Despite a long history of efforts by Russia to interfere in the affairs of Ukraine, the momentum for independent Ukrainian statehood is strong enough to withstand any external efforts at destabilization or fragmentation.
A woman takes part in a demonstration on Independence Square marking the tragic events of February 20, 2014 in Kiev. Photo: RIA Novosti
In 2014, an independent Ukraine faced the most serious challenges and threats to its own statehood, and these only intensified after the annexation of Crimea. An attempt to move beyond Ukraine’s current development paradigm and independently establish closer links with the rest of the world, especially with Europe, led to a part of its territory being annexed and the beginning of an armed conflict, externally initiated, in the eastern part of the country.
This, despite that fact that Ukraine had left the twentieth century behind relatively successfully and had peacefully entered the twenty-first. Unlike in other countries (Azerbaijan, Armenia, Moldova, Georgia) that emerged from the ruins of the Soviet Union, not a single conflict occurred on Ukrainian territory, not even on low-intensity ethnic or religious grounds.
Despite the controversy over Crimea [in 1954, the Supreme Council of the Soviet Union gave Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, which caused a mixed reaction in the Russian political elite in the years after the collapse of the Soviet Union - editor's note], almost all misunderstandings were resolved peacefully. This was made possible thanks to the hard and dedicated work of Kiev officials in the mid-1990s, who with minimal interference from the Kremlin, continued working on their own internal political problems.
Confrontations were avoided due to the ability of the leaders to negotiate, on the one hand, and the absence of irreconcilable differences among the people living in Ukraine, on the other – this despite the multi-ethnic and poly-confessional population. And since serious antagonistic contradictions between East and West Ukrainian governing circles did not come to the surface during the years of independence, the various artificial labels introduced by imperial and communist ideologies that divided Ukraine’s population into different categories and the country itself into two parts were gradually erased from the collective memory, and eventually disappeared from society.
For a very different take on this issue, read "Ukraine is divided in two, with or without Russia"
From time to time, the bursts of activity that sometimes appeared around the status of the Russian language or separate territories, relations with NATO, or the European Union, in general, were of little interest to society as a whole, remaining issues only for a few marginal Ukrainian politicians.
Moreover, over time, among Ukrainian politicians, with the influence of public opinion, certain tacit rules started forming. According to these, mentioning some controversial topics (the status of the Russian language, dividing the country into “West” and “East”, etc.) in a certain context was publicly rebuked and seen as a sort of mauvais ton.
Thus, the Ukrainian state, albeit slowly, nevertheless started to get rid of its historical illnesses and phobias, developing immunity to them, in order to exist and continue developing in the new globalizing world. And thus, gradually, modern identification characteristics of Ukrainian civil society started forming.
This formation is, of course, not a simple process. For various reasons, both internal and external – it is a difficult and, to some extent, painful process. And sometimes it is difficult to determine which is more difficult, to homogenize and unify society, or resist external threats and challenges.
However, this became clear only recently. Before that, Ukraine was developing, thinking that in the world it had no ill-wishers, and even less so enemies. This confidence was based on the constitutional non-alignment and the multi-vector principle, which this country followed during its entire history as an independent state.
In addition, there was a belief in the inviolability of international law and the world order established after World War II, embodied in the mechanisms and institutions of the United Nations, among the founders of which was Ukraine.
It was not until the second half of the 2000s that things changed. Or more precisely, until 2008, when the Russian president at that time, at a NATO summit in Bucharest, implied to his American counterpart that Ukraine is not even a state. Since that time, relations between the two states began to develop in a descending order – going from bad to worse.
Russia-Ukraine relations after collapse of the Soviet Union
Although even before this, Russian-Ukrainian inter-government relations were not exactly rosy. Pressure on Ukraine coming from Russia was constant after the collapse of the Soviet Union. This ranged from threatening political rhetoric against the young Ukrainian state at the dawn of its independence, all the way to the actual annexation of Crimea.
