Ukraine is an independent country – it has a long history with cultural and ethnic
traditions but, as with most of the Central European region, its shape,
location and status have changed over the centuries. Ukraine was a country within the USSR and
declared independence in 1992.
Importantly, in the Budapest Memorandum of 1994 Ukraine agreed to
voluntarily give up the 3rd largest nuclear weapons stock in the
world in return for a confirmation of its independence and territorial
sovereignty which was confirmed and signed by Presidents Boris Yeltsin of
Russia, Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine, Bill Clinton of the USA and Prime Minister
John Major of the UK.
As with most countries emerging from the Soviet Union it was corrupt and inefficient. Some commentators have said “Why should the West bother about Ukraine as it is corrupt?” It is exactly the same argument as ‘why should we bother about some African countries as they are poor and full of disease’. It is in the interest of the Free World to promote democracy, freedom and improve living conditions. A prime example was the successful absorption of the new Member States into the EU ten years ago. Most of them were corrupt and inefficient but they have given the EU a new lease of life, through cheaper labour, a young and dynamic workforce and a very large and expanding market. The EU institutions, rules and transparency have helped these countries overcome corruption and have greatly assisted their economic development. History already judges this as a great success and the EU was quick (by its standards) in achieving this.
Ukraine was a completely peaceful country and there was no serious lobby to re-join Russia in any of the regions. I worked in Crimea in 2007-8 and this was confirmed there although there were about 200,000 Russians living there – mainly around the Sevastopol Russian naval base in Crimea. Even in 2007 the Russians were handing out Russian passports to any Ukrainians who wanted them. Many people were unhappy due to low wages, corruption and poor institutions like corrupt courts and police. A typical example would be an innocent driver would be hit by a drunk driver who then bribed the police and the courts, and the innocent victim was then found to be responsible for the accident. I knew two people who had that happen to them – once in Poland and this year in Ukraine.
Russia has one word for ‘near abroad’ and another for ‘abroad’. This is a fundamental distinction and ‘near abroad’ means Russia’s sphere of influence = control. Russia has never accepted (internally) that Ukraine could be a really independent country. Condoleezza Rice wrote in March this year about being with Putin in 2004. Vladimir Putin and I were standing in his office at the presidential dacha in late 2004 when Yanukovych suddenly appeared from a back room.
“Meet Viktor Yanukovych, who is running for the presidency of Ukraine.” Putin wanted me to get the point. He’s my man, Ukraine is ours — and don’t forget it.