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Ukraine Reacts to Perceived Russian Threats


The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has protested a series of recent statements by senior Russian officials that appear to threaten the integrity and security of Ukraine. VOA Moscow Correspondent Peter Fedynsky reports the statements may be unintentionally consolidating Ukrainian resolve against Russia.

The prospect of Ukraine's membership in the NATO defense alliance prompted a number of senior Russian political, diplomatic and military figures to make statements that have raised eyebrows not only in Kyiv, but also in the United States.

Among the more recent remarks, a vague threat against Ukraine by the Chief of Russia's General Staff, General Yuri Baluyevsky.

Obviously, says Baluyevsky, Russia will take steps aimed at securing its interests near state borders. He notes these will not only be military measures, but also measures of a different kind.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in an interview with the Moscow Echo radio station, said Russia would do anything to prevent Ukrainian and Georgian membership in NATO.

The general and the diplomat have been vague. Politicians less so.

Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov urged abrogation of Russia's Friendship and Cooperation Treaty with Ukraine and to revisit Russia's claim to Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula over the NATO issue.

In February, President Vladimir Putin, with his visiting Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yushchenko at his side in the Kremlin, threatened to aim nuclear missiles at Ukraine if NATO were to deploy missiles there. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Mr. Putin's remarks unhelpful and reprehensible.

A Russian political analyst with close Kremlin ties, Vyacheslav Nikonov, told VOA the threats are being taken out of context as part of a campaign in support of Ukrainian NATO membership.

Nikonov urges people to remember what President Putin actually said; that if Americans deploy front-line missile forces on Ukrainian territory, then Russia will retarget its missiles. Nikonov notes the Russian president did not say retargeting will occur if Ukraine merely joins NATO.

Nonetheless, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry recently issued a protest against high level Russian statements characterized as openly anti-Ukrainian, which question Ukraine's territorial integrity and constitute direct interference in its domestic affairs.

An analyst at the National Institute of Strategic Studies in Kyiv, Vasyl Yablonsky, told VOA that high-level Russian threats do not represent the language of democratic European values, but rather a Russian imperial mindset that remains hesitant about the independence of Ukraine.

Yablonsky says even an innocent-sounding term like the near abroad, which Russians use to designate post-Soviet states, speaks volumes, as if those nations were not really abroad and not really nations. He adds that Moscow issues reminders that it controls post-Soviet space, where nothing is to be decided without Russia.

The Ukrainian analyst says perceived Russian threats represent a form of psychological pressure aimed at preventing Ukrainian NATO membership, but he says such statements tend to consolidate the Ukrainian nation.

A recent editorial about Ukraine in Russia's independent newspaper, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, notes that nobody likes the language of threats. It said it is not difficult to imagine what the citizens of a fraternal country feel if their neighbor openly considers ways to chop off a piece of their state.

A random passerby in Kyiv shared his feelings about the issue with VOA.

This Ukrainian asks how Russia will take Crimea from Ukraine. It is ours, he says, adding that Russia is doing Ukrainians a favor by saying such things, because they tend to rally us around our lands, and allows us to raise our spirit to protect those lands, which NATO will help us with.

Russian analyst Vyacheslav Nikonov says his country will do everything it can to avoid any precipitous actions, because they could threaten Russia's very existence. By way of example, he says he does not exclude local ethnic hostilities in Crimea, which Washington or Brussels could incorrectly interpret as Russian interference and prompt nuclear retaliation against Russia if Ukraine were to be a member of NATO.

He adds that Ukraine produced and continues to service much of Russia's strategic deterrent, which Moscow cannot do without.

For these reasons, says Nikonov, Russia will use all political means to see Ukraine become a sovereign, independent nation that does not belong to any blocs.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry protest note strikes a similar tone, saying Ukraine will use all necessary measures permitted by international law to protect its sovereignty and independence.

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