Why Is The Ukraine Important? Do We Have To Draw A Line In The Sand?

Why A U.S. Relationship With Ukraine is Important

Why is our support of Ukraine important to U.S. strategic interests, and what does that support involve?

Ukraine has been the target of Russian aggression since 2014, when Russian forces invaded and occupied The Crimea portion of Ukraine and began an invasion of the eastern portion of that country.  Even now, Russian artillery daily blasts portions of Ukraine, attacks by Russian tanks and troop carriers are routine, and casualties of Ukrainian troops and civilians climb.

While Ukraine has been replete with political corruption since it became an independent state after the collapse of the Soviet Union, newly-elected President Volodymyr Zelensky has promised to clean up Ukraine and—borrowing a phrase from President Trump—has pledged to “drain the swamp” in Ukraine. A former comedian, Zelensky was considered an underdog, unlikely to win his bid for president.  But he did win and has sought to strengthen Ukraine’s relationship with the United States.  Our relationship is important not only to the Ukrainians, it is of strategic interest to the United States.

The Obama Administration gave much vocal support to Ukraine, but was reluctant to give them military aid.  In fact, President Obama refused to give Ukraine lethal military equipment.  Instead, the former administration only gave token support in the form of MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), bedding and other such supplies.  President Obama feared that any sharing of weapons and other battlefield equipment would only embolden Russian aggression and cause an uptick in Russian meddling in the affairs of Ukraine.  By doing so, the Obama Administration only encouraged Vladimir Putin’s expansionist desires and sent a message that Russia could act there with relative impunity.  To his credit, President Obama did punish Russia with increased sanctions and with rallying our European allies to stand with the U.S. in countering Russia’s interference in its attack on a neighboring sovereign state.

However, President Trump has been fierce and consistent in calling Russia to account for its invasion of Ukraine and its veiled threats to eastern Europe.  But Ukraine needs the support of the United States to counter Russian threats.  By the way, in light of Ukraine’s past corruption and ineptitude at the highest levels of the government, it was only reasonable that President Trump would wait temporarily to send them the aid that was approved by Congress earlier.  It was prudent that he wait for the inauguration of Ukraine’s new president and establish a relationship with this new leader.  The U.S. needed to make sure that Ukraine was entering a new phase in leadership and that President Zelensky was indeed going to root out corruption and be the new, honest leader the Ukrainian people deserve.  There was nothing dark or deceptive about President Trump’s decision to “trust—but verify”—that Ukraine was turning over a new leaf.

President Trump has released a substantial aid package to Ukraine, based on the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative passed by Congress.  It is timely and strategic.  This military assistance includes equipment and training that was denied under the previous U.S. administration.  The 250-million-dollar package includes sniper rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, crew-served weapons, radar systems to counter Russian artillery, medical equipment, electronic warfare and communications equipment, and night vision goggles.  It also includes the Javelin anti-tank weapon.  This is a “fire-and-forget” self-guided round designed to defend against heavy armor.

Additionally, the U.S. State Department is providing an additional 141 million dollars in aid; this includes funds to purchase weapons through the Foreign Military Financing program and provide advisers and training so as to make Ukrainian forces more interoperable with NATO forces and equipment.  This is important, as Ukraine is not a member of NATO and can’t claim the defensive umbrella that NATO guarantees to its members.  But in any future war, it is important that Ukraine be able to join the efforts of NATO in countering further Russian aggression.

As noted by Jill Altoro in an editorial in Defense News, Ukraine is a complicated ally for the United States.  Past corruption has made this relationship even more complicated. In many ways it is a fledgling state, seeking to establish itself in the world after decades of Soviet control.  It is also an incredibly strategic partner to the United States and to NATO generally.  Like the members of NATO, Ukraine is key to keeping the peace in that part of the world and to stopping the “empire aspirations” of Putin’s Russia.  While the United States is not obligated to defend Ukraine, it is in our national security interests to ensure that Ukraine can defend itself.  With the vacillation of NATO ally Turkey, and its cozy relationship with Russia and its purchase of Russian missile systems, we need another friend in that region who seeks democracy, the rule of law, and freedom.

Congress did the right thing in approving military aid to Ukraine.  President Trump was right to establish a personal relationship with Ukraine’s President Zelensky.  Ukraine’s security and independence is important to the United States, to Europe, and to the rest of the world.

Ukraine Is the Most Important Country for the EU. Here’s Why

Which is the most important “outside” country for the European Union at the present moment and for the foreseeable future?

It isn’t the United States of America. It’s not the Russian Federation. Nor is it China, nor is it Turkey. It’s not Egypt, or Libya, or Syria, or Algeria, or Tunisia, or Morocco. It’s not Iran. It’s not even Serbia, or Georgia.

This question is absolutely essential for the future of the European Union.

And its answer should be unequivocal.

It’s Ukraine.

The reason, quite simply put, is the following:

Ukraine is the largest country that has the realistic potential, the desire, and a wide range of prerequisites to become a member state of the European Union, and to become one of the several “big ones” at that.

Of course, that is a very long shot: Ukraine hasn’t even been recognized as an official EU candidate country yet, and it’s not even sure when it will be, or even that it ever will be.

However, out of those eligible (i.e. being geographically part of the continent of Europe), Ukraine is the largest country that has the potential to become a member state of the European Union, and whose population seemingly has the desire to do so, and, what’s ever more important, whose society wishes to change correspondingly in the process. And, presumably, EU integration pre-accession changes have always been for the better – as dozens of other countries from Western, Southern, Northern, and Eastern Europe already have. Even EU haters admit that.

Evidently, Ukraine doesn’t carry nearly as much international weight as the USA, Russia, China, or Turkey, or even Iran, or Egypt, or a bunch of other countries, when it comes to trade, diplomacy, military power, you name it.

However, as far as the EU is concerned, all of those factors are trumped by one simple factor: the realistic potential to become one of your own.

Historical comparisons between the European Union and the United States of America aren’t very insightful because history doesn’t repeat itself, the two entities are quite different, and so on. Yet, such comparisons do have some illustrative power.

So, in that regard, just to illustrate the point about the EU and Ukraine, it’s worth asking which was the most important country for the United States in the 1840s? It wasn’t Britain or France, or Spain. It was the Lone Star republic of Texas. Why? Because Texas had the potential to become one of the US states. And it did so shortly thereafter (leaving aside the exact nature of the circumstances and events around this development).

Theoretically, both Russia and Turkey could be that most important to the European Union – because they both have European territory, and therefore eligible to become EU member states. Both of them are huge, with far greater scope that Ukraine.

However, in both cases the main factors against that possibility have to do with the lack of desire among their ruling elites and general populations to seek the goal of becoming part of the European Union, a process invariably entailing tremendous changes.

In both of those countries, their ruling elites and the majority of their people seem to desire to stand on their own, possibly as some form of an empire, at least in the sense of projecting influence in their own “spheres of influence” (historical cliché as that is).

That’s alright. Nobody is supposed to want to become part of the European Union, and to transform themselves tremendously in the process of pursuing this goal in a dedicated fashion.

That is why the European Union should be concerned first and foremost with those countries whose ruling elites and societies consider becoming part of the EU to be a great opportunity for them. Those countries are the matter of discussion here.

That’s why the EU is left with Ukraine being the most important (still) non-EU country for it that’s out there. Once again, the simple fact of the matter is that Ukraine is the largest of those countries that are simultaneously eligible for EU membership and seem to have a desire to seek it. Once again, with all the corresponding internal changes that this achievement usually entails.

The awareness of which country is the most important for the EU and why that is Ukraine is of utmost importance for the Union if it wants to be a viable, credible, and promising political entity on the world map.

Not because of expansionist dreams. Not because of geopolitical goals. Not because of wanting to rob Russia of its empire. Not because of a desire to become the world’s next superstate.

Anybody even slightly familiar with the core philosophy of the European Union as well as the practice of that philosophy by the already existing peace-loving, introvert, well-meaning member states would axiomatically know that can never be the case.

