Independent Ukraine in its most modern and sustained incarnation has just turned 30. But now that the celebrations are over, it’s important to pause and take stock.
What do we actually know about the real state of things beneath the opaque, yet distracting, surface of crude politics and still pervasive corruption? These are unpleasant factors, yet they overshadow the enduring resolute resistance to Russia’s aggression, ongoing complex systemic transformation and the evolving self-identification and aspirations of the state and its people.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s visit to the United States (August 31-September 2) succeeded, at least, in halting the degradation of the bilateral relationship, under way since 2019, particularly after the advent of the Joseph Biden administration. The White House’s temptation of a neo-reset with Russia has translated into neglect of Ukraine and decisions detrimental to it (see below).
Mr. Zelenskyy’s Washington visit has nevertheless prompted both governments to refocus on their long-declared but under-fulfilled strategic partnership. Major statements of intent at the inter-governmental and private-sector levels during this visit, coupled with bipartisan Congressional support, have given the strategic partnership the chance of a fresh start.
As President Volodymyr Zelenskyy returns home after a successful working visit to the United States, his attention will now have to switch to pressing domestic issues. The Ukrainian parliament is shortly due to reconvene after its summer recess, and the political battles over critical issues will be reconvened with vigor.
In light of this, and bearing in mind that Ukraine has just celebrated the 30th anniversary of it’s breaking free from the Soviet empire, it is worth recalling what the main current political conflicts are and seeing what the mood of the country is three decades after it affirmed its renewed independence.
The sudden collapse of the Afghan National Army and security forces, the fall of Kabul without a fight, President Ashraf Ghani fleeing the country and the victorious Taliban taking everything are currently a source of mass revelry for the state-controlled Russian media.
Each August witnesses some critical and usually unhappy events for Russia, and this year is particularly rich with round anniversaries. Sixty years ago, on August 13, 1961, the Soviet leadership ordered the construction of a wall to separate West Berlin from the Socialist East Germany, until that barrier finally came down in November 1989.
As Ukraine was still reeling from the news that Berlin and Washington had reached a compromise deal concerning the Russian-German Nord Stream 2 project without Ukraine’s input, it was suddenly announced by Ukrainian officials on August 9 that Germany’s outgoing chancellor, Angela Merkel, will visit Kyiv on August 22.
The Nord Stream 2 saga is far from over. Although the agreement between the United States and Germany would allow for the physical completion of this natural gas pipeline (directly linking Russia and Germany via the Baltic Sea), its certification and especially its future operation at full capacity are far from certain.
In an indication of what the Kremlin may be being told, a pro-Moscow activist in the Donbas says that there are no internal forces capable of changing Ukraine’s direction and that it will cease to be “the anti-Russia” Vladimir Putin talks about if outside force is brought to bear on that country.
As Ukraine prepares to celebrate the 30th anniversary of its renewed independence on August 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Russia is making no secret of its open hostility toward and frustration with Ukraine. And at the same time, recent collusion between Berlin and Washington have added to Kyiv’s sense of discomfort and unease.
Combat ships lined the Neva River in St. Petersburg and crowded the harbor of the nearby Kronstadt naval base on July 25 for the parade marking the 325th anniversary of Russia’s navy, the Military-Maritime Fleet (Voyenno-Morskoy Flot – VMF). It was only the sixth such Navy Day spectacle to date. In 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin decided that the annual May 9 Victory Day parade in Red Square in Moscow was not enough to convincingly demonstrate the full might of the Russian Armed Forces.