Ukraine Simmers: Russia’s Aims Still Drive Friction As Attention Fades

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine has receded from world attention since its peak in 2014 when it changed presidents, Russia annexed Crimea and fighting was active in its east. The world reacted, for the large part, with words rather than actions.

Members of a pro-Russian self defence unit stand in formation as they take an oath to the Crimea government in Simferopol March 8, 2014.

Independent since 1991 in the wake of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ukraine, Europe’s second-largest country, with a population of 45 million, has often been through history a problem nation.

Its geography does not provide natural defenses and it lies between sometimes ambitious Western Europe and Russia.

Leaving aside the current hostilities over part of it, its worst modern moment was during World War II when it was a battleground between the Soviet Union and Germany.

There are some truths that set the scene.

Ukraine is in the center of a tough region, with borders on Belarus, Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia and Slovakia.

None of these seven countries is particularly prosperous.

Russia is far and away Ukraine’s most important trade partner, taking 18 percent of its exports and providing 22 percent of its imports.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and its continued military involvement in Ukraine’s rebellious east, is the current cause of tension, intermittent fighting and complex relations between the two.

It bears noting that Crimea was part of Russia until 1954 and that 60 percent of the population of Crimea is Russian speaking.

Russia and President Vladimir Putin are very much the villains of the piece in the trouble in eastern Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea, and Western European and American reaction, including economic sanctions against Russia.

Russia recently withdrew from the Eurovision music contest held in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, over a Crimea-related matter.

Seeking to make lemonade from the lemon of current relations, the Russians and the Trump administration could serve as the vehicle through which the Ukraine problem, as a regional issue, could be cleaned up.

The United States could stop pushing to incorporate Ukraine into Western Europe through NATO and the European Union.

Russia could withdraw its military support for the eastern Ukrainian rebels, and Crimea could become some sort of internationally observed territory as a step toward restoring it to Ukraine.

Putin and Donald Trump need to meet soon, in any case.

Ukraine has to be on the agenda.

Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald