In Ukraine, Fear Of Being A Resurgent Russia's Next Target

KIEV, Ukraine -- For 17 years now, several former satellites and republics of the Soviet Union have cherished their democracies, all made possible by the simple premise that the days of Russian dominance were over.

The events in Georgia over the past week have made them rethink that idea. Poland announced Thursday that it had reached a deal with Washington to base American missile interceptors on its territory, after months of talks. But then a Russian general went so far as to say that Poland might draw Russian nuclear retaliation, sending new shudders through the region.

The sense of alarm may be greatest here in Ukraine. Since the Orange Revolution began in 2004, bringing the pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko to power after widespread protests, Ukraine has been a thorn in Moscow's side, though perhaps not as sharp as the outspoken Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili.

"We're next," said Tanya Mydruk, 22, an office assistant who lives in Kiev, the capital. "Sooner or later our president is going to say or do something that goes too far, and then it will start."

Ukraine has done little to win Russia's favor since the crisis in the Caucasus began. On Wednesday, Ukraine announced that it would restrict the movements of Russia's Black Sea fleet into Sevastopol, on the Crimean peninsula. On Friday, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying it was prepared to give Western countries access to its missile-warning systems.

"What happened here in the last week certainly came as a shock, not only to Georgia but to a lot of others as well," said Peter Semneby, the European Union's special representative for the South Caucasus. "A lot of people will, as a result of this, want to build a closer relationship with their Western partners as quickly as possible."

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have been high for years. Yushchenko, like Saakashvili in Georgia, has sought stronger ties with the West, including membership in NATO, which Russia has said would threaten its security. In early 2006, Russia cut off natural gas supplies to Ukraine, in a bold maneuver to weaken Yushchenko's government.

Yet despite fears of a Russian resurgence, Ukraine remains deeply tied to Russia by culture and history. Its ethnic Russian minority, largely in the south and east of the country, is roughly 17 percent of a total population of 46 million. Many Russian speakers watched the conflict in Georgia unfold through the prism of state-controlled Russian television channels that are broadcast here.

A growing nationalist sentiment among other segments of society, along with expanding trade and cultural ties with the West, has further complicated the political situation.

Asked whether Ukraine's future lay with Russia or the European Union, Lena Stepnevska, 24, who works at a construction company and was out for a walk in the capital on Friday, opted for Russia. "I would like to believe it will be Russia, because we are fraternal nations and have to support each other," she said.

Though he supports membership in both NATO and the European Union, Anatoliy Grytsenko, the head of the national security and military committee in Parliament and a former military minister, said Russia could not be ignored. "Russia will not disappear tomorrow, as well as in a century or two," he said. "We will always wake up and it will be there, not Canada."

The Baltic states, meanwhile, are gravely concerned about what a newly dominant Russia could mean for them, even though they became members of NATO in the 1990s and therefore have more protection.

"In the public, there's a certain anxiety," said the Estonian president, Toomas Hendrik Ilves. "Given our history, we understand why people feel anxious."

While Ilves said fears that Russia would invade Estonia were unfounded, he emphasized the serious consequences of Russia's actions in Georgia in terms of maintaining international order. "The assumption of the post-1991 settlement has been that the old Russia is in the past — that it is not a country that invades its neighbors," he said. "Basically the entire European security architecture is based on this premise."

Estonia has been at the forefront of states that have provided aid to Georgia. It also sent Internet security specialists and agreed to host Georgian Web sites after those sites were attacked. Georgian officials suggested Moscow was behind the attacks, a charge the Russian government has denied.

In addition to fear in the region, there is anger with the West for not doing more to rein in Russia. In an interview with a Polish newspaper on Saturday, Lech Kaczynski, Poland's president, criticized the European Union as being too soft on Moscow

At Shevchenko Park in the heart of Kiev, card games have gotten pretty heated since the fighting between Georgia and Russia began.

"Smart Russians keep silent and they still think about their fate in Ukraine," said Vasyl Marsiuk, 70. He sat at one of the granite tables where older men also play dominos or checkers, in the shade of chestnut trees.

In his eyes, the Russians are the clear aggressors in the Caucasus conflict, and they are by no means finished with their ambitions for the region. "Ukraine is under the same threat, the same kind of Damocles sword," he said.

Marsiuk spoke Ukrainian, but a man overhearing him launched into a defense of Russia, in Russian. "It was Georgia that started the conflict," said the man, Pyotr Lyuty, 53, who said he had served in military intelligence in Soviet times.

Asked if he thought the Soviet Union should have broken up, he replied with a simple and direct, "No," before adding, "My grandfather explained it to me. You can break a bunch of twigs one by one, but if we take a bunch of twigs you can never break.

Source: International Herald Tribune


John said…
"We will always wake up and it will be there, not Canada."

What the hell does this mean? Does this mean that canada is going to disappear sooner or later, what indication does he have that is going to happen?

And the whole russia existing ¨forever¨ vibe seems rather sensationalist to me.

Still, good article pasted.
Kristy said…
John, I am by no means an expert but as I read that, he meant that Russia will be there, not Canada. As in, Canada (or any other country) is not likely to replace Russia or take over Russian territory. It didn't read as a slight against Canada.

Conversely, the implication is that we might wake up one day and Russia will be there in place of Georgia.

That's how I read it, at least.
John said…
Ah, well ok. I understand what he means now.

I think the problem with this conflict is that both sides are the ¨Bad guys¨ in it. Sad to say really.