Anybody should be rather content with having the European Union as their immediate neighbor or even not so immediate neighbor.

That awareness of utmost importance because of the European Union’s mission to bring together all on the European continent with the stated desire to pursue, internalize, and adhere to its eternal values.

There are a number of still non-EU European states meeting that seemingly or possibly meet that criteria – from the already recognized EU candidate countries in the Western Balkans (Southeast Europe) to the regions of the former Soviet space.

Ukraine happens to be the largest one of those. With roughly the same population and twice larger territory, Ukraine is what Poland was among the countries that joined the EU in the three “Eastern Enlargements” in the decade between 2004 and 2013.

This is a principled situation, and it doesn’t technically matter that Ukraine’s EU membership is a still very long shot, or that it might even never get realized, that Ukraine’s is riddled with high-level corruption, that Ukraine has a very burdensome communist heritage, or that the emblematic Dutch voters are prepared to reject even an EU association agreement with Ukraine multiple times. It is a matter of principle.

And in principle, Ukraine is the largest of those countries that realistically can become part of the EU, whether in 10, 15, or 20 years (or even never).

Going back to the point why it is Ukraine, and not Russia or Turkey:

Ukraine is secular, pro-European, and apparently pro-democratic, and does not seem to have a desire to dominate anything, neither its region, nor Europe or the EU, even if it would likely be bold enough to defend its standing on certain issues the way Poland does it, already an EU member for 15 years. The way any EU member state is entitled to do that within the Union.

These qualities of Ukraine might set it in contrast to Russia and Turkey whose leaderships and societies seem to treasure the memories of those countries’ respective historical empires. They might even prefer those visions of old-style grandeur way more than the prospects of becoming part of the European community of shared values, a community devoid of overt imperial gloss – even if their leaders might be prepared to pay lip service to the possibility of a “great European home”, for instance.

Historically speaking, that’s OK, too. If any country wants to become, or reemerge as an empire, it’s entitled to try – as long as it manages to achieve that goal, with all ensuing risks and threats for itself. But it would probably be wiser to learn from the European experience.

As far as the question of “empire” goes, the great thing about the European Union is that it is a Union of “losers”: countries which either built empires to see them crashing down, or which were otherwise crushed, mauled, or severely threatened by empires, and have therefore reached the right interpretation of their historical experience. Namely, that nothing worthy can come out of imperial ambitions.

Then there is the question of size. It goes with the fact that both Russia and Turkey are simply too big. If at some point any one of those two became a member state of the European Union (a scenario for political science fiction writers for the time being, even in Turkey’s case which has technically been in accession talks for 14 years now), it would be the largest member state (Turkey is about to surpass Germany by population pretty soon). Unsurprisingly, there is not a single organization in the world of any sort that would be overly enthusiastic to welcome a newcomer that might be able to dominate it.

Ukraine, on the other hand, is quite big but not too big, so that both the Union as a whole, and the already existing member states, both big and small ones, will be able to “swallow” its accession with relative ease.

If or when Ukraine becomes a member of the EU, it would naturally assume a spot among the Big Six – which are now about to become the Big Five when Britain finally leaves the Union through Brexit (Germany, France, UK, Italy, Spain, Poland).

Again, while this is still a very long shot, and Britain’s departure (which itself was a long shot for a while) is regrettable, but such a set up would bring a better East – West balance inside the EU.

Due to its otherwise sorry legacy of totalitarian communism, Ukraine is overwhelmingly secular, as is Russia. Secularism has actually been an issue with respect to Turkey’s EU bid, and has actually emerged more prominently after 2000 than before. Many tend to fail to take notice of the fact that as far as religion is concerned with respect to EU accession, the question isn’t what religion the potential candidate country has (Christianity or Islam) but how deeply secular it is. Theoretically, if a society is overwhelmingly secular – from government to everyday lives, the specific religion wouldn’t matter.

The enlargement of the European Union cannot go on indefinitely as it is constrained by geography (here’s another awkward comparison to the United States of America – its expansion also had to end at some point, Trump’s ambitions for Greenland notwithstanding).

However, for the time being the enlargement of the European Union is far from over – nearly a dozen countries have at least the theoretical desire to become part of the Union and to change for the better in the process. Those are still left outside. EU enlargement wouldn’t be completed until all who are eligible, worthy, and wish to join, do get in.

All of this is not even discussing the highly notable fact that in recent years, Ukraine was the place where people died waving the EU flag as a symbol of hope, freedom, and progress.

Based on both potential desire for accession and positive change, and on its sheer size, Ukraine appears to be the most important non-EU country for the European Union for the time being. It would be very shrewd of the entire European Union to take notice of that fact.

Why Ukraine matters to Russia so much

There are both geopolitical and historical reasons behind Moscow’s endless pressure on Kiev, which was the birthplace of the first Russian state in the 9th Century.

Vladimir Putin, Russia’s longtime leader, once described the collapse of the Soviet Union, the predecessor state of Moscow, as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century”. 

“As for the Russian people, it became a genuine tragedy. Tens of millions of our fellow citizens and countrymen found themselves beyond the fringes of Russian territory,” the Russian president said in 2005, when Ukraine’s anti-Russian pro-EU Orange Revolution was raging across the country. 

Putin was not happy about the new reality of former Soviet republics like Ukraine parting their ways from Moscow. But he was equally perturbed that millions of Russian-speaking people were left behind, stuck in countries like Ukraine, Lithuania and Kazakhstan under non-Russian states. 

Putin and his predecessors were still keen on tightening their control over the Russian autonomous regions populated by non-Russian ethnic groups, from Chechnya to Tatarstan and others. They even waged brutal wars to crush separatist movements like the one led by Chechens two decades ago. 

In 2008, Russia even attacked Georgia, a former Soviet republic, which became an independent state three decades ago. Moscow openly backed South Ossetians and Abkhazians, who rebelled against Tbilisi’s central authority. Since then, South Ossetia and Abkhazia have remained separatist-controlled regions with Russian assistance.     

Putin pursues a similar policy to Moscow’s Georgia conduct, backing anti-Kiev Russian separatists when it comes to Ukraine. But most recently, Putin has signalled another invasion, deploying tens of thousands of troops across the Russia-Ukraine border.     

But why does Ukraine matter so much to Russia? Here is a breakdown. 

Kiev: the birthplace of Russia

Ukraine’s move toward the Western bloc in the name of having a democratic state has made the Russian establishment feel betrayed because Kiev’s national identity and history is much more linked to Russia than Turkic states in Central Asia and Baltic states in eastern Europe, which were also part of the Soviets. 

Moscow’s ruling establishment feels so emotional because the first Russian state called Kievan Rus was established in Kiev 12 centuries ago. Even the name of Russia originated in the name of this loose confederation of Eastern Slavic, Baltic and Finnic nations. 

Rurik, the founding leader of the Kievan Rus dynasty, has been considered one of the godfathers of the Russian state. Interestingly, Rurik did not have Slavic origins, he had Viking blood in his veins.

Rurik stands in the middle a bronze monument called Millennium of Russia in the Novgorod Kremlin. It celebrates Rurik's arrival to Novgorod as the starting point of Russia
Rurik stands in the middle a bronze monument called Millennium of Russia in the Novgorod Kremlin. It celebrates Rurik’s arrival to Novgorod as the starting point of Russia (Credit: Tsyganov Sergey / Wikipedia Commons)

“Little Russia”

Following Rurik, his successors embraced Orthodox Christianity under Byzantine influence, partly because Orthodox Slavs had largely populated their territories. As a result, Slavism and Orthodox Christianity have become the two dominant elements of the Russian identity. 

In time, the Russian capital moved first to Saint Petersburg and later to Moscow, but the emotional presence of Kiev in the Russian heart has not changed much. Putin has continued to call Ukraine “Little Russia”, quoting a former Russian general, Anton Denikin.  

