US-Ukraine Security Dialogue III

Ukraine’s Quest for Nation-Statehood: Perceptions of the West from Ukraine’s point of view

Volodymyr Ohryzko

Keynote by Volodymyr Ohryzko, Former Foreign Minister of Ukraine, delivered during U.S.-Ukraine Security Dialogue III, Chicago, May 19, 2012.

Most Reverend Fathers! Honored Guests, Exellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen! Dear Friends!

After today”s discussion it is quite a daunting task for me to speak here because we just had an opportunity to listen to a group of brilliant speakers, who examined the problem of Ukraine”s security in a comprehensive fashion. What I can do is offer an historical-analytical perspective, although I will, of course, provide some conclusions and generalizations.

I will begin with an issue with which, to my mind, it is difficult not to concur. I believe that the all-encompassing book about Ukraine”s role and importance in the history of mankind, especially in the current period, has yet to be written.

Why was such a book not written yet? The answer is because there was no Ukraine as an independent, self-sufficient factor in global, or at least regional, politics. Ukraine was not needed by anyone but Ukrainians themselves, and even then by a very small proportion of them, those who were aware of themselves as Ukrainians rather than Khokhols, or Malorossy – Little Russians.”

Why did it happen this way? This question is simultaneously historical, political, and philosophical in nature, and we will hardly find a single answer to it; I will not attempt one either. There are too many components in it of both an internal and external character. But, I will note with pleasure that various types of research on Ukrainian subjects are appearing not just in Ukraine but also abroad.

It is clear, therefore, that there is increasing interest in Ukraine. Ukraine is becoming part of the European and global scholarly process, and its developmental trends are now the focus of research and generalizations. This is a mutual and mutually-enriching process. I am convinced that our conference today is also a very serious step on the road to deepening discussions about and around Ukraine, which will therefore foster a better understanding of our country and its problems.

Allow me to share with you some of my observations regarding the external, mainly Western, perception of Ukraine from the early twentieth century to the present. Naturally, I will focus only on individual episodes because during the time allotted to me here it is simply impossible to analyze the situation comprehensively.

Now for a bit of history: On the eve of the twentieth century Ukraine was a gloomy province of the Russian Empire. After having made the greatest educational, intellectual, cultural and, finally, simply physical contribution to the creation of this very empire, Ukrainians eventually became, through the efforts of their own leaders, expendable material,” a kind of imperial humus.” The question of whose fault this was is not entirely rhetorical.

For us, Ukrainians, it is unpleasant and painful because, despite all our attempts to put the blame for our problems on someone else, the answer is utterly simple: in reality, it is we, Ukrainians, who are at fault.

When I reached adulthood and finally had an opportunity to read the truthful history of Ukraine, I kept catching myself thinking that our knightly ancestors frequently defended foreign kings, tsars, and khans, but for some reason they rarely asked themselves the following straightforward questions: Who are we? Where is our state? How should we build and safeguard it? Why should we serve others and not ourselves? Rephrasing the writer Volodymyr Vynnychenko”s famous phrase that the history of Ukraine cannot be read without a sedative, I would add that sometimes it cannot be read without a sense of shame.

Having said this, in no way do I wish to diminish the deeds of our glorious ancestors, from Prince Yaroslav the Wise to the heroic chieftains of the Cossack era. But facts are facts: we did not manage to save and maintain even the historic nucleus of Ukrainian statehood around Kyiv and Lviv.

Therefore, the response to the lack of an answer to the question of our statehood became the period in our history known as the Ruin,” which was marked by mental ruin, political ruin, and the destruction of our statehood. During the period of Russian colonization, Ukraine seemed to disappear from history; it entered a frozen, semi-living state. In my opinion, by far the worst consequence of the centuries spent under the brutal Russian yoke was that the spirit of liberty, independence, and impulse to rebel eroded among many Ukrainian leaders and was supplanted by Little Russian” views of Ukraine”s history and destiny.

At the turn of the twentieth century it was not a martial spirit aimed at achieving independence that was paramount in the minds of our numerically-small intelligentsia but pseudo-liberal views of the future of Ukraine as an autonomous part of Russia, views that were intermingled with socialist chimeras and blatant political impotence.

Therefore, as of the early part of the twentieth century, Ukraine as a political factor did not exist either for the West or for Russia-or even, unfortunately, for the majority of the intellectual stratum in Ukraine, which should have formulated for all Ukrainians clear-cut goals and tasks necessary for state building. To the world and, in fact, to our very selves, we were a thing apart. Among Ukrainian leaders, practically no one since Ukraine”s national poet Taras Shevchenko called upon the nation to metaphorically grab hold of an ax”.

Under these circumstances, could we have demanded special treatment from anyone when we ourselves refused to lift a finger on behalf of our very own future? Were not the first three universals of the Central Rada in fact more of an attempt to evade responsibility for the fate of our own people rather than a desire to take this responsibility upon ourselves? Could the Ukrainian nation have wrested its independence with this kind of elite? My answer is: NO. Not because we know that this is indeed what happened, but because without a clearly formulated goal and decisive actions to achieve it, a positive result could hardly been expected.

Therefore, there is a very straightforward answer to the question of who we were for the outside world even after the Fourth Universal. For Russia, Ukraine was a rebellious province that had to be put in its place, including by means of direct intervention and the occupation of the Ukrainian lands. For the West, Ukraine was a giant mystery, an incomprehensible phenomenon, to which it had simply to accustom itself first, understand it, and then develop its own standpoint.

Unfortunately, the West was incapable of understanding Ukraine”s special role within the spectrum of possible changes to the geopolitical map of Europe, and was not able to adopt adequate and far-reaching decisions to use a chance to put an end to Russia”s hegemonic, imperialistic plans. Instead, the West”s policies turned out to be short-sighted and strategic failures. Imagine what the history of Europe would have been like if an independent-and consolidated-Ukrainian state had appeared that time on the map of Europe. But history, unfortunately, does not operate conditionally.

What was the true nature of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk? On the one hand, it appeared to be a show of formal support for Ukraine. On the other, it was above all a solution to Germany”s economic problems. Do you remember how many millions of poods of grain and other kinds of agricultural products that Ukraine shipped to Germany?

I would call the Germans” approach to the Ukrainian question” during that period consumerist.” They replaced strategy with tactics, which, consequently and naturally, led both – the Germans and the Ukrainians – to the failure.

What can one say about the countries of the Entente? They slept and reflected on how to topple Hetman Skoropadsky”s pro-German”-as they saw it-government as quickly as possible. Ukraine never ended up obtaining any real assistance to counteract the overt aggression of Bolshevik Russia. At a critical moment Ukraine was not only not offered any help, once again it was divided up between communist Russia and democratic” Europe, which simply forgot about a nation called Ukraine, not to mention its statehood.

I repeat: the main responsibility for the defeat of the Ukrainian national revolution at the beginning of the twentieth century lies unquestionably with its leaders, especially those who were infected by the bacillus of socialism. At the same time, one must emphasize the strategic short-sightedness and egoism of the leading European politicians.

The window of opportunity for Ukraine remained shut until 1991, with the preceding 70 years of the communist paradise” having brought untold suffering to the Ukrainian people. By this I mean the 1932–33 genocide against the Ukrainians, which took the form of the Holodomor-organized murder by famine; the mass executions of Ukrainian intellectuals in 1937–38-which may also be qualified as genocide; the horrific losses of five million combatants and five million civilians during the Second World War; the persecutions of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) soldiers who heroically fought on two fronts: against the Nazis and against the Communists for a free and independent Ukraine, the persecution of Ukrainian intellectuals during the postwar period; and the notorious GULAG.

And what was the reaction of the West? I will be so bold as to say: NOTHING, or, to be more precise, it was a pro-Bolshevik response. For what else can one call the United States” recognition of the Soviet Union in the very year that Moscow was destroying between six and ten million Ukrainians by means of the famine genocide that it had deliberately organized? To this day, there are no exact figures of the death toll. I remind you that the US recognized the USSR in November 1933. Did the leaders in Washington not know what was happening in Ukraine at that very time? Having worked in the foreign policy sphere for more than thirty years, I can assure you that this does not happen. People knew, but they closed their eyes to the truth.

