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The LNR Elections Through the Lens of the Russian Federation and the LNR Foreign Ministry

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On November 11, 2018, along with people from twenty-two countries, I was in Lugansk People’s Republic as an election observer for the national election. The elections in Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republics were necessary because of the assassination of DNR Head of the Administration Alexandr Zakharchenko and the resignation of former Head of the Administration Igor Plotnitsky.

In the run up to the election and following it I was privileged to be able to interview diplomats from the Russian Federation and Lugansk People’s Republic. I took statements from the Deputy Foreign Minister in LNR, an OSCE election observer who was on his way to monitor the US mid-terms, and the mayor of Stakhanov which is a city in LNR.

Shattering the republics seem to be the motivation behind Zakharchenko’s assassination.

The elections themselves had the power to make or break the new republics. If the turnout was low, it would have meant that people voted no confidence in the young states and would have signaled they were failing.

Instead, the voter turnout is among the highest recorded anywhere in recent memory. Lugansk People’s Republic had a 77% voter turnout and DNR came in with 80%.

Instead of the outcome being determined by the results, this election is getting parsed by commas and period placement. While no one is actually arguing whether the election was legal or not, Ukraine is arguing its legitimacy.

Ukraine and LDNR only have one mechanism to negotiate through. This embodies the Minsk agreements. Minsk II makes the only reference to elections agreed to by all parties. Ukraine has the right to regulate local elections in LDNR. This gives the Ukrainian government control over how city and town elections are run. Ukraine decides what determines a legitimate election and what does not according to Ukrainian law.

Notice the parsing between legitimate (authentic) and according to Ukrainian law. This represents the arguments made about the election.

The principle involved is the same as a government assuming a power because it isn’t forbidden in the Constitution. This is done all the time and is considered normal.

Since the Minsk Agreements don’t specify for Ukraine to regulate the national elections, LDNR rightfully assumes the authority to do so. This is against the backdrop of DNR Head Zakharchenko’s assassins admitting they were working for Ukraine.

What does that mean? Well, for international bodies that means different things depending on what their mandate is. I was able to put these questions to an OSCE Election Observer on his way to monitor the US midterm elections. This is what he could say:

“The OSCE can only observe an election if it is invited to do so by an OSCE participating State, so any statements from the OSCE would not comment on any procedural aspects of the elections. The OSCE only observes elections when they are invited by the internationally recognized government, which in this case would be the authorities in Kyiv, and since the Ukrainian government denounces the Donbas elections as illegitimate, it is not inviting the OSCE to observe. Therefore the OSCE will not be monitoring and will not comment on the procedural aspects.”

As you can see, it isn’t legality that is questioned. It’s legitimacy that Kiev questions. It’s procedure, which is administrative detail. And lastly, it is the lack of an internationally recognized government invitation.

This is important because the same principals apply when I interviewed Russia’s First Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, Dimitry Polanskiy and LNR’s Foreign Minister Vladislav Danego.

Ambassador Polanskiy, I would like to have a statement from you about Russia’s official attitude toward what kind of status change this (the election) brings to LDNR?

Second, do you see this as a step to (LDNR) normalizing relations with Russia? IE recognition?

Ambassador Polanskiy- “Hello once again. I will try to explain our position to you. The leaders of some districts of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions were elected on November 11 of this year. The current leaders – Denis Pushilin (Donetsk) and Leonid Pasechnik – were elected to the top positions. The voter turnout was unprecedentedly high – almost 80 percent.

The elections were organized under the universal and equal right to vote as guaranteed by item 7.3 of the 1990 Copenhagen Document of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) and by the basic standards of democracy.

The Kiev authorities do not want to hear this, but we will tell them about the unanimous opinion of the many observers from over 20 countries, including OSCE member states. On the whole, voting took place in a calm atmosphere and without violations. The absence of excesses was reaffirmed by the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM). Its personnel did not act as observers at these elections but continued monitoring the situation in the unrecognized republics under their mandate.

