Last Thursday July 7th I attended a great event here in Washington D. C., organized by The Atlantic Council, the Brookings Institute and the Peterson Institute. The main topic of this event, was Ukraine, its problems of governance and the implications for its Foreign Policy.
One of the speakers was Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor and author of many great books. His insight as usual was awesome and full of intelligence. When talking about the difficult relationship that Ukraine has with Russia he mentioned a very interesting fact.
Generally Russia is always considered and considers itself the “older big brother” of Ukraine. Something like Germany was to Austria-Hungary back in the 19th and the early 20th century. Well, Russia definitely is bigger and during the time of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, Russia did control Ukraine. But when one looks back in history he/she will find out that it is actually Ukraine, which is the older (not the bigger of course) brother of Russia. Russia and Ukraine share a lot of common history and culture. This relationship goes back to the 9th century AD to the times of Kievan Rus.
Kievan Rus is where the Eastern Slavic Culture finds its origin. Kiev was the first great city of Eastern Slavs and the Kievan Rus later expanded eastwards to modern day Russia where Moscow was later found. Later throughout the centuries the settlers in the East became a different nation known as Russians.
In brief, modern day Ukraine is where the Russian culture and civilization originated. Historically then, Ukraine is actually Russia’s older brother.
But politically as well. Ukraine is more western than Russia. Ukraine, even today with the administration of Yanukovych has a pretty good democratic record (but far from perfect of course). One should not think of Yanukovych as a super pro-russian president. He does do things which are in the interest of his country. This does not mean doing stuff that Russia always likes.
Moreover, Ukraine is where the democratic Orange Revolution of 2004/2005 happened. Even Samuel P.Huntington, in his famous work “The Clash of Civilizations”, talks about Ukraine as the place where, as he describes it, the “Western” and the “Orthodox” cultures meet. Ukraine is more western and democratic than Russia, so even politically it is Russia’s older and , in this case, “more responsible” and “more democratic” brother.
Returning back to the event I was writing about in the beginning. Brzezinski also said that Poland is the country (which also happens to hold the Presidency of the Council of the EU at the moment) which can help Ukraine the most. Don’t forget that the Euro 2012 Championship will be taking place in Poland and Ukraine. Just the fact that these countries decided back in 2005 to host this championship together is a strong indication of their strong ties. Poland as a EU member might this way help Ukraine become more recognized and more accepted as a European country.
Ukraine should also consider tightening its relations with Turkey with which it does share, according to Brzezinski, some common history. These two countries also have converging interests.
Finally there is the problem of the corruption in Ukraine. Is it a home-grown Ukrainian problem in particular? It might be. But it is rather a legacy of those awful Soviet totalitarian times. It is the legacy of the post-Soviet corruption. It is the cumulative effect from fanatism to self-interest. Many other Central European countries that have problems with corruption have it, among other things, because of the fact that they used to be totalitarian regimes that make the population cynical.
One more thing to take into account. Ukraine now has had over 20 years of independence and democracy. There is a whole new generation of young people who grew up in this new free regime and they will change Ukraine’s image and nature forever. They have a strong sense of national identity which is getting stronger and more consolidated every year.
In the end, if Russia finally gives up Ukraine and decides to abandon this neo-imperialism it might at last become a westernized country that will be European. As Brzezinski puts it: “Russia with Ukraine is an neo-imperial non-european power. Russia without Ukraine is a European power”.
I hope that you all enjoyed reading this and maybe even learnt something new. Thank you for reading.