News / Europe

Ukraine's Russian Fleet Deal Raises Cultural Concerns

Tuesday's egg-throwing brawl in the Ukrainian Parliament was sparked by a controversial agreement to extend the lease for Russia's Black Sea Fleet in the port of Sevastopol through 2042. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych negotiated the agreement with Moscow in exchange for a 30-percent discount on imports of Russian natural gas for 10 years. But critics are concerned about the cultural implications of Mr. Yanukovych's foreign policy toward Russia.

President Yanukovych has had a busy foreign policy agenda in his two months in office. He has visited Brussels, Moscow, Washington and Strasbourg. He was in Belarus and has an invitation to visit Berlin. At the recent nuclear summit in Washington, he relinquished Ukraine's stockpile of enriched uranium. He also held bilateral meetings there with the German Chancellor, the presidents of the United States, France and China, and the prime ministers of India, Canada and Turkey.

Last week, he hosted Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, where he negotiated the Black Sea Fleet Agreement.

Mr. Yanukovych signed the deal, saying it was unprecedented in the history of relations between Ukraine and Russia.

Independent Ukrainian political analyst Vitaliy Bala notes Mr. Yanukovych's majority in Parliament ratified the agreement without debate.

Bala says it appears the president absolutely does not care what a significant segment, perhaps even a majority of Ukrainians think about this agreement and how his actions may squeeze the Ukrainian out of Ukraine on a state level.

Bala notes that 17 of Ukraine's 25 regions voted against Mr. Yanukovych, which should give him pause about antagonizing widespread concerns that a Russian military and economic presence in Ukraine could be accompanied by unwanted cultural influence.

Several Russian lawmakers exacerbated those concerns Tuesday during discussion of the fleet agreement in Moscow. They said it will help protect Russia's cultural and linguistic presence in Ukraine.

Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister, Serhiy Tihipko, told the Associated Press the agreement is good from an economic point of view. But he broke ranks with other leaders, saying the Ukrainian people did not want the deal to be discussed behind closed doors. Opponents prefer membership in the European Union, saying it would lift Ukraine economically and better protect its culture. But the European Union is a distant goal, and analyst Masha Lipman at the Moscow Carnegie Center says Europe has its own problems.

"Europe today is not in great shape and has lots and lots of problems of its own, and does not have a lot of time and energy and funds," said Lipman. "I think the Russian leadership has taken advantage of this opportunity. Also the United States seems to have less interest these days in post-Soviet states."

Mr. Yanukovych raised more controversy Wednesday in Strasbourg. Speaking to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, he reversed his predecessor's designation of the Kremlin's deliberate starvation of millions of Soviet citizens in the 1930's as an act of genocide against Ukraine. That famine, known as the Holodomor, was ordered by Dictator Josef Stalin to break peasant resistance to collectivization of land.

Mr. Yanukovych says his administration believes it would be wrong and unfair to recognize the Holodomor as an act of genocide against one people or another. He says it was a common tragedy of peoples who comprised a single state at that time - the Soviet Union.

Former President Viktor Yushchenko's designation of the Holodomor as genocide soured Kyiv's relations with Moscow. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov welcomed the Mr. Yanukovych's statement as an objective attitude toward history. It was condemned by those who say Russian speakers replaced millions of murdered Ukrainians, which has continued impact on the viability of Ukraine.

Masha Lipman says Mr. Yanukovych should temper his pursuit of economic goals with recognition of the importance of culture.

"It is not that Ukraine can outlaw the Russian language, or impose the Russian language on regions that are not interested," added Lipman. "Once again, it is a legitimate issue - cultural and of course political issue in Ukraine - and any leader has to reconcile the interests there."

Lipman says Mr. Yanukovych's busy foreign policy agenda appears designed to show international and domestic observers that he is a man in charge. Vitaliy Bala notes Mr. Yanukovych won office with less than 50 percent of the vote and uses foreign policy to legitimize his presidency.

Bala says Ukraine's concessions on enriched uranium for the United States and the Black Sea Fleet agreement for Russia may be seen as Yanukovych's quest for legitimacy. The analyst says, Mr. Yanukovych is trying do demonstrate first of all in Ukraine that he is a president who is welcomed.

Bala recalls that Candidate Yanukovych promised to unite Ukraine. But Mr. Yanukovych's initiatives with Russia have raised questions about his abilities to build consensus.

Writing online about the brawl in Parliament, Ukraine's world heavyweight boxing champion turned politician, Vitaliy Klychko, says it represents the politics of antagonism.

Recently, says Klychko, the "Orange" forces of Yushchenko and Tymoshenko tried to force their views of cooperation with Russia and the West on their opponents. Now, Mr. Yanukovych's "Blue and White" forces are doing the same in reverse.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs countermeasure at UN More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prisoni
X
Heather Murdock
July 01, 2015 8:59 PM
As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs