes are moving east anyway as the Eurozone crisis looms over Ukraine.
Russian involvement in Ukraine’s internal markets and politics has been massive. Most obviously is the issue of gas, which is a huge issue In Ukrainian politics.. Much of Europe is reliant on natural gas that flows in pipes across Ukraine and into the EU, but it mostly originates from Russia and represents a large percentage of Ukraine’s economy. However, despite this reliance and mutual dependency, there have been widely publicised disputes between the two former Soviet states. The cost to Gazprom (the primary Russian gas company) of transporting gas through Ukraine has risen 70% in the last few years. In recent history, agents of the Russian state (the MVS) and former Soviet agents in Ukraine have been linked with assisting the Orange Revolution to take off and spread pro-Russian sentiment. Russia has also been blamed for the attempted poisoning of former president Viktor Yuschenko.
The gas dispute comes up more and more and is a direct result of the supposedly private gas supplies were stopped several times in 2008 and 2009m, as gas companies in Russia played a political role. The overall result of these disputes was an economic, military and political victory for Russia in 2010. The Ukrainians agreed a long term fixed price deal, but ceded control of a vital Black Sea naval base for 25 years. In fact, when being debated in the Ukrainian parliament; eggs were thrown by the speaker in outrage at this concession.
Overall, despite its efforts, Ukraine has much to do to lose its Soviet past behind. The legacy of the Soviet Union is at the centre of Ukrainian politics and it needs to decide what attention to pay to this to develop in to the future.