Ukraine feels nervous as big powers debate fate

Apr 09 2014, 00:44 IST
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SummaryAs top diplomats from Russia and the United States have met in Europe's capitals to decide Ukraine's fate in recent weeks, there's been a conspicuous absence: a representative from Ukraine.

As top diplomats from Russia and the United States have met in Europe's capitals to decide Ukraine's fate in recent weeks, there's been a conspicuous absence: a representative from Ukraine.

Russia has refused to deal with Ukraine's new government since protests in February ousted the pro-Russian president. And while the West supports the fledgling leadership, it has left an impression that it's in charge of talks with the Kremlin.

Time and again through history, Ukraine has been caught in big power politics. Historians draw parallels between how Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin divided Europe at Yalta after World War II - trapping eastern European countries in the Soviet orbit. Now some Ukrainians fear history is repeating itself as they are shut out of negotiations - and sit on the sidelines waiting for a verdict.

Ordinary Ukrainians are mostly grateful for Western efforts to mediate the crisis and more than anything are terrified by the prospect of war.

But officials have sought to stress that Ukraine's voice must be heard.

At a news conference last week, Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Danylo Lubkivsky insisted that decisions regarding Ukraine's future must not be made without Kiev's input: ''No real dialogue is possible without Ukraine,'' Lubkivsky said. That is why the announcement this week of high-level talks between the United States, the EU, Ukraine and Russia - expected to take place in the next 10 days - was met with hope in Kiev.

Despite angry rhetoric, the West has largely accepted the reality of Russia's takeover of Crimea. Diplomatic efforts are now focused on preventing Russia's military incursion into the Russian-speaking east and south of Ukraine, where Moscow claims it needs to protect Russian-speakers. With thousands of Russian troops amassed near the border with Ukraine, Moscow seeks to dictate conditions: It wants to turn Ukraine into a loose federation that it can control, and is pushing for Russian to become the second official state language, on par with Ukrainian.

Kiev has so far refused to cave to Moscow's demands - as any step that dents Ukraine's hopes of integrating with the West will be met with fierce resistance from the Maidan, the pro-Western protest movement. More than 100 people were killed in the protesters' clashes with police.

But facing enormous military and economic pressure from Russia, there is little Ukraine can do on its own, some experts say - so Kiev has to rely on Western patronage.

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