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

Nearly Every Job in America Mapped in Detail

A nifty map pinpoints practically every job in the United States, revealing the economic character of America’s metropolitan areas, which also helps to inform the local culture

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

This forum has been closed.
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.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video In Cambodian Capital, Political Motives Seen Behind Canceled Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle reports from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs