The conflict between the Russian Federation and the Ukrainian government is the point of greatest tension, but also of EU weakness towards its East, as well as the point of greatest tension between Russia and Europe still today.
The European Union cannot solve this problem, just because it currently has the same armies that ironically Stalin asked the Pope to have – hence it will be closed to its East.
Unlike Jason and his Argonauts – owing to the clash going on in Ukraine – Europe will not be able to find the “Golden Fleece”.
And the “Golden Fleece” is the beginning of the Greek myth: Jason who travelled to Colchis to look for gold – an initiation theme – and married the sorceress Medea. Now Europe is depriving itself of the new way of communication with the land of Colchis to accept the orders of a power that is obviously doing its utmost to harm the EU, the Euro, the EU exports, etc.
Currently none of the two main parties, namely Russia and Ukraine, has any intention to implement or at least to formally comply with the Minsk II agreements of February 2015.
In what did those agreements consist? It will be worth recalling the origins and the development of the conflict.
After the various “Orange Revolutions” of February 2014 – which were US operations – when the long wave of protests called the Euromaidan movement culminated in the removal of the regularly elected President Viktor Yanukovych, violent riots broke out in the Eastern part of the country – traditionally the region most linked to the Russian-speaking world and the Russian culture.
The Ukrainian activists of the pro-Russian Eastern region feared the marginalization – and hence the future ban – of the Russian language and also rejected the new resurgence of Ukrainian nationalism, traditionally linked to the Third Reich and the Nazi mythologies.
At that juncture the armed insurgency took place in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and spread also to the other cities of the Russian-speaking neighboring regions. Indeed, most of the Ukrainian people is Russian-speaking.
At the end of summer 2014 a real war broke out between the Ukrainian armed forces and the rebels operating within the “People’s Republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Hence, in late August 2014, Ukraine decided to proceed with a diplomatic solution.
It was the typical problem of the Ukrainian forces since they were badly organized, badly trained and could not face the rebels of the two “pro-Russian” Republics, who were much better organized and optimally motivated.
Finally, on September 5, 2014, the representatives of Russia, Ukraine, the Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as the OSCE observer, gathered in the capital of Belarus and signed the Protocol called “Minsk-I”.
It was essentially an agreement for the ceasefire and the exchange of prisoners.
Ukraine promised to adopt a law on the special status of the two regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
From the very beginning it was an agreement written in the sand. Meanwhile clashes and firefights went on, in addition to bombings on the inhabited centres.
Nevertheless it was in January 2015 that tension mounted again.
The reason lay in the fact that the Ukrainian military, who came to the region in force, planned to fully reconquer the Donbass, while the “rebels” of Donetsk and Luhansk, too, thought they could expand the territory of their own pro-Russian republics.
On both sides, however, the forces on the field were not enough to achieve their respective goals.
And the Donetsk and Luhansk military fought very well, albeit with a much lower number of soldiers than the Ukrainian army.
Ukraine, however, decided to resume diplomatic negotiations.
Therefore the above stated “Minsk-II” agreement was signed by Russia, Ukraine, the Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, France, Germany, the usual OECD observers and the delegates from the other secessionist Ukrainian provinces, which had not been officially invited to the meeting.