 Now I would like to say a few words about motives. After the assassination of Alexander Zakharchenko, the potential “vacuum of power” created a real risk of total destabilization in southeastern Ukraine. This could have negatively affected the sustenance of life in Donbass and the process of settlement in general against the backdrop of the Kiev-imposed trade and economic blockade and Kiev’s continuous threats to use force.

The elections made it possible to avoid this scenario. Now the people’s elected officials have a mandate to address the practical goals of supporting a normal life in these regions and carrying out the social functions that have been stubbornly neglected by the Ukrainian authorities. It is essential to approach the results of the election in Donbass with understanding, respect, and consideration for the totality of all factors.

We assume that it was held outside the context of the Minsk Package of Measures, item 12 of which is exclusively devoted to local elections. We hope the newly elected leaders of Donetsk and Lugansk will continue the dialogue with Kiev in the framework of the Contact Group on settling the crisis in southeastern Ukraine in accordance with the Minsk agreements.

2.And we are open for normalization with Ukraine, all the contrary initiatives come from Kiev, not from us. Ukraine has become an “Anti-Russia” from the point of view of its foreign policy

Instead of looking for alleged Russian aggression and blaming everything on my country Ukraine should better try to find the way to win back the trust of its citizens – those who live in the East and in the South. There is no other way to peace for Kiev but through dialogue with Donbass!

To answer your question about recognition. We do not intend to recognize these two republics, and the elections change nothing in this regard. They create no new status. Previous ones were held 4 yrs ago. According to Minsk agreements someday they will return to Ukraine.

But Kiev needs to implement Minsk agreements for this, create conditions for residents of Donbass to feel at home, speak Russian language and teach their children in it as well as respect their historic figures who fought for the liberation of Ukraine from Nazi Germany. So far it is not being done.”

Russia’s First Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Polanskiy makes it clear that Russia’s position while supportive, remains within its agreements and international norms regarding LDNR. Ukraine, on the other hand, has been ramping up the rhetoric and bringing in the machinery of war to the front lines as it continues to shell peaceful civilian homes and apartments. Kiev is now threatening a Blitzkrieg war in a region Ukrainian nationalists assisted Germany with its Blitzkrieg war in WWII.

LNR FM Vladislav Danego on what the results mean going forward

The morning after the election I was lucky enough to catch LNR’s Foreign Minister Vladislav Danego in the hotel lobby and he graciously agreed to an interview.

George Eliason– I’m with LNR’s (Lugansk People’s Republic) Foreign Minister Danego. It’s the day after the election and they have a mandate, 77% of voters able to vote; voted.

Foreign Minister Danego, how do you see negotiations, peace negotiations going with Ukraine from this point forward?

LNR Foreign Minister Vladislav Danego– “The result that was shown yesterday, that level of political awareness and desire (aspiration) that people showed with 77% participation (in the election) said that the world needs to respect (honor) the people’s choice and that would also include Ukraine. 

Donbass clearly said, “We are for the republic.” In LNR and DNR it’s absolutely unprecedented (electoral) participation. That level of voter participation is rarely seen anywhere.

In this situation, we will force Ukraine to accept the opinion (choice) of Donbass. And in the talks, first of all, and most of all, it will complicate the talks because Ukraine categorically refuses to hear the people of Donbass. But I hope the international community will make Ukraine open their eyes, and open their ears, and hear what Donbass is saying.

Only under those conditions will there be the possibility of at least some progress in dialogue with Ukraine.  If Ukraine will continue pretending they cannot see or hear Donbass, then accordingly, we will make our decision on whether it’s feasible to try and negotiate with such a country. Or will we need to wait until the government in Ukraine becomes the kind that is willing to talk and negotiate?

And that’s why we had elections because we now have two republics where there are governments acting for the interests of the people who live in Donbass and have to periodically check for the approval of the people.

Right now, first and foremost, people showed their patriotism and responsibility toward their country. The results will be announced shortly. Preliminary results show that interim Head of the Republic Pasichnik is ahead and also results for members of the People’s Council.

People showed a high level of trust in the current leadership of the republic. They showed their desire to move forward. They showed they want to build peaceful lives and count on the help of the Russian Federation. They showed this clearly at the end of the day of the election.”

Every one of Foreign Minister Danego statements is in line with international law and the agreements Lugansk People’s Republic (LNR) has with Kiev.

FM Danego isn’t saying Kiev has to deal with LNR in a different way. He made it clear the people have decided who is representing them at the negotiating table and who is leading them into the future today. The one other thing is Kiev has to start respecting the agreements they are party to.

LNR DFM Anna Soroka on reasons why this election is important

We went to the commemoration at the We will not forgive! We will not forget! Memorial with LNR Deputy Foreign Minister Anna Soroka. This is the text of what she had to say.

This place is where the soul of Lugansk People’s Republic lays. In this place, some of the citizens of Lugansk were killed during the military actions of the summer of 2014. I am the Deputy Foreign Minister of Lugansk People’s Republic. My name is Anna. I, personally was a participant and took part in the events that happened in 2014.

Right now, we’re at the memorial for the burial of the victims. It’s called “Never forget, Never forgive!” Here lies up to 800 citizens of the republic. One hundred nineteen we know the names of. The rest are unknown to us.

I will explain how / why this happened. Aberonnaya Street divides the city (Lugansk) into two parts and it has importance in two wars, the first and the second world wars. As it happened this street historically divides our city into two parts.

The memorial for victims of nineteen forty-two, nineteen forty-three (behind her in the video) is for up to twenty-five thousand war victims of Voroshelovgrad (Lugansk) tortured by the Nazi army and this place where we stand now, the memorial “We don’t forget, we don’t forgive!” is for the victims of Ukrainian aggression of 2014 (to her left in the video).

This is the one place that doesn’t need (more)proof of the guilt of the Ukrainian army of the Kiev regime that unlawfully came to power in February 2014. It, by itself, is the witness that in peaceful normal conditions this kind of mass grave has no place. It cannot happen.

In the summer of 2014, when Lugansk was without lights and water, from the airport and all sides of the surrounding territory (Lugansk) was occupied by Ukraine, mortars were flying from the territory occupied by Ukraine. Civilians were dying everywhere, all over the city, even in the center of Lugansk.

The city was not able to keep up with all the bodies that were coming in because there was no electricity and not enough generators. All four cemeteries of Lugansk were under fire by the Ukrainian army. The decision was made to bury people here. If you can imagine the situation, this was the frontline (points in the middle distance). The airport which was four kilometers from here was under the control of the Ukrainian army. They attacked from there.

It was very difficult to bury people here as well (because it was also under fire). People dug trenches and as we said before (most of those who died) is unknown. We are now working on Identifying the rest of the people buried here.

I don’t want to paint this horrific picture if you could imagine for a minute, no lights, no water, explosions every minute, shells exploding overhead, bodies without heads, legs, or arms. It was very scary, horrific. We didn’t know who they were. That’s why there are so many unknown.

And we want very much for the world to know about the fact this place exists. This precise place is a direct witness to the crimes of Ukraine against our people. And today, when we stand before the choice that we have to make at our election, we would like to know that the world will hear us and understand us.

And understand we are not just trying to show our willfulness (contrariness). We fight for our lives, for peace. We fight for them (points to the mass grave) because we are responsible before them. I propose a moment of silence for all those who have died.

An interview with Sergey Schevlakov, the Mayor of Stakhanov about why the election is important to Donbass.

“The Ukrainian government started this. None of us, not I, not you wanted to start this war. We didn’t go to Lviv or somewhere else in Western Ukraine to tell them how to run things. We were all friendly, all friends. Our families were friends. It’s them that came to kill us.

It is them that is tearing the country (Ukraine) apart. So, it’s understood the government of Ukraine has different goals. For example, a long time ago in 12th century Great Rus, when it was torn apart into little kingdoms and history is repeating itself.

It happened in the 16th century. It’s repeating again today. Everyone wants to be a little king separating into little kingdoms. Instead of uniting, they tried to be great themselves.”

George Eliason– Will the Moscow Patriarchate be able to mend the breach in Ukrainian Orthodoxy?

