Text of Paul Goble’s presentation to the symposium “The 25th Anniversary of the Modern Ukrainian State” held in New York on September 17. Mr. Goble is a long-time specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia who has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau, as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
No one disputes that Ukraine faces enormous problems today, but at the same time everyone should remember that, since gaining independence in 1991, it has achieved many things that at that time would have seemed impossible dreams and that even now are often not acknowledged or played down given current difficulties. Ukrainians and their friends around the world can’t afford to ignore the problems – they are too serious – but they mustn’t forget the amazing nature of their achievements.
Twenty-five years ago, an American president told Ukrainians that “the pursuit of independence was a form of suicidal nationalism.” Now, an American president has dispatched military assistance and talked about the development of Ukraine-NATO cooperation. Twenty-five years ago, many doubted that a distinct Ukrainian nation existed and even Ukrainian nationalists worried about whether people put “the” in front of Ukraine or not. Now, there is a Ukrainian nation, one remarkably unified and reoriented away from Eurasia toward Europe. And 25 years ago, most Ukrainians and their friends believed that Ukraine would always be sacrificed to a supposed Western relationship with post-Soviet Russia. Now, in the eyes of the West, Russia is no longer a strategic partner: it is, largely because of its aggression in Ukraine, an enemy. And Ukraine in contrast is no longer a secondary consideration but a central focus of American and European concern.
I very much regret that I cannot be with you this morning: family medical problems preclude that. But I would like to take this opportunity to list five miraculous developments in Ukraine over the last 25 years as a tribute to the Ukrainian nation and as a reminder to Ukrainians and others as well that the Ukrainians have proved themselves capable of working miracles – and they can and will do so in the future.
The five I want to highlight are the following.
1. Ukraine is not just “a newly independent state.” It is a country in its own right.
Many of us can remember when Ukraine was dismissed as the second Soviet republic and one without a future. Even more can remember when it was dismissed as one of the “newly independent states” around the Russian Federation. But, thanks to the efforts of a remarkable nation, many capable leaders and Western assistance, Ukraine is now a country not just a cause; and it has taken its place as a permanent fixture on the geopolitical map of the world.
Vladimir Putin and his friends are trying to reverse this, but like so many other moves of the Kremlin dictator, his efforts in this direction have proved counter-productive, helping to create exactly what he has hoped to destroy.
2. Ukrainians are not a branch of the Russian nation. They are an increasingly united nation.
Mr. Putin, many Russians and, tragically, many supposed experts on Eurasia have accepted the myth that Ukrainians are part of the Russian nation and that Russia began with Kyivan Rus’. In fact, Ukraine began with Kyivan Rus’; and Russia began as a tax collector for the Mongol hordes. Russia still bears the birthmarks from that background.
Ukraine is now recovering its rightful history as part of the West. Moscow has only itself to blame for what it insists on seeing as its loss, and I sometimes think that Ukrainians should erect two statues of Russian leaders in their capital: one to Stalin, who – although he tried to destroy Ukrainians – added more territory to Ukraine than any Ukrainian leader; and a second to Mr. Putin, who is trying to destroy Ukraine but who has in fact proved to be the most effective nation builder for Ukrainians.
3. Ukrainians are not weak. They are defeating an invasion by a nuclear power.
In many ways, the greatest miracle of the last 25 years in the history of Ukraine is that Ukrainians have defeated a nuclear power that has invaded their country. Yes, they have temporarily lost control of Crimea and parts of the Donbas. But like the Finns more than 75 years ago, they have fought the invader to a draw and put themselves in a position to recover what they have lost.
Too many forget the numerous cases of countries that have not fought to defend themselves or who have fought and lost. Ukraine is not among them, and its people can and should take enormous pride in that.
4. Ukrainians and Ukraine are not part of Eurasia. They are part of Europe.
By their actions, by showing that in their country the government is the servant of the people rather than the other way around as in Russia, Ukrainians have demonstrated that they are not part of Russian-dominated Eurasia but fully part of Europe.
More than did the collapse of the USSR in 1991, Ukrainians have pushed the borders of Europe eastward. That is no small thing. It has been a difficult task. And it is not yet finished. But Ukrainians have done more than almost anyone, including Ukrainians, thought possible only a brief time ago.
5. Ukrainians are not an afterthought in the West. They are partners with the EU and the U.S.
The West has recognized, at least in part, what Ukraine has achieved. The European Union and the United States view Ukraine as a partner, and they view Russia now as an enemy not only of Ukraine but of the international order.
I am confident that Ukraine is laying the groundwork to become a member of NATO and a member of the EU. Those things may not come as soon as Ukrainians would like. But they are now questions of when, not if – and that too is a miracle.
Obviously, there is much more to be done, and many of us hope the West will do more to help Ukraine realize its potential. But Ukraine as a state and Ukrainians as a nation have demonstrated that they are capable of performing miracles. Let us hope that over the next 25 years, they, along with their friends, will perform even more.