Russia-Ukraine: There Are no Easy Ways yet...

14:00 06.01.2011 • Armen Oganesyan , Editor-in-Chief, International Affairs



OH WELL, this feels great. You come to the Crimea and hear at the passport checkpoint in the Simferopol airport: "With your passport you do not need an immigration card." A TV picture of Medvedev and Yanukovich criticizing the borderline idiocy comes to mind followed by a puzzled question: "Why did they distribute the cards on board in the first place rather than telling us the great news?"

Well, let it be. The ice is breaking after all, to borrow a quote from a classic while the "jurors" of the Russian-Ukrainian relations having safely landed in the Crimea began their preparations for a conference organized by the International Affairs journal with the support of the Foreign Ministry of Russia.

The conference level was high and the range of problems to be discussed wide and varied. The first session was invited to discuss the priority and resources of the new Russia-Ukraine relationships; the second was expected to put the new policy into the context of the Russia-Ukraine-EU triangle; the third was confronted with the eternal question: Russia-Ukraine: a dialogue of cultures or a common cultural expanse?

Russia and Ukraine: Views and Opinions

TO SEND THE BALL rolling, the International Affairs journal published an article by Mikhail Pogrebinsky, Director of the Kiev Center of Political Studies and Conflictology, and Anton Fin'ko, an expert of the same Center, entitled "On the Future of the Moscow-Kiev Relationship" to remind the conference participants of the foreign policy doctrine of the previous administration and make it absolutely clear what legacy the new leaders of Ukraine had discarded.The authors have written that the foreign political precepts of the Orange regime were influenced by the fact that Ukraine's Central and South European neighbors were very rapidly accepted as EU members.

"The Orange leaders were buoyed by the idea that Ukraine also had a chance to jump on the last wagon of European integration, whereby joining NATO, which was supposed to confirm the country's new 'civiliza-tional choice,' was thought to be the shortest route to membership in the EU."

The Ukrainian leaders learned from Western analysts to regard Russia as a "giant with feet of clay" no longer capable of playing a decisive role in the region or deterring the changes going on in the CIS countries. "They believed that the multivectoral policy of the first half of the 1990s [Leonid Kuchma's choice. -A.O.]) had objectively exhausted its potential."

They expected that the year 2005 would open the third stage in Ukraine's foreign policy, which was to last for no less than ten years and end in Ukraine joining NATO and then the EU. "Whereby it was believed that in order to convince the EU and NATO to accept certain post-Soviet countries as their members, Ukraine must make every effort to bring about real changes in the situation in the CIS zone."

In other words, to pave the road to the EU and NATO the Orange should have scored "orange" victories in the CIS. "Thus, the Ukrainian state, along with Georgia, was to play the role of 'top students' in the fight to neutralize Russia's influence in the post-Soviet expanse," wrote the authors.

The never-won victories supplied the background for the coming to power of Viktor Yanukovich and his new foreign policy concepts.

".. .Ukraine can escape Russian control only by being pulled into the orbit of another power," writes prominent French historian Emmanuel Todd. "The force of America is too far away and too immaterial to serve a counterweight to Russia. Europe is a real economic force... but it is not a military or political force. But if Europe wants to acquire these latter dimensions, it is not in its interests to grasp at Ukraine because it will need Russia as a counterbalance to emancipate itself from American control" and, let me say, from the Asian challenge as well.

Indeed, seen from Europe and the United States, for that matter, Ukraine, outside the context of its relations with Russia, does not look as a political goal on its own right.

For Russia and Ukraine, on the other hand, their relations are much more than politics: closely related to the question of East Slavic civilization and self-identity they disprove Brzezinski's narrow pragmatic: "Without Ukraine Russia ceases to be an empire." Indeed, the questions of their self-identities are closely related and cannot be resolved separately.

