December 2, 2013

My latest piece for Telegraph Blogs looks in (very) broad terms at Ukraine:

In 1994 the EU Ambassadors had a meeting in Moscow at which they opined on the then reforms under President Yeltsin. The Belgian Ambassador grumbled that Russia was just too big, too communist and too “Asian” to change its ways and adopt modern pluralism: “Russia will always be on the edge of Europe”. The wily German ambassador replied that this was the wrong way to look at it: “Europe will always be on the edge of Russia”.

They were both right. And once again Ukraine finds itself unhappily divided on that tense civilisational borderline.

Ukraine is part of the vast geographic flatness that stretches from the North Sea over to the Urals. For centuries Ukrainian-speakers have found themselves squeezed between Russian power to the East, and Polish or German power to the West. Ukraine had no independent existence as a state until the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991. So whereas in Poland a national memory of independence between the World Wars helped drive resistance to Soviet communism, until 1991 no one in Ukraine had experienced anything other than rule from Moscow. [Note: as a commenter at Tel Blogs fairly points out, this last claim is not 100% true]

When the USSR dissolved, Ukraine struggled to get moving as a new state. The fact that up to 30 per cent of Ukrainians spoke Russian gave Moscow considerable weight in Ukrainian politics. Many of the smartest Ukrainians stayed in Moscow and took on Russian citizenship. At one negotiation in the early 1990s between Russia and Ukraine over the decaying Black Sea Fleet, there were more Ukrainian-speakers on the Russian side of the table than on Ukraine’s.

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