For more information on the topic, see "Making sense of Putin's Crimea confession"
In particular, in 1992, the Supreme Council of the Russian Federation recognized as illegal the transfer of Crimea to Ukraine. In 1993, this same Supreme Council made a decision on giving Sevastopol the status of a Russian city. In 2003, the Russian side carried out provocative actions against the Ukrainian Tuzla Spit in the Sea of Azov [Russia build a dam towards Tuzla Island in the Kerch Strait, in order to put pressure on Kiev to resolve the territorial status of this strait and the Sea of Azov – editor’s note]. All this was done unilaterally, without any discussion with the Ukrainian side, or even notice given about these measures.
This was preceded in other years with such unfriendly acts as the division by Russia, at its discretion, of the assets of the former Soviet Union, poorly motivated delays on issues associated with basing of the Russian naval fleet in Ukrainian Crimea, the unwillingness to deal with the delimitation and demarcation of the Ukrainian-Russian border, unfair competition in foreign trade, and so forth.
However, if the earlier anti-Ukrainian demarches were of fragmentary situational nature, after 2008, they took on the form of a constantly increasing, at first unfriendly, but later hostile campaign. Within Russian society, with instigation coming from the Kremlin, a hatred for Ukraine and everything Ukrainian began to be cultivated, unlike Ukraine, which had tried to avoid spreading anti-Russian sentiments and demonizing Russia. Officially, Kiev recognized Russia as the country-aggressor only on Jan. 27, 2015, one year after the tragic events in the Ukrainian capital.
Another political step that led to more tension in Russia-Ukraine relations was a statement made by the Russian president in 2010, that Russia would have been able to win the Second World War even without Ukraine. Thus, we can say that official Moscow not only excluded the Ukrainian state from the list of victors, but also, in fact, placed it in the camp of the losing side. After that, in Russian anti-Ukrainian political slang we increasingly started to hear terms like “nationalists,” “fascists,” and during the past year – the “Kiev Junta.”
Dividing Ukraine into two parts
In Ukraine itself, foreign money began to create a variety of political and social organizations, the main purpose of which was to split Ukrainian society and destabilize the situation in the country. Since that time, no mass event was complete without the participation of specially trained and groups of young people “coached” on how to conduct a riot.
The aggravation of the situation intensified with the approach of the Vilnius Summit in November 2013, at which the participants planned to sign an Association Agreement between the European Union and Ukraine. Then, after the Ukrainian side refused to sign the document already agreed upon, the situation in the country started to rapidly deteriorate.
Until the fall of 2013, in Ukrainian society there was a certain consensus about the country’s rapprochement with the EU (i.e. serious opposition to the European integration process was not noted in any region of the country), yet due to external interference and wrong moves made by government leaders, rifts in society developed and started increasing.
The situation dramatically changed one year ago, after ratification by the State Duma of the Russian Federation of the so-called "Agreement on the Unification of Crimea with Russia" and the beginning of the Novorossiya (“New Russia”) project. If during Euromaidan a rift appeared in society, then in the face of overt foreign aggression, showing signs of consolidating in ever-increasing intensity began appearing.
Read another opinion "Why the 'Crimean scenario' never happened in eastern Ukraine"
However, even in this, the most difficult period, no one has called for the elimination of Ukraine as an independent state. At issue is, first of all, the civilizational choice – to stay together with modern Russia, which actually means to be in the role of executor of her will, or to try to break the vicious circle and to diversify foreign relations by expanding the range of foreign partners.
Practice shows that Ukraine, as a whole, has chosen the second option. Ukrainian civil society is actively seeking new forms of cooperation with its state authorities. The government, for its part, is going through a painful period of transformation, which now is under the control of society.
And those protests, which from time to time are observed in the regions, are aimed primarily against unscrupulous officials, and not against the Ukrainian state. Because the citizens of Ukraine perfectly understand the difference between the state and the government.
In just one year, Ukrainian civil society has made a huge leap forward in its development. It has left its childhood behind. It has felt its responsibility for the country and for the government, which it elected or appointed. And now, no matter how many protests occur in the country, all are directed to the preservation and strengthening of Ukrainian statehood.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.