Everything happened on February 12, 2015 in the Belarusian capital – as was the case with the Minsk-I agreement – in the sumptuous Independence Palace. It was an agreement envisaging 13 points: 1) immediate and full ceasefire in the districts of Donetsk and Luhansk as from midnight on February 15; 2) pull-out of all heavy weapons and withdrawal of troops by both sides with the aim of creating a security zone on minimum 50 kilometers apart for artillery and 140 kilometers for multiple rocket launchers. However, the pullout of the above-mentioned heavy weapons had to begin no later than the second day after the start of the ceasefire and finish within 14 days. The process had to be assisted by OSCE with the support of the Trilateral Contact Group; 3) OSCE effective monitoring and verification of the ceasefire and pullout of heavy weapons from the first day of pullout; 4) on the first day after the pullout a dialogue had to start on the ways for conducting local elections in accordance with the Ukrainian law and the Minsk I agreements in the districts of Donetsk and Luhansk; 5) pardon and amnesty had to be provided by means of a law forbidding persecution and punishment of people in relation to the events that took place in the districts of Donetsk and Luhansk; 6) the release and the exchange of all prisoners and illegally held persons had to be ensured; 7) safe access, delivery, storage and distribution of humanitarian aid to the needy had to be provided on the basis of international rules and mechanisms; 8) definition of the ways to fully restore social and economic relations and connections, including social transfers such as payments of pensions, wages and welfare benefits; 9) restoring full control of the State border to the Ukrainian government in the whole conflict zone; 10) pullout of all foreign armed formations, military equipment and also mercenaries from the territory of Ukraine under OSCE supervision, as well as disarmament of all illegal groups; 11) constitutional reform in Ukraine, with a new Constitution the key element of which had to be decentralization and also approval of permanent legislation on the special status of the Donetsk and Luhansk districts; 12) the issues related to local elections had to be discussed and agreed upon by Ukraine with the representatives of the Donetsk and Luhansk districts; 13) intensification of the activities of the Trilateral Contact Group.
It was a weak agreement, just to play for time.
An agreement that was reached also thanks to a very strong pressure put by France and Germany.
The Minsk-II agreement was a rift between the Franco-German axis and the US interest, which had previously dominated the European strategy.
This was the core of the matter at that stage.
The United States was thinking of a new war to make the Russian Federation think twice and see reason since – after the USSR collapse – Russia had not resigned itself and adapted to be the poor Asian country depending on the IMF’s and World Bank’s funds and selling its oil and minerals off.
As Francesco Cossiga said, however, “Americans are always about to wage a war and later, when they are stuck in it, they do not know how to break through”.
Least of all, the United States wanted to join the Eurasian peninsula and the “Greater Russia”, according to Zbigniew Brzezinsky’s old idea.
It would be the end of its geopolitical project.
Furthermore, Ukraine is the contact point between the Russian Federation and the EU area that has accepted the US missile rearmament and “signal war” programme in Poland, the Czech Republic and Romania.
As said in the United States, it is formally positioned “against the Iranian missiles”, but no one is so naive not to understand what this new positioning is really for.
It is from Ukraine that the safety and security of those installations is controlled and that we can react to a possible attack by Russia and its allies on the US bases at the edges of the Russian Federation.
It is worth clarifying that they are US and not NATO installations.
The United States has also de facto declared war on Russia, with Resolution No. 758 of the US Congress adopted on December 4, 2014.
A resolution stating that Russia was an “aggressor State” that had invaded Ukraine and ordered the shooting down of the MH17 flight of Malaysian Airlines that took place on July 17, 2014 – something which is still uncertain. Furthermore the Resolution called upon NATO to apply Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, should Russia invade Ukraine.
Yet there is a not negligible fact to consider: Ukraine is not a member of NATO.
Considering the aforementioned Resolution, the US President could legally declare war on Russia without requiring further authorizations from the House of Representatives and the Senate.
The Pentagon sent 100 tanks to Eastern Europe shortly after voting on that Resolution, while the Ukrainian government was full of strange characters at that stage such as Natalia Jaresko, US citizen, Minister for Economy until April 2016 and Aivaras Abromavicius, a Lithuanian citizen and investment banker, married to a Ukrainian lady, who resigned on February 3, 2016. Without fearing of falling into the temptation of “conspiracism”, it is also worth recalling that George Soros, the point of reference of the many foreigners present in the Ukrainian government at the time, publicly stated in a CNN interview with Fareed Zakaria on May 25, 2014 that he had funded the Euromaidan coup.
In Resolution 758 there is also an explicit reference to Georgia and Moldova, which could be treated by the USA as points of friction and attrition against the Russian Federation if the situation in Ukraine developed according to the best predictions.
Said points could cause a US war against the Russian Federation just as with Ukraine.
Nevertheless let us revert to the Franco-German axis in the Minsk-II agreements.
There were three sets of reasons for the finally vigorous behaviour of the Franco-German duo. Firstly, since September 2015, the pro-Russian militias had tripled their control area up to the Sea of Azov. Secondly, 8,000 Ukrainian soldiers were trapped in the Debaltsevo bulge and, southwards, the neo-Nazis soldiers – particularly loved by US Senator McCain – were encircled by the pro-Russian militias of the Azov division.
