Ukraine simmers as attention fades
This appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
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.
Independent since 1991 in the wake of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ukraine, Europe’s secondlargest country, with a population of 45 million, has often been through history a problem nation. Its geography does not provide natural defences 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 the Second World War when it was a battleground between the Soviet Union and Germany.
There are some truths that set the scene. Ukraine is in the centre 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 per cent of its exports and providing 22 per cent of its imports. This is true in spite of the sometimes prickly relations between them.
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 per cent of the population of Crimea is Russian speaking.
Russia recently withdrew from the Eurovision music contest held in Kyiv 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 Ukraine, 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 Trump need to meet soon, in any case. Ukraine has to be on the agenda.