Mayor Sergey Schevlakov -” Let me put it this way, we had one great powerful country. The world had competition. To have someone lose you have to impoverish(bankrupt) them spiritually and economically.

So, the European countries coalition tore apart the Soviet Union and now they are doing it to everything else including Ukraine. The goal is to push away a part of Russiya (greater Russia) that had Ukraine and Belarus together. It used to be one body or one country, they are consciously separating Ukraine and Russiya, pushing them away from each other so they could never unite again.

For a thousand years, Ukraine and Russia were one country and one people. For them not to unite and show that they are different, is why they are consciously forcing the Ukrainian language and won’t have Russian. Although we have one language, they are forcing the concept that we are different people and a different country.

And now to separate us spiritually, they are setting up the Ukrainian Prava Slava (Orthodox Church) so they want to be separate from the Russian Orthodox Church.

To divide the church into parts is to separate part of the people that live in Ukraine. On their own, the western countries and institutes created the separation to divide us so that we could never join again so that we could never become strong again.

So that we will always be poor and miserable. So that we crawl on our hands and knees before those that give welfare handouts or that we have to go to their countries to work on their plantations.

To make us the 21st-century slaves.

In other words, instead of building equality between countries, between different nations and peoples there should be respect and equality to build peaceful and good relationships between countries. But today, unfortunately, a different road is chosen. War, destruction, poverty, sorrow, tears, and so on;

We don’t want this.

We want peace and normal relationships politically, economically, and spiritually. That is why we are against the separation and division in the Church as well.

So, to summarize; we are former Soviet countries, meaning we are one people really. But in Soviet times the Germanies after WWII were separated in two countries. Russia did not fan the flames of division between the two Germanies. Was there a war between the two Germanies? No.

The Soviet Union left everything in Germany (didn’t rob the country) and took the Soviet army out. They allowed the two Germanies to come together without any conflict. But why then is the same Germany that was allowed to unite, the first to interfere in our union?

Instead, they’re causing us to divide instead of uniting so that we are left hungry and without work. That’s why I have this question. How is this a democratic Europe? Just saying, for example.”

Since the election, Ukraine has declared a state of war. They have moved S-300 surface to air missiles into the Donbass conflict zone. Olexandr Turchinov wants to use Blitzkrieg operations which he says will subdue LDNR in one week.

Russia is taking the threat very seriously this time. This is the result of the election on Ukraine’s side. Especially since there is a mandate for the newly elected leaders to continue moving in the direction they are going, Ukraine wants to destroy the new republics, not reintegrate them.

The world community needs to take these threats seriously. The people of the region have suffered enough. If the conflict in Donbass widens at all, ie starts to involve Russian military, it will likely engulf the entire region as well.

In the meantime we get a clear window into the democracy Ukraine is proposing, not just for Donbass, but for the rest of Ukraine that is already under Poroshenko’s wing. It is penury, perpetual escalation, and war for the sake of a comma and the placement of a period.

*All video by Olga Eliason*

George Eliason is an American journalist who lives and works in Donbass. His articles have been cited in books about the Ukrainian civil war. He has been published at Mint Press News, the Security Assistance Monitor, Washingtons Blog, OpedNews, Consortium News, the Saker, RT, Global Research, and RINF, ZeroHedge, and the Greenville Post along with many other great publications. He has been cited and republished by various academic blogs including Defending History, Michael Hudson, SWEDHR, Counterpunch, the Justice Integrity Project, along with many others. Project Censored listed two article series from 2017,2018 as #2 for national impact for those years.

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Prospects of Armenia-Turkey Rapprochement

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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

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Tighter Ties with China Signal Ukraine’s Multi-Vector Foreign Policy

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Image source: Wikimedia Commons

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.

‘Chinese Card’

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.

Multi-Vector Policy

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.

Reality Check

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. One way or another, China looks set to play a bigger role in Ukraine‘s foreign policy.

Author’s note: first published at chinaobservers

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Ukraine’s independence: Shaping new political narratives through art

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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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