Thirdly, the increasingly disorganized Ukrainian army could certainly not reconquer the Donbass.
The defeat of the Ukrainian Armed Forces marked the end of the project – nurtured in the EU Eastern region – of a new Hanseatic League that would unite the rich and powerful German-Baltic-Polish North to the fertile lands of the Golden Fleece, namely Ukraine.
This was precisely the “dream” that had convinced Germany to accept the US policy line on Ukraine.
In an infra-European perspective, said project was also a German way to clearly oppose the EU Mediterranean areas.
The idea was to have an autonomous sea of reference and leave the Mediterranean to the poor Southern European countries, deprived of means and resources, as well as flooded by African migrants and overburdened by massive public debt.
Nevertheless even if the United States had provided more weapons to Ukraine, no success would have been recorded by the anti-Russian front on the ground.
In that case, it was Angela Merkel who flew to Putin’s Russia to ask for putting an end to the conflict and later visited President Obama to stop the transfers of weapons to Ukraine.
President Obama always hoped that the truce would fail, while Putin did not need it because he was already the strongest on the ground.
Currently Russia can control NATO’s Southern Flank from Crimea – which was not illegally annexed, as Western documents repeatedly state – including remote control from the US missile base in Devreselu, Romania.
With the appropriate security of the area, Russia can always exert control again from Crimea and also from the “friendly” Ukraine.
Ukraine could be an irrenounceable asset also for the Atlantic Alliance, as Western military stations in that country could control the axis stretching from Novorossisk to Sevastopol, the real key connection for Russia in the region.
Said axis is decisive also for Russia’s operations in Syria.
At economic level, the clash between Ukraine and Russia is also very dangerous for Russia’s gas distribution to the EU.
The Russian Federation cannot use the natural gas it exports to Europe as a real tool for political pressure, considering the magnitude of the clashes that block any influence action outside the Ukrainian area.
Furthermore Russia tends to support two pipeline projects encircling Ukraine, namely Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream.
The Nord Stream 2 pipeline stretches from Narva Bay, Russia, on the border between Finland and the Baltic countries, up to Lubmin, along the German coast on the border with Denmark.
The TurkStream pipeline stretches from Anapa in the Krasnodar region, Southern Russia, up to Kiyikoiy in the Turkish Thrace after crossing the Black Sea.
The recently reactivated Turkstream pipeline will above all meet the Turkish interest. It will naturally join the TransAdriaticPipeline (TAP) and reach Italy, thanks to the Turkish Botas carrier, without infringing the EU rules that accept the crazy sanctions against the Russian Federation.
However, we still need to be careful: on August 2 last, President Trump’s Administration signed a new law called “Countering America’s Adversary Through Sanctions Act”, which extends the energy sanctions against Russia significantly.
The Russian strategic logic in Ukraine basically works on the assumption that the breaking of trade and economic ties with Russia and the loss of the Donbass are the beginning of default for the Ukrainian economy.
Ukraine, however, is still able to acquire resources from both the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, regardless of the problematic situation of its economy.
Until when, however, the interests of the United States and its ever less convinced allies will be such in that region as to afford the costs for maintaining a failed state such as Ukrain,e which is not even capable of waging a real proxy war against the Russian Federation?
The Russian economy finds it hard to back the war in Ukraine, but it cannot certainly withdraw from the conflict.
The war stagnation, however, now favours the Ukrainian Republic, which is supported by the United States and the international financial institutions, while Russia is still constrained by international sanctions and the stagnation of the oil price, which is yet showing some signs of recovery.
Hence, as Italians and Europeans, are we interested in following Zbi Brzezinsky’s old geostrategic psychosis, which keeps us in check and slave at any price to the United States? Or can we finally think for ourselves with the independence of mind to open the doors to the Russian economy, without having to pay this now meaningless seventy-year-long tax to those who won the Second World War (and made us pay it also immediately afterwards)?
Hence, we can assume a further strategic separation between the two NATO mainstays, namely Europe and the United States, with the EU putting an end to sanctions. Or we can assume a heroic exit – the only possible today – of Putin who decides to launch the final attack on current Ukraine so as to later redesign the geopolitics of the Great Mediterranean region.