Did France or Great Britain not know about the Bolsheviks” concentration camps, which existed before the Second World War? Of course, they knew. But whereas Nazism was condemned and punished in Nurnberg, for some reason the crimes of communism have been forgotten. Once again the political dimension has trumped the moral one.

But this situation can be rectified even today by holding an international tribunal to condemn communism. Ukraine, the US, and Canada could be the initiators of such a process. I call on the representatives of American and Canadian civic organizations, as well as the representatives of the highest legislative bodies of the US and Canada to demonstrate crucial initiative. On my part, I can assure you that a number of national-patriotic political parties and civic organizations in Ukraine and other post – Soviet and post – socialist countries are ready to launch this work, which is historically important for the democratic world.

But let”s return to the main topic. People in the West may have thought that after the Second World War Bolshevik Russia would change, become different-democratic. If that is the case, then one can only wonder at their naiveté and short-sightedness. Fortunately, however, there were some political figures in the West who recognized the essence of Russian policies and sought to counteract them. Granted, there were very few such people. During the entire history of the postwar period they could be counted on the fingers of one hand.

However, most Western leaders were absolutely different. Three weeks before the proclamation of Ukraine”s independence US President George Bush, Senior, speaking in Kyiv, called on Ukrainians to support Mikhail Gorbachev, preserve the USSR, and not seek independence.

And what about the Germans? After the gift of Germany”s reunification, they were ready to kiss the ground that Gorbachev walked on, having quickly forgotten about their moral obligations vis-à-vis the Ukrainians, even though hardly anyone experienced such horrors during the Second World War as the Ukrainian people.

Is it not telling that in the first years after the restoration of our independence the chief goal of both – the United States and Russia – was Ukraine”s nuclear disarmament? At that time we were under heavy pressure from two sides: the East and the West. What did Ukraine receive in exchange for giving up its nuclear might, the world”s third most powerful? Nothing that could be considered in even the slightest way as guarantees of our security.

No sober-minded politician can claim that the Budapest Memorandum is capable of protecting Ukraine. The numerous examples of Ukrainian-Russian friendship” in recent years are clear-cut confirmation of this. Once again we have ended up in the role of object,” and we are far from being a subject of our own destiny. Unquestionably, this situation cannot continue.

I would not like it if my listeners, particularly the non-Ukrainians present here, got the impression that in the last twenty years nothing has changed in the West”s attitude to Ukraine. Such a claim would be erroneous. In a consistent fashion the leaders of the top Western countries are beginning to understand that Ukraine should not be looked at through Moscow-tinted glasses. In this respect, the US and Canada are playing a special role.

An extraordinarily important role in the fact that this has happened was played by the powerful Ukrainian community in these countries. I would like to take this opportunity-as I have done so several times before-to thank its representatives and the many generations of the Ukrainian Diaspora for their struggle. Even during the most difficult periods under the Russian colonial yoke, especially in the twentieth century, your position, your voice, and your will inspired those who remained behind the Iron Curtain. Your contribution to the victory of Ukraine”s independence is special, and it will be duly analyzed and assessed by our contemporaries.

In this regard, I would like to offer my sincere thanks to the organizers of our conference, especially to Borys Potapenko, Bohdan Fedorak, and Marta Farion, as well as the World Ukrainian Congress, the International Conference in Support of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, and all the other organizations and individuals who helped organize this important event, and express my sincere gratitude for their immense contribution to our joint struggle, which, unfortunately, must continue. Today, twenty years after the restoration of Ukraine”s independence, the question of our real independence is once again critically acute, especially because of the policies of the current government in Kyiv.

The questions of safeguarding Ukraine”s security greatly trouble me and many other analysts, as attested by the speeches delivered at today”s conference. One does not need to be an academic to understand that this is a key question of our state building. If you have security-or at least reliable guarantees of it-then you can safely build your future.

But what do we, Ukrainians, have at the moment?

Those politicians and scholars who thought that, with the collapse of communism, peace and calm would rule the North Atlantic region were naïve to think so. It turned out that there is a factor in this space, which, regardless of the form of its social order, generates tensions. This factor is Russia. The history of the USSR has borne out numerous times that communist ideology was merely a cover, a form that concealed the imperialistic essence of the Russian state. Although communist system has receded into the past, Russian chauvinism, Russian imperialism, and Russia”s efforts to grab what does not belong to her and to establish the limits of her special interests” have not disappeared.