The West, the United States in the first place, is fully aware of the fact that the issue of Russian-Ukrainian relations is much broader than the sphere of politics and that as the president of Ukraine Yush-chenko had first brought down on his country the entire set of alienation technologies ranging from economics to the spiritual sphere and then had to beat retreat with very modest results. The conference participants agreed that the United States bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq had needed a respite; they were less inclined to associate the fallback with the subjective factor of Obama.

Still, the legacy of Kravchuk-Kuchma-Yushchenko Viktor Yanukovich inherited as the president of Ukraine is still very much alive and affects, to an extent, Kiev's politics. Our Ukrainian colleagues spared no effort to quench our euphoric expectations; they described the new course of President Yanukovich's as "neo-pragmatic," rooted in the "national-economic egoism" doctrine and described as: "The Party of Regions cannot be classified either as a pro-Russian, or, vice versa, as an anti-Russian force. Nor is it a pro-Western or anti-Western party. Its political role is to represent the interests of Ukraine's big national capital that was formed as a result of a far from transparent major privatization in the 1990s." Russian investment projects will be carefully filtered and there is little hope that other foreign projects will be dumped for their sake.

"Pragmatism," however, is full of traps; there are many of them in the sphere of Russian-Ukrainian relations for the simple reason that they compete on the same world markets. This is true, first and foremost, of ferrous metallurgy, chemical industry, machine-building, and weapons production. "To avoid competition and dumping and build up their joint profits," suggested one of the conference participants, "the two countries should pool forces to increase their share on the world markets and set up joint consortiums." To move in this direction, the two countries should overcome their national economic egoisms; the first, albeit timid, steps have been made.

The Kievites deemed it necessary to point out that in some cases Russian businessmen preferred takeovers to mutually advantageous mergers of comparable companies.

This can be hardly explained by the laws of capitalism since the task is to get higher profits through combined competitiveness. The Russian pragmatists will predictably grumble: "We've heard enough about the friendship of peoples!" Our homespun economic egoism, which rarely sees beyond its nose, plays into the hands of those political technologists in the West who want nothing more than to bury this friendship. Both the Ukrainian and Russian delegations at the conference agreed that this issue required political will.

Sergei Markov, a heated defender of the idea of the Customs Union, argued: "Today, economics cannot develop outside customs unions. In 2008, the Nobel Prize in economics went to an economist who proved mathematically that high-tech production needed a market of about 300-350 mln consumers." The State Duma deputy offered even more arguments: "The question is: Which of the customs unions on planet Earth is open to Ukraine? Is it North American NAFTA or South American MERCOSUR? The answer is No. The European Union, likewise, showed no enthusiasm. Nobody expects an East European country in the European Union."

Late in the 1990s, a slogan "Let's join Europe together!" was put on the agenda and hailed, according to our Ukrainian colleagues, by part of the elites on both sides of the border... to be discredited some time later by clumsy maneuvering. Should we dismiss it as obsolete? There is no answer: the Ukrainian side was not enthusiastic because Russia was allegedly talking to Brussels on behalf of the two states without taking Kiev into account. This naturally caused irritation.

The conference discussed the issues related to education and the social sphere. Today, neither country accepts school-leaving certificates of one another; more than that, they do not accept diplomas of higher education and the academic degrees of candidates and doctors. Vladimir Kazarin, First Deputy of the Permanent Representative of the President of Ukraine in the Crimea, a well-known philologist and doctor of science, said with a great deal of bitterness: "Turkey accepts our education certificates; our diplomas of higher education can get you jobs at higher educational establishments. There are quite a few of Russian and Ukrainian lecturers at Turkish universities yet here at home we refuse to recognize the diplomas of one another." Turkey and other third countries profit from this chaos (to use the mildest of terms).

