Ukraine, Relations with

   No foreign country is as important to Russian identity as Ukraine, particularly given that Russia traces its statehood back to 9th-century Kiev, now the capital of Ukraine. In 1654, the Left Bank of Ukraine (east of the Dnieper River) was incorporated into Russia, and during the latter part of the next century, the partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth brought the rest of “Little Russia” into the Romanov Empire. Russia and Ukraine, along with Belarus, were founding members of the Soviet Union in 1922; however, Joseph Stalin’s purge of religious and political elites, as well as Soviet economic policies and the ensuing famine in Soviet Ukraine (known as the Holodomor) soured relations between Kiev and Moscow.
   Ukraine, like the other union republics, saw a dramatic rise in support for independence from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1991, particularly after the failed August Coup. On 24 August 1991, the Ukrainian parliament adopted the Act of Independence, declaring Ukraine an independent and democratic state. On 21 December 1991, the former Communist-turned-nationalist Leonid Kravchuk was one of the three signatories of the Belavezha Accords, effectively dissolving the Soviet Union (later certified by the Alma-Ata Protocol on 21 December); Kravchuk would lead the country until 1994.
   Despite concerns about the existence of millions of ethnic Russians in Ukraine, the two states gained independence in 1991, with both joining the Commonwealth of Independent States. Decommissioning of Ukraine’s nuclear weapons arsenal and Soviet troops on Ukrainian soil quickly emerged as major issues between Kiev and Moscow. During the early 1990s, Ukraine agreed to and then stalled its commitment to deliver its nuclear arsenal to Russia for destruction. After receiving security assurances, economic assistance, and compensation in the form of nuclear fuel and debt relief, Ukraine delivered its last nuclear warhead to Russia in 1996.
   Territorial disputes further complicated bilateral relations. The most immediate issue was the status of Crimea in general and the port of Sevastopol in particular. Nikita Khrushchev transferred the Crimean Peninsula from the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic on the 300th anniversary of the union of the two countries. Reflecting the history of the region, the vast majority of the population in 1991 was Russian or Russophone. The dispute was ultimately settled with Kiev’s granting of autonomy to the republic, though Ukraine’s sovereignty over Crimea remains a rallying point for ultranationalists in the Russian State Duma.
   In recent years, Kiev has criticized its neighbor for issuing Russian passports to residents of the region. The stationing of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in the Crimean city of Sevastopol also created bilateral tensions as the Russian Federation initially refused to recognize Ukrainian sovereignty over its naval facilities; in 1997, a renewable 20year lease was signed allowing for joint use of the port city by both Russian and Ukrainian naval forces at the cost of $97.5 million per annum. Recently, Ukraine has signaled that it will not renew the lease in 2017, forcing relocation of the Russian fleet to Novorossiysk. Under Leonid Kuchma, whose support stemmed from Russophone and pro-Russian eastern Ukraine, Ukraine sought to navigate a careful path between Washington and Moscow. While Kuchma endorsed the idea of Ukraine’s ultimate admission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and opted against joining the Russian-backed Collective Security Treaty Organization and the “Slavic Union” of Russia and Belarus, he also signed a Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Partnership with Russia in 1997 (renewed in 2008). Under both Kravchuk and Kuchma, Ukraine’s privatization led to the domination of the economy by oligarchs, many of whom were backed by Russian economic interests.
   Foreign trade between the two countries exceeds $30 billion per year, with Russia being Ukraine’s single largest import and export partner. Kuchma oversaw dramatic improvement in bilateral relations in his last years in power; however, the events surrounding Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution” in 2004–2005 shattered the burgeoning rapprochement. Backed by Vladimir Putin and pro-Russian oligarchs from Kuchma’s faction, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych ran for president and was declared the winner, before the widely criticized and likely falsified election results were annulled after two weeks of protests.
   His rival, Viktor Yushchenko, who had reputedly suffered from dioxin poisoning in September 2004, assumed office and reoriented Ukraine toward the West; despite the new orientation, Ukraine’s new “orange” leadership stressed the country’s return to sovereignty and its refusal to be taken for granted by either Moscow or Brussels. Moscow’s vocal support for Yanukovych and the implication of a Russian FSB agent in Yushchenko’s poisoning immediately chilled Ukrainian-Russian relations. That summer, Yushchenko’s prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, and the president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, signed the Borjomi Declaration, ultimately creating the Community of Democratic Choice, an organization dedicated to preserving and promoting democracy in the region between the Black, Baltic, and Caspian seas. The organization is viewed as a pro-European counterbalance to Russian hegemony and a successor to the GUAM Organization for Democracy and Economic Development. However, in 2006, Yushchenko appointed Yanukovych as his new prime minister, suggesting a return to a more pro-Russian orientation.
   While out of office, Tymoshenko penned a damning critique of Vladimir Putin in the respected American journal Foreign Affairs; however, upon her return to the office of prime minister in 2007, Tymoshenko struck a more conciliatory note with the Kremlin and has developed a working relationship with Dmitry Medvyedev. Despite this, major issues between the two countries continue to dog relations.
   The most serious dispute relates to natural gas; as the primary route for transshipment to southern Germany, Italy, Austria, and the Balkans, Ukraine is vital to Gazprom’s sale of energy to the European Union (EU). Ukraine’s illegal siphoning of gas and disputes over pricing, however, led to cessation of shipments in the winters of 2005–2006, 2007–2008, and 2008–2009. Gazprom defends its pricing increases in market terms, arguing that Soviet-era subsidies are anachronistic, while Moscow describes the Ukrainian authorities as “criminal”; Ukraine counters by suggesting that the timing of the price disputes is politically motivated in an effort to cow the “orange” leadership. In the most recent dispute, natural gas flows to Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary were acutely affected, triggering a debate across Europe about energy security and the dependence on Russia and its near abroad.
   In February 2009, a 10-year deal on transit was signed and included an end to the use of middlemen, a 20 percent discount on market prices for Ukraine, and the implementation of a new dispute resolution system. Russo-Ukrainian relations were also severely impacted by the South Ossetian War; Ukraine’s president Yushchenko vehemently condemned Russia’s actions as neo-imperialist, while Moscow accused Kiev of supplying weapons and military advisors to the Georgian forces. Both Ukraine and Georgia have been actively moving toward NATO admission against the wishes of the Kremlin. Russia’s invasion of South Ossetia and recognition of Abkhazia was viewed as a prologue for potential actions in Crimea by many Ukrainian politicians; protection of Russia’s “countrymen” against forced Ukrainianization remains a major political issue in the Duma. Despite their frequently incendiary rhetoric, most Ukrainian political elites continue to seek good relations with both Russia and the West, namely, the EU and the U.S.
   See also Color revolutions.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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