To avoid being accused of bias, I will cite a few statements by Russian intellectuals, your and my contemporaries. Such people are exceptions in Russia. In the past they would simply have been shot; today, however, they must suffer and are regarded as creatures of the West, which is so odious to the government.

The Russian intellectual, Igor Chubais, wrote the following about Russia after the collapse of the USSR:

The state in which we landed after the collapse of the USSR is not a new Russia but a post-Soviet system; this is a new type of nomenklatura/totalitarian regime. This is a new USSR … The essence of the state machine that was preserved for ninety years lies in the fact that it has changed only on the outside, superficially, but at its foundation it is not subject to reform; it can only be dismantled.”

Here is what the well-known analyst Lidia Shevtsova has written: The Russian government absolutely does not sense the drive and spirit of the new age.” Characterizing the foreign policies of the new-old president Putin, she notes: He will be forced to appeal to the old, traditional Russian matrix: “seek out the enemy,” to Russian militarism, for self-preservation.”

It is interesting to compare these statements with those made by foreign diplomats and scholars, who visited or studied Muscovy centuries ago.

After visiting Russia in the mid-nineteenth century, the French aristocrat Marquis de Custine wrote the following description of Russia”s attitude to foreigners: The diplomatic corps and Westerners in general have always been considered by this Government, with its Byzantine spirit, and by Russia as a whole, as malevolent and jealous spies.” Comparing France and Russia, he noted: We should make a distinction for ourselves here in order to establish the difference between the social state of the two countries. In France, revolutionary tyranny is an evil of transition; in Russia, the tyranny of despotism is a permanent revolution.”

In the late nineteenth century (eighteen eighty-nine, to be exact) Karl Marx, whose ideas were so successfully implemented in Russia, first by Vladimir Lenin and then by Joseph Stalin, wrote about that same Russia: The bloody mire of (Mongolian) slavery, not the rude glory of the Norman epoch, forms the cradle of Muscovy … A simple substitution of names and dates will prove to evidence that between the policy of Ivan III, and that of modern Russia, there exists not similarity but sameness.”

As we can see, there is much in common. While forms of governance change, the essence of Muscovy does not. It remains unchanged-imperialistic, aggressive, merciless.

Is this understood by contemporary Western leaders? It is my profound conviction that either they do not understand, or underestimate the threat, or pretend not to understand. The latter option is the most unacceptable one because it is simply amoral.

So, I would like to believe that they don”t understand, because if they did, would the leaders of Germany and France have then objected to offering Ukraine the NATO Member Action Plan at the Bucharest summit? If they did, would NATO and the EU have reacted as they did to Russia”s aggression against Georgia in August 2008? Would there have been the same reaction to Russia”s open support for the Syrian and Iranian regimes? These are just a few examples.

Is it not time for Western leaders finally to understand one very simple truth? Appeasing an aggressor only encourages him to further aggression. This question should be rephrased: How to compel an aggressor to remain within bounds, where he will not be able to threaten others?

Here I would like to give US President George Bush, Junior, and his administration their due for having worthily upheld the policy of protecting democracy and freedom, including with respect to Ukraine. A key role in turning Ukraine toward democratic values and deepening Ukrainian-American relations was, of course, also played by President Viktor Yushchenko. It was he who laid the foundations for the democratization of contemporary Ukraine. I am pleased to recall that in December 2008 US State Secretary Condoleeza Rice and I signed the US -Ukraine Strategic Partnership Charter, whereby we took another step in the direction of strengthening Ukraine”s security; of course, it was not as big a step as we, Ukrainians, might have desired, but it was one that in the final analysis would lead to success.

What I call success is Ukraine”s membership in NATO as the sole collective security organization in the North Atlantic today, which unites democratic countries and is capable of protecting them from external aggression. I am deeply convinced that only NATO membership will offer an answer, on the one hand, to the security challenges that Ukraine is facing today and, on the other, will impede the realization of the restoration of the Russian empire in its new, Eurasian, form. In the twenty-first century there is no place for empires in any form!