Prospects of Armenia-Turkey Rapprochement
Potential Armenia-Turkey rapprochement could have a major influence on South Caucasus geopolitics. The opening of the border would allow Turkey to have a better connection with Azerbaijan beyond the link it already has with the Nakhchivan exclave. Moscow will not be entirely happy with the development as it would allow Yerevan to diversify its foreign policy and decrease dependence on Russia in economy. The process nevertheless is fraught with troubles as mutual distrust and the influence of the third parties could complicate the nascent rapprochement.
Over the past month Armenian and Turkish officials exchanged positive statements which signaled potential rapprochement between the two historical foes. For instance, the Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan said that he was ready for reconciliation with Turkey “without preconditions.” “Getting back to the agenda of establishing peace in the region, I must say that we have received some positive public signals from Turkey. We will assess these signals, and we will respond to positive signals with positive signals,” the PM stated. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara could work towards gradual normalization if Yerevan “declared its readiness to move in this direction.”
On a more concrete level Armenia has recently allowed Turkish Airlines to fly to Baku directly over Armenia. More significantly, Armenia’s recently unveiled five-year government action plan, approved by Armenia’s legislature, states that “Armenia is ready to make efforts to normalize relations with Turkey.” Normalization, if implemented in full, would probably take the form of establishing full-scale diplomatic relations. More importantly, the five-year plan stresses that Armenia will approach the normalization process “without preconditions” and says that establishing relations with Turkey is in “the interests of stability, security, and the economic development of the region.”
So far it has been just an exchange of positive statements, but the frequency nevertheless indicates that a certain trend is emerging. This could lead to intensive talks and possibly to improvement of bilateral ties. The timing is interesting. The results of the second Nagorno-Karabakh war served as a catalyzer. Though heavily defeated by Azerbaijan, Armenia sees the need to act beyond the historical grievances it holds against Turkey and be generally more pragmatic in foreign ties. In Yerevan’s calculation, the improvement of relations with Ankara could deprive Baku of some advantages. Surely, Azerbaijan-Turkey alliance will remain untouched, but the momentum behind it could decrease if Armenia establishes better relations with Turkey. The latter might not be as strongly inclined to push against Armenia as it has done so far, and specifically during the second Nagorno-Karabakh war. The willingness to improve the bilateral relations has been persistently expressed by Ankara over the past years. Perhaps the biggest effort was made in 2009 when the Zurich Protocols were signed leading to a brief thaw in bilateral relations. Though eventually unsuccessful (on March 1, 2018, Armenia announced the cancellation of the protocols), Ankara has often stressed the need of improvement of ties with Yerevan without demanding preconditions.
Beyond the potential establishment of diplomatic relations, the reopening of the two countries’ border, closed from early 1990s because of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and Turkey’s solidarity with and military and economic support for Azerbaijan, could also be a part of the arrangement. The opening of the 300 km border running along the Armenian regions of Shirak, Aragatsotn, Armavir, and Ararat could be a game-changer. The opening up of the border is essentially an opening of the entire South Caucasus region. The move would provide Armenia with a new market for its products and businesses. In the longer term it would allow the country to diversify its economy, lessen dependence on Russia and the fragile route which goes through Georgia. The reliance on the Georgian territory could be partially substituted by Azerbaijan-Armenia-Turkey route, though it should be also stressed that the Armenia transit would need considerable time to become fully operational.
Economic and connectivity diversification equals the diminution of Russian influence in the South Caucasus. In other words, the closed borders have always constituted the basis of Russian power in the region as most roads and railways have a northward direction. For Turkey an open border with Armenia is also beneficial as it would allow a freer connection with Azerbaijan. Improving the regional links is a cornerstone of Turkey’s position in the South Caucasus. In a way, the country has acted as a major disruptor. Through its military and active economic presence Turkey opens new railways and roads, thus steadily decreasing Russian geopolitical leverage over the South Caucasus.
