Monday 25 November 2013

Ukraine: Borderland or battleground?

The name Ukraine has been interpreted as "borderland" over the centuries. Today Ukraine effectively represents a border between the EU and Russia. Since independence in 1991 the country has experienced a turbulent transition from Soviet rule and has effectively been caught between East and West ever since.
Last week Ukrainian politicians voted to suspend preparations for the signing of an association agreement paving the way for closer ties with the EU. The deal also stipulated that former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko should be released from prison for medical treatment. Ukraine came under intense pressure from the Kremlin not to sign the agreement. It seems that in this case, they've bowed to Moscow. For now.
Protestors have gathered in the capital Kyiv in scenes reminiscent of the 2004 Orange Revolution. However, this situation, as with the Orange Revolution, is not straightforward. This isn't a case of East V West, nor is it a case of Russian speakers identifying solely with Russia, indeed many ethnic Russians in the country are pro-EU, further complicating the issue. Ukraine is a fascinating, complex and contradictory country; the return of Viktor Yanukovych from the ashes of the Orange Revolution exemplifies this.
It'll be interesting to watch the developments in the country in the coming days and weeks. At the weekend Kyiv will host the 11th Junior Eurovision Song Contest. Will this impact upon the show? Probably not. Unlike in 2005, where the adult version of the Eurovision Song Contest was used as a political platform by President Yushchenko's government, the junior version has tended to be a more benign affair. That said, Azerbaijan and Armenia are both entering again this year so there's plenty of opportunity for the politics of pop to rear its ugly head during the voting!
Instead of borderland, I'd describe Ukraine today as a battleground, caught up in a geopolitical tug of war. It's difficult to envisage how developments will unfold in the country in the future. Ukraine is anything but a united country. The Ukrainian entry for Junior Eurovision this year is called "We Are One", the irony of which is plain to see.

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