A powerful North Atlantic center of power should be created, with actions closely coordinated along the line of North America-Europe and NATO-European Union-and Ukraine should of course be a part of both of it. Only this kind of power center can respond to the threats and challenges that the North Atlantic community is already facing today. Otherwise, with the passage of time this community will become cardinally deformed and will disappear from the historical arena.

Contemporary Russia does not fit into this construct, but not because it is traditionally ruled by non-democratic leaders. The question concerns more than just these leaders. The question is the society itself which elects this kind of non-democratic government. The last presidential elections clearly confirmed this: a mere 5 to 7 percent of Russian voters voted for the democratic opposition, although it is rather difficult to call those voters democratic.

As illustration, I will cite a few ideas of a Russian who lives in Moscow. His name is Yegor Prysvyrnin.

… This is the typical Russian scenario: take an English nuclear bomb, take German missiles, and then for fifty years threaten the world with our Russian nuclear weapons!” without in the slightest thinking that this is a dirty trick or feeling the slightest embarrassment.

Encountering the Russians, various nations are quietly dumbfounded by how the Russians format reality for themselves by making use of the surrounding space as a set of instruments. “Your city of Kazan is beautiful. But we”ll just burn it down a bit and then we will move it here. It is more beautiful like that. It”s true. So stop running around and screaming, you Tatars; we are doing this for your sake, you fools.” That”s the Russian way of thinking…”

Do not think for a minute that these are the words of a Russian neo-fascist. They belong to a young man who recently went to Bolotnaia Square in Moscow to protest against Putin”s regime.

It is simply that, historically, Russia and its society have different values from the West. I would strenuously advise Western leaders, despite their pressing schedules, to read a true history of Russia, beginning with the reign of Prince Andrei Bogoliubsky.

I am not an anti-Russian politician, of which I am accused in Russia and by pro-Russian forces in Ukraine. In fact, I am a realist, and therefore I am speaking about what I know very well. For example, I am not alone in realizing that Russia is seeking to put an end to Ukrainian independence as quickly as possible. It is seeking to remove Ukraine from the roadmap as a possible undesirable example for its own society in the event that we succeed on the path to membership in the EU and NATO. Because the success of democratic Ukraine spells the collapse of authoritarian Russia.

In conclusion I would like to note, that the situation today is very reminiscent of the one that I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks. Will the West understand the new opportunity-even for itself-which is opening up with Ukraine”s entry into Western civilization? In my opinion, the prospects for both the North Atlantic space and Russia for many decades to come are being defined today precisely in Ukraine. Not seeing this, not comprehending this means demonstrating once again either incompetence or amorality.

We would very much like to hope that Western leaders will rise to the heights of their special responsibility. It is necessary to help not just with words and messages but also actions-actions that are accurate, verified, and effective. Here in the West you must finally tell yourselves: turning Ukraine toward Western values is our, the West”s, moral duty. This is not complicated at all. You must simply recall what happened not so long ago with regard to for example Poland, Slovakia or Lithuania. We are no less European than the representatives of those countries. Therefore, it is crucial to adopt decisions and act!

Having said this, I am in no way shifting the main responsibility for the future of Ukrainians from Ukrainians themselves. I sincerely believe that changes are not far off. I am referring to October of this year. In the event of the opposition”s victory in the elections-and I believe in this wholeheartedly-key changes will also be made to foreign policy. We will overturn the law that turned Ukraine into a gray security zone.” We will revive our course and aim to join NATO; we will eliminate the obstacles to Ukraine”s membership in the European Union.

But the most important changes must take place in our domestic policies. Once and for all, we should put an end to the Soviet past: the corruption, the shadow economy, the selective nature of jurisprudence, the dichotomy within society. Ukraine must finally become Ukrainian, democratic, and European.

Therefore, both we and the West must travel along our path. But we will cover it considerably faster if we join our efforts, if there is no ambiguity in our relations, if Ukraine is perceived as an independent factor of international life, not a zone of someone else”s interests. Only then will we have a chance for success.

I sincerely believe in our chance and in our success.

Glory to Ukraine!