As mentioned, both Ankara and Yerevan will benefit from potential rapprochement. It is natural to suggest that the potential improvement between Turkey and Armenia, Russia’s trustful ally, would not be possible without Moscow’s blessing. Russia expressed readiness to help Armenia and Turkey normalize their relations, saying that would boost peace and stability in the region. “Now too we are ready to assist in a rapprochement between the two neighboring states based on mutual respect and consideration of each other’s interests,” the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said. Yet, it is not entirely clear how the normalization would suit Russia’s interests. One possibility is that the Armenia-Turkey connection would allow Russia to have a direct land link with Turkey via Azerbaijan and Armenia. However, here too the benefits are doubtful. The route is long and will likely remain unreliable. For Russia trade with Turkey via the Black Sea will remain a primary route.
Presenting a positive picture in the South Caucasus could however be a misrepresentation of real developments on the ground. The Armenian-Turkish rapprochement is far from being guaranteed because of ingrained distrust between the two sides. Moreover, there is also the Azerbaijani factor. Baku will try to influence Ankara’s thinking lest the rapprochement goes against Azerbaijan’s interests. Moreover, as argued above, Russia too might not be entirely interested in the border opening. This makes the potential process of normalization fraught with numerous problems which could continuously undermine rapport improvement.
Thus, realism drives Turkish policy toward Armenia. Ankara needs better connections to the South Caucasus. Reliance on the Georgian transit route is critical, but diversification is no less important. The results of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh war present Turkey and Armenia with an opportunity to pursue the improvement of bilateral ties. Yet, the normalization could be under pressure from external players and deep running mutual distrust. Moreover, the two sides will need to walk a tightrope as a potential blowback from nationalist forces in Turkey and Armenia can complicate the process.
Author’s note: first published in caucasuswatch
Tighter Ties with China Signal Ukraine’s Multi-Vector Foreign Policy
Ukraine is eager to cut deals with China as it confronts the West’s moves to allay Russian concerns. Whether Kyiv’s moves are a sign of a larger foreign policy adjustment or just a bluff aimed to mitigate faltering ties with the EU and the US, they could beget big consequences.
On June 30, Ukraine touted an agreement with China, which proposes revamping the country’s decrepit infrastructure. The decision comes following a US-German resolution to finish the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, despite longstanding concerns of Kyiv and other CEE nations. Yet, perhaps the biggest motivation was the growing unwillingness in the West to advance Ukraine’s NATO/EU aspirations.
The current state of affairs pushes Ukraine to find alternatives in foreign policy. China, with plenty of cash and political clout, comes as an obvious choice resulting in the signing of the bilateral agreement in June. The document outlines China’s willingness to invest in railways, airports, and ports, as well as telecommunications infrastructure across Ukraine. But otherwise, the agreement details few specifics.
The available details from the deal fit comfortably into the pattern China has been following across Eurasia. For example, China signed similar deals with Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia among others, demonstrating its willingness to penetrate those states’ vital infrastructure. Still, the documents can be also characterized as an umbrella agreement that serves as a roadmap rather than an accord listing concrete details and commitments.
The China-Ukraine agreement is all the more surprising as Kyiv rebuffed earlier this year a Chinese proposal to buy a Ukrainian aerospace company, Motor Sich.
Nevertheless, there are several reasons behind the rapprochement. First and foremost, it is about Ukraine adjusting its foreign policy stance to the state of economic relations. China is now Ukraine’s biggest single-country trade partner outstripping Russia and having a 14.4 percent share of the country’s imports and 15.3 percent of its exports. Perhaps fearful of possible Chinese countermeasures over the Motor Sich decision, Kyiv has been open to mending ties with Beijing with the June agreement.
Secondly, it paves the way for a more active role in China’s near-trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which aims at connecting China with the European market across the heart of Eurasia. Ukraine was among the first to endorse the initiative but has avoided signing memorandums on cooperation similar to what China has done with many others.
More immediately, the tilt toward China follows Kyiv’s decision to remove its name from an international statement about human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang. While Ukraine initially joined the initiative, together with 40 other states, Kyiv abruptly changed its mind on June 24. It has been confirmed that the withdrawal followed Chinese threats to limit trade and deny access to COVID-19 vaccines for which Ukraine had already paid.
Some larger geopolitical dynamics are also at play, such as Kyiv’s attempt to acclimate to the changing world order and the growing global competition between Beijing and Washington. In this environment, Ukraine might want to carve out an equidistant place between the two powers so as to avoid possible backlash from siding clearly with either of them.
As such, Ukraine appears to be embarking on a multi-vector foreign policy. It would allow Kyiv to alleviate its dependence on the West and seek lucrative economic and political ties with large Eurasian states. Put simply, relations with the West did not deliver on the expected benefits. The country was not offered NATO or EU accession, while the collective West’s consistent concessions to Russia undermine Ukraine’s interests. Ukraine has also often tended to look at China and other Eurasian powers from the ‘Western perspective’, which limited its options.
In Kyiv’s understanding, elimination of this obstructive dependence would enable it to find new partners able to bring in investments and ideally political support in multilateral organizations. China undoubtedly can be such a partner.
Kyiv’s calculations are more understandable when taken in view of its larger diplomatic readjustment in the region. For example, Ukraine recently began building closer relations with another Eurasian power in Turkey. When Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky visited Istanbul in April 2021, nascent bilateral military ties were seen as a new chapter in the countries’ relations. Most indicative of this shift, a memorandum was signed on the creation of joint defense-industrial projects, which includes joint development of unmanned aerial vehicles in Ukraine.
The story of Turkey could serve as a microcosm, whereby Kyiv displayed that it is more interested in balancing the pressure from Russia and mitigating the failures in its pro-Western foreign policy course. Ukraine thus foreshadowed its increasingly multi-vector foreign policy as a solution to its geopolitical problems. In Kyiv’s understanding, rapprochement with China and Turkey could mitigate threats emanating from Russia as both Beijing and Ankara enjoy closer ties with Moscow, but nonetheless consider it a competitor.
The multi-vector foreign policy for Ukraine however does not mean abandoning its pro-Western cause. It rather involves seeing its NATO/EU aspirations as complementary with the closer economic ties with China and others. It will require an agile foreign policy and leveraging the country’s geopolitical assets.
New Type of Bilateral Relations
Ukraine’s behavior might herald the birth of what could be characterized as a Eurasian model of bilateral relations. Across the continent, the notion of traditional alliances is being gradually replaced by partnerships. Devoid of formal obligations, China, Iran, Turkey and Russia find more space for interaction and see a larger pool of opportunities across the vastness of the supercontinent. Bigger maneuverability makes their foreign policy more agile in finding a common ground for cooperation.
The Eurasian model is a byproduct of an evolving global order in which each state with geopolitical influence recalibrates its foreign ties to fit into the post-unipolar world. Russia and China officially refuse to have an alliance – indeed, they claim an alliance would undermine their purportedly benevolent intentions toward one another. More specifically, the concept relates to how China sees the future world order. It opposes alliances – the ‘relic’ from the Cold War era.
Thus, the shift in Kyiv’s foreign policy could be part of this Eurasian trend where Ukraine seeks to construct its Asia policy which would better correspond to the unfolding China-US competition, Asia’s economic rise, and most of all, the failure to become a NATO or EU member state.
However, closer ties with China and most of all the dependence on Beijing’s investments also involves risks. China’s infrastructure projects are mostly financed through loans, which poorer and weaker countries are unable to repay. Often, ownership of the sites ends up in Chinese hands.
Chinese involvement in Ukraine’s critical infrastructure could also risk giving control over strategic technologies to Beijing, which would be channeled to China and successfully used to advance Chinese interests.
For Kyiv, dependence on Beijing also involves risks because of China’s close partnership with Russia. Dangers could be manifested in a concerted pressure on Ukraine in international organizations, or even China heeding Russian fears and abandoning infrastructure projects which would harm Russian interests.
The June agreement is an umbrella deal that lays out the foundation for deeper cooperation, but in no way guarantees its fulfillment. This could mean that Ukraine only sought to restore worsening bilateral relations with China following the Motor Sich saga. Alternatively, Kyiv might merely be trying to raise stakes in its stagnated relations with the West and hold Washington to account, signaling that it can successfully navigate between geopolitical poles if need be.
Author’s note: first published at chinaobservers
Ukraine’s independence: Shaping new political narratives through art
Ukraine’s 30th Independence Anniversary brings forth a discussion on forming a modern cultural identity in the wake of political instability.