“He says that no one should be allowed to interfere in relations between us; they have always been the business of Russia itself,” the Russian president said in 2009, referring to ties between Ukraine and Russia.  

In July, Putin wrote an article titled “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians”, in which he argued that both nations are “one people”, giving a long historical account of it. 

Heavy Russian population in Ukraine

Beyond the Russian emotions of Kiev, there is also a population fact, which matters a lot to Moscow. At least one-third of the Ukrainian population, mostly living in the eastern part of the country close to the Russian border, speaks Russian and feels Russian. On the other hand, Ukrainians living in the Western and northern parts of the country also widely speak Russian.  

In 2013, simmering tensions between Kiev and its Russian-origin population exploded in eastern Ukraine. Since then, Moscow has backed Russian separatists, who established their own autonomous state called Donetsk People’s Republic in 2014 in eastern Ukraine. 

Head of the separatist pro-Russian Donetsk People's Republic Denis Pushilin attends a news conference in Donetsk, Ukraine.
Head of the separatist pro-Russian Donetsk People’s Republic Denis Pushilin attends a news conference in Donetsk, Ukraine. (Alexander Ermochenko / Reuters)

But that was not all. In 2014, Putin’s Russia also annexed the Crimean Peninsula, a strategic region in the Black Sea, from Ukraine after a controversial referendum. 

Ukraine could do nothing to stop the invasion, as the opposition from the US and its Western allies remained confined to mere protests. Most recently, Russia has deployed tens of thousands of troops across its border with Ukraine, signalling another invasion could be on the way. 

“I am becoming more and more convinced of this: Kyiv (Kiev) simply does not need Donbas,” Putin wrote in his July article, referring to eastern Ukraine. 

Ukrainian opposition hurts

Moscow’s balancing act toward Ukraine had been to monitor the political developments until the 2005 Orange Revolution, which toppled a pro-Russian president and government. Since then, tensions have continued to escalate between Ukraine and Russia. 

Despite Putin’s displeasure of the fact that many Russians should live under other successor states to the Soviets after the collapse of the communist state, he has not made it a big issue with them as long as they don’t go against Moscow’s political objectives like Ukraine has done since 2005. 

But unlike Central Asian states, who usually follow Russia-friendly politics, Ukraine has increasingly become a pro-West state, angering Moscow. Russia feels threatened by movements like Ukraine’s Orange Revolution and Georgia’s Rose Revolution, fearing that those pro-democracy demands could spread to other parts of the Russian Federation. 

Geopolitical reasons

Russia has already lost Baltic states to the EU after the Soviet fall and its influence has also significantly decreased across the Balkans, where Moscow was once the leading power. As a result, Moscow feels that it can’t concede Ukraine to the West. 

Russia does not like to have too many EU-member neighbours with NATO sympathies along its western border.
Russia does not like to have too many EU-member neighbours with NATO sympathies along its western border. (TRTWorld)

Feeling encircled by the West and pro-democracy movements from Ukraine to Georgia, Russia under Putin has countered with aggressive policymaking wherever it felt under pressure. Among others, Ukraine has a special importance due to its geography located between Eastern Europe and Russia. 

Russia does not like to have too many EU-member neighbours with NATO sympathies along its western border. Lithuania and Estonia, the two Baltic states neighbouring Russia, already joined the union much to the dismay of the Russian establishment. 

If Ukraine also joins the EU as pro-Russia Belarus continues to struggle with pro-democracy protests, Russia’s Western front will appear weaker and insecure in the eyes of Putin and his allies. 

As a result, it appears to be that Russians even consider invading Ukraine to prevent further risks toward its national and global security interests.

Explainer: Why Is Russia’s Putin So Focused on Ukraine?

Ukraine has become the main flashpoint in Russia’s relations with the West after a build-up of tens of thousands of Russian troops near its border and a series of tough statements from President Vladimir Putin setting out his “red lines”.


With the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union, Russia lost control of 14 former republics it had previously dominated, but the loss of Ukraine was the bitterest pill.