We were ashamed to learn from Vladimir Kazarin that the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation had the largest wage arrears in Sevastopol and the largest debt to the Pension Fund of Sevastopol; there had been hunger strikes. The city, said he, had been very much disturbed and disappointed with the news about the planned large-scale reduction of the number of officers: no wonder, the Black Sea Fleet is the heart and soul of Sevastopol and our common glorious past. Mayor of Sevastopol Valery Saratov went even further: he said that the Kharkov agreements failed the hopes pinned on them. I should admit that as far as I know the Russian media say next to nothing about the problems of our Black Sea Fleet.

I wanted to know what our Ukrainian colleagues could say about the future of the Russian language in Ukraine under Yanukovich only to learn that the Party of Regions had not yet arrived at a common position on the future status of Russian.

This means that it is hardly productive to raise the point at the Supreme Rada yet practically everybody agreed that changes were inevitable. Europe insists on compliance with its Charter for Regional or Minority Languages which means that Russian stands a good chance to become a regional tongue in the regions with over 10 percent of the Russian population. There are quite a few such regions in the country where courts should use Russian and that the Russian-language media should be set up and develop in adequate conditions. The Ukrainian participants pointed out that the number of legal and normative acts in Ukrainian had been piling up while nobody bothered to translate them into Russian. Today they are a vast terra incognita for those who know no Ukrainian or whose command of the tongue is inadequate to go to court or social security structures to protect their rights, defend their interests or settle economic disputes.

Our colleagues wanted to know: "Can Russia help translate into Russian these laws and normative acts?" The issue is too important to be ignored; it should be referred to the Government Commission on Compatriots Living Abroad.

In any multilingual country translation of the laws is interpreted as its sovereign right; international law treats it as a duty of a nation-state. Kievshould demonstrate initiative which should produce a detailed inter-state agreement otherwise translations of normative acts done in another state, even by "native speakers" might become an object of speculations about adequacy of Russian translations to Ukrainian originals. This issue is too important to be ignored because of the difficulties it might entail; otherwise we would demonstrate "political cowardice," to borrow the term from the Bolsheviks. Russia, on its side, might extend financial aid to the program while the Ukrainian side should be responsible for the translation adequacy and quality.

To paraphrase Leo Tolstoy, successful conferences are all successful alike... yet this time many of the conference participants detected new and unexpected things.

Vitaly Kulik, Director of the Research Center for Civil Society Problems (Kiev):

"This conference at which different points and opinions were represented was not convened for propaganda effects when the Ukrainian side invited marginal representatives from Russia while the Russian side preferred to deal with pro-Russian Ukrainian political scientists and experts. Here the positions were sober and the issues discussed were urgent and topical. It was a real discussion... We perfectly understand our Russian colleagues who say that national myths are fraught with dangerous things."

Aleksandr Tsipko, chief research fellow at the Institute of Economic and Political Studies, RAS:

"Unlike many others, this conference was not politicized. Its contributors concentrated at the fundamental conceptual issues. This was one of the few events of this kind at which the problems of Russian-Ukrainian relations were scrutinized in the context of the cardinal problem of identity. It was said at the conference that, strange as it may seem, the conflicts between countries and between political elites are rooted in the ideologically alienating conceptions... On the whole, the tragedy of the post-Soviet and post-communist republics is rooted in the fact that, on the one hand, new states and new nations are emerging and taking shape while, on the other, the process is handled by badly educated post-Soviet elite which, frequently, knows next to nothing about the history of their own countries."

Denis Kiriukhin, expert of the Center of Political Studies and Conflictology (Kiev):

"This is a good platform of exchange of expert opinions: I see this asthe conference's main advantage. This is important because such platforms are few and far between. Opposite positions emerged while opposite opinions changed during discussions for the sake of a compromise. This conference was very positive, which, to my mind, was its main advantage. It took place during a very important period of our relations which is best described as a de facto resetting (by an analogy with the United States) of Russian-Ukrainian relations."

Vladimir Mamontov, President of the Editorial Board of the Izvestia newspaper: "I regret that our discussions which flared up in the evenings, after the sittings, were never recorded."


read more in our Telegram-channel