Despite gaining independence 30 years ago, Ukraine is still facing consistent attacks on its sovereignty, both political and cultural. From the ongoing war with Russia in Eastern Ukraine, where 10,000 people have lost their lives since 2014, down to the root of oversimplification of Ukrainian issues in the media, Ukraine’s story is often being told by opponents attempting to distort the modern Ukrainian cultural identity.
My first-hand experience working with kids at the Ukrainian warzone has taught me a deep appreciation for cultural independence. For five years together with youngsters I wrote, directed and staged a performance piece titled ‘Contact Line’ about life at the warzone and personally witnessed the huge impact of arts and culture on the kids’ lives. This experience demonstrated that for too long Ukraine has let someone else present its identity to its youth, citizens and the world.
Shaking away the Soviet legacy
There’s no denying that the Soviet Union left a lasting legacy on Ukraine. The culture of Ukraine is to this day tainted by lingering ghosts of the Soviet past. Soviet authorities vigorously supressed the development of independent cultural identities in all the member states. In Ukraine’s case, simplistic rural folklore was imposed on society as a primary culture and was a means of suppressing creative or progressive thought. National collectives and one-dimensional traditional themes were presented as the essence of Ukrainian culture throughout the 20th century. Anyone who didn’t fit the Soviet mould was eliminated. A specific term, Executed Renaissance, is used to define a generation of Ukrainian artists who were repressed by the Soviet regime for their artistic non-conformism.
It has taken decades for Ukraine to regain its cultural voice and iron out its Soviet imprint. A key concept of postcolonial theory examines the creative resistance to the colonizers’ culture and the fraught slow development of a postcolonial identity. Ukraine has been struggling through this process for 30 years. However, since the 2014 Revolution of Dignity the country has been reimagining its culture, exploring its history and reconnecting with its identity. Ukraine is now striving to be on par with Western culture by ridding itself of remaining Soviet influences. Cultural institutions previously under government control or censorship are finding an independent voice and the population is discovering that authentic artistic expression is providing hope in difficult times.
Looking at the future
Over the past 10 years, Ukraine has witnessed a robust change in the arts sector. The cultural scene has made a significant move away from a conservative ethos to a more contemporary one. Visual arts are the most progressive form of expression in Ukraine, with cinema rapidly catching up. Ukrainian filmmakers are winning awards at the Cannes Film Festival and Ukrainian artists are receiving praise at La Biennale di Venezia. The expectation is that this trend will not only magnify in the coming years, but also position Ukrainian artists as global creative trailblazers.
Despite ballet being an extremely politicised art form during the Soviet period, it is now going through a revival and modernisation. The Ukrainain school of ballet is gaining recognition as one of the world’s best and Ukrainian ballet dancers are headlining the top ballet companies across the globe, showcasing their immense talent and training. British audiences will have an opportunity to watch the best Ukrainian ballet dancers from the world’s top theatres come together for a one-off unique performance at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London on September 7th.
Georgian-American ballet choreographer George Balanchine famously said, “Ballet will speak for itself,” and the artform remains a true demonstration of the universal language of dance. The Ukrainian Ballet Gala will be a showcase of the innovation and traditions of the contemporary Ukrainian ballet school.
Global cultural promotion
In a globalised world it’s the wish of every country to promote and engage in cultural exchanges, and Ukraine is very much part of this movement. Ukraine wants to be an active player on the world stage, both politically and culturally, and to be a dynamic culture creator, particularly in Europe. Trust in soft diplomacy is growing and Ukraine’s international relations and diplomacy are benefiting from this trend.
As a Ukrainian-born and British-educated theatre producer and director I appreciate the importance of bringing the best of Ukrainian culture to the world not just for Ukraine’s benefit, but to enrich global culture and share experiences through creative means. It is the job of people like me and my colleagues to tell Ukraine’s story through art and, thus, shape new political narratives about Ukraine internationally. We want to share our rich culture with the world and events, such as the Ukrainian Ballet Gala, are key to achieving this.
Ukrainians are now left with no choice but to stride forward – no outside force should ever again control the vibrant culture of Ukraine.
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