Ukraine Leaders Divided Over Russian Threat

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's prime minister has sharply criticised the country's president for restoring displays of military hardware to Sunday's independence day parade amid fears of provoking Russia.

Ukrainian military vehicles take part in a rehearsal for the Independence Day military parade in the centre of Kiev August 21, 2008. The parade will be held on August 24.

Battle lines between the former political allies are hardening at a treacherous juncture in the country's history.

As President Victor Yushchenko prepares to fight presidential elections in 2010, Yulia Timoshenko has issued what amounts to a broad scale challenge to her partner in Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution.

Grigory Nemyria, vice-prime minister and Miss Timoshenko's closest advisor, told The Daily Telegraph that differences over the parade formed part of a much wider divergence between the two leaders. "The prime minister thinks the military parade is inappropriate because of the cost at a time when Ukraine has to cope with severe flooding but also because this flexing of muscles is a provocation," he said.

Preparations for the parade have given Kiev the feel of a city preparing for occupation. Loud cannon fire has echoed through the canyon-like Soviet-era boulevards during the evening rush hour this week. Newspapers are filled with pictures of tanks. To crown the sense of siege, jets on a fly-past flew fast and low over the city.

Residents were shocked by the sudden militarisation of the Ukrainian capital, which has struggled hard to present a modern image. "This is the first time we've seen this in seven years," said Oleg Pashchenko, a newspaper vendor. "Why now and for what? The president must be crazy to think he is scaring the Russians."

In the wake of Russia's assault on Georgia, pressure on the Ukrainian leadership to row back from pro-western policies has escalated. While President Yushchenko resisted with measures that directly targeted Russian interests, the prime minister has shown increasing disquiet.

Mr Nemyria hinted that the prime minister was prepared to put a strategic change of direction before the electorate, a development that would mean breaking a pledge not to run.

"Foreign and security policy has not before been an issue in Ukrainian elections," he said. "But in the just beginning presidential elections it will be and it will be up to each party to explain their approach in the manifestos."

Miss Timoshenko has distanced herself from the president's determined pursuit of Nato membership. Mr Nemyria said the collapse of Georgia's army proved that upgrading the military of aspiring allies was unequal to the task of preserving peace next to Russia.

"Purely security based arrangements are not enough," he said. "We need a much more ambitious set of policies. The EU cannot remain on the sidelines. We need to demand that you the countries of Western Europe take a much more proactive approach to stability, particularly in regard to frozen conflicts."

Miss Timoshenko has also been critical of a presidential decree restricting the movements of Russia's Ukraine-based Black Sea fleet in its waters.

"This unilateralism on both sides causes problems," said Mr Nemyria. "The president took unilateral action in his announcement. There must be a mechanism to cover this issue but if it's not workable and not enforceable, it could act as a pretext for the other side."

Russia's intimate relationship with Ukraine stretches beyond the origins of its empire. The two nations share an ethnic Slavic make-up and the Orthodox religion. Ukraine has successfully steered west since 2004 while Russia under Vladimir Putin has become steadily more autocratic, both at home and abroad.

With at least 17 per cent of Ukrainians claiming Russian nationality on census forms, a ready constituency for Moscow lives in Ukraine. If inter-ethnic frictions build, Russia would have a reason to intervene as it did in Georgian.

So far Ukraine has avoided ethnic clashes. Mr Nemyria, a native Russian-speaker, claims that the handling of communal tensions is one of the great achievements of its independence.

However, there are signs that distrust is mounting. Ukrainians increasingly insist on speaking the national language, a development that has left many Russians excluded from both national affairs and small-scale social events.

At a riverside disco in Kiev, Tatania Lytvyn, a 32-year-old IT consultant, visiting from the Russophone city of Donetsk, partied inconspicuously yesterday in a showcase venue for Kiev's newly prosperous elite. But during a prize giving announcement in Ukrainian, she was suddenly dismayed.

"It's become really hard for us. Everything is pressure to use Ukrainian and people get really mad if we don't," she said. "But who cares about Ukrainian? Who learns that language?

"Russian is known all over the word. It's disgusting but what can we do."

Source: Telegraph UK


gregory said…
If Ukraine is already member of NATO? If not, where have they stolen that "Humvee" which is moving in the front of tanks?
western reader said…
HaHa. Ukrainians are stupid if they think NATO will come to their aid for three reasons. First, many Ukrainians demonstrate how little they care about democracy every time an election is held and they choose not to vote. If so many of the Ukrainian people do not care about using the right granted them by democracy why should we help them. Second, the President makes threats and does not follow thru on them. For example, blocking ships from returning to port in Crimea. Empty threats are pointless in the same way that parading tanks in Kiev is. Finally, the real truth is that by the time NATO gets organized there will be no Ukraine to defend because Russia will be halfway thru Poland. It will be a cold winter in Ukraine. I hope to see the country again while it is still independent.
Sumorsaete said…
Unless I've missed it, there aren't any Ukrainian militias roaming around Ukraine killing ethnic Russians. So there's no parallel reason (vis-a-vis recent events in Georgia) for Russia to invade Ukraine.
The Russian invasion of Georgia (with no prior notice or reason given to the international community) has already cost Russia about $20 billion in cancelled or deferred financial investment. This is serious for the Russian people. An invasion of Ukraine by Russia would grind nearly all foreign investment in Russia to a halt. That would soon put Russia back in early 1990s conditions. Modern countries today need a steady flow of foreign investment. It's the lifeblood of the modern world, which Ukraine and Russia are fast becoming.