Ukraine sim­mers as at­ten­tion fades

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION -

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.

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