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The two had been linked since the 9th century when Kyiv became the capital of the ancient Russian state of Rus; in 988 its ruler, Grand Prince Vladimir, introduced Orthodox Christianity to Russia. From 1654 Russia and Ukraine were united by treaty under the rule of the Russian tsar.

The two countries speak closely related languages and later formed, with Belarus, the Slav core of the Soviet Union.

Many Russians feel a connection with Ukraine that they do not feel towards other former Soviet states in the Baltics, Caucasus and Central Asia.

Putin alluded to this in an article in June in which he said Russians and Ukrainians were one people who shared a “single historic and spiritual space” and that the emergence of a “wall” between them in recent years was tragic. Kyiv rejected his argument as a politically motivated and over-simplified version of history.


Since the Cold War ended, NATO has expanded eastwards by taking in 14 new countries, including the states of the former Warsaw Pact and the three Baltic nations that were once in the Soviet Union. Russia saw this as a threatening encroachment towards its borders.

Ukraine is not a NATO member but has a promise dating from 2008 that it will eventually get to join. Since toppling a pro-Russian president in 2014, it has moved closer to the West, staged joint military exercises with NATO and taken delivery of weapons including U.S. Javelin anti-tank missiles and Turkish drones. Kyiv and Washington see these as legitimate moves to bolster Ukraine’s defence after Russia seized the Crimea region in 2014 and provided backing to separatists who are still fighting government forces in eastern Ukraine. Putin says Ukraine’s growing ties with the alliance could make it a launchpad for NATO missiles targeted at Russia.

Russia rejects Ukrainian and U.S. suspicions it may be preparing an invasion of Ukraine, saying it is only responding to threats and provocations. It wants security guarantees from the West including the rescinding of NATO’s membership promise to Kyiv.


As a leader who tolerates virtually no domestic opposition, Putin has a strong aversion to revolutions in neighbouring countries that could encourage protests in Russia. In Belarus, he helped prop up veteran leader Alexander Lukashenko after mass demonstrations last year. In Ukraine’s case, the notion of a democratic, prosperous close neighbour en route to possible membership of the European Union and NATO is unpalatable and potentially threatening for Putin if it inspires Russians with a pro-Western vision.

Maintaining tension over Ukraine helps Putin reinforce a political message in Russia: that he is a resolute defender of Russia’s interests in a world where it is surrounded by enemies and threats. Keeping the West guessing about a possible invasion of Ukraine has put Russia high on the international agenda and forced U.S. President Joe Biden to re-engage with Putin in a video call on Dec. 7.

Putin’s public statements suggest his actions are driven by personal conviction as well as political tactics. He may also be pondering his own legacy — he could run for up to two more six-year terms once his current mandate expires in 2024. In an interview broadcast on Dec. 12, he mourned the collapse of the Soviet Union as the demise of “historical Russia”, in which “what had been built up over 1,000 years was largely lost”. Such statements support the view of some analysts that Putin sees Ukraine as “unfinished business” and wants to follow the seizure of Crimea – which boosted his popularity in Russia – with further action to bring part or all of Ukraine back under Moscow’s control.

Seven Reasons Why Russia Wants to Keep Ukraine All to Itself

Moscow is using money and threats to influence Kiev while warning Western countries not to interfere. Here’s why.

The protests sweeping across Ukraine began last November when the government ditched a promised trade and political deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties with its old Soviet master.

Critics say Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych chose his allegiances under considerable pressure from Russia.

EU officials have accused Moscow of threatening to impose trade restrictions and holding a $15 billion bailout over Yanukovych in order to make him walk away from the deal, which was seen as a possible precursor to eventual EU membership.

Russia’s reasons for exerting pressure on its smaller neighbor are deeply rooted in economics, history and culture.

Here are just a few:

1. Russia has designs on Ukraine’s natural gas pipelines

Gas has long been an explosive issue between Russia and Ukraine. Moscow is a key supplier of gas to the European Union, accounting for about a third of the region’s imports, about half of which flows through Ukrainian pipes.

Ukraine is also a major market for Russian gas, and arguments over how much it should pay have prompted Russia to turn off the taps, disrupting supplies to the rest of Europe.

Closer ties between the two countries would in theory at least give Russia more secure access to the former Soviet satellite’s pipeline network and the European market.

2. Russia considers Ukraine a ‘mini me’

Back in the days of the Russian Empire, the term “Little Russia” was commonly used for parts of modern-day Ukraine then under control of the Russian tsars.

Fast-forward nearly 100 years, and Russian President Vladimir Putin is still using the diminutive name. In 2009, Putin referred to Ukraine as “Little Russia” when quoting from the diaries of Anton Denikin, a commander for the White Army which fought against the Bolsheviks, suggesting Moscow’s attitude toward its neighbor was little changed.

“Ukraine” is derived from “at the edge” — in relation to Russia, of course — underlining Moscow’s view that Ukraine is no more than a vassalage.

3. Without Ukraine, there is no Eurasian Union

Putin once described the collapse of the Soviet Union as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe”of the 20th century. That helps explain his drive to establish a Eurasian Union: A powerful economic and political bloc made up of like-minded former Soviet states with Russia at the center once again.

Ukraine is considered a key part of the plan because of its size, historical links with Russia and its position on the EU’s frontier.

Earlier this month, the Ukrainian parliament approved a program to develop trade and economic relations with members of a customs union that includes Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, although whether it joins the group — seen as a precursor to the Eurasian Union —remains to be seen.

Image: Anti-government protester in Lviv, Kiev, on Tuesday
An anti-government protester stands in front of burning vehicles at the Security Service building in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv on Tuesday.YURIY DYACHYSHYN / AFP – Getty Images

4. Russia believes Russian and Ukrainian history is inextricably linked

From the Russian point of view, Russia and Ukraine share deep historical and cultural roots. Kyiv, the capital of modern-day Ukraine, is considered the birthplace of orthodox Christianity and Russian civilization.

Kyiv was the center of a powerful civilization called Kievan Rus, a medieval federation of eastern Slavic tribes established in the 9th century, which preceded the nation states of Russia and Ukraine.

5. Russia considers Ukraine within its sphere of influence

The struggle between Russia and Britain for supremacy in Central Asia in the 19th century, known as the Great Game, provides some insight into Moscow’s attitude toward Ukraine in the 21st century.

Russia still views regional influence as a so-called zero-sum game, hence its determination to keep Ukraine within what Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev has called Moscow’s sphere of “privileged interests” — and out of the European Union’s.

6. Lots of Ukrainians still speak Russian

The divisions in Ukraine are as much political as they are linguistic. Ukrainian is the official language and is widely spoken in the north and west of the country, where most of the pro-European protesters hail from.

Russian is the native language for about a third of the population, mainly in the southern and eastern parts of the country, where a significant number of ethnic Russians live. They tend to be more sympathetic to policies aimed at bringing Ukraine and Russia closer together.

Part of the reason for the seeming intractability of Ukraine’s crisis is that the country is split not only in its population, but also geography. The Dnepr River cuts it roughly in half between the western-looking parts of the country that fell under Russian domination only during World War II — and retain influences from the Austro-Hungarian Empire the once controlled them — and the eastern-looking parts that spent centuries under tsarist control.

Image: Anti-government protest in Kiev, Ukraine
The scene in Independence Square in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, late Tuesday.ALEXEY FURMAN / EPA

7. Russia feels threatened by revolutions

Russia would like to see the current protests in the Ukraine brought to an end before disaffected Russians get ideas about taking to the streets. Given the region’s history of “color revolutions” over the past decade, it’s easy to understand why.

In November 2003, Georgia’s Rose Revolution led to the ouster of President Eduard Shevardnadze, who had ruled the former Soviet republic for 30 years. The following year, Ukraine’s Orange Revolution reversed the results of a presidential election Yanukovych won.

In early 2005, protesters took to the streets in Kyrgyzstan in what became known as the Tulip Revolution, overthrowing President Askar Akayev and his government.

The Kremlin has accused western countries of backing the revolutions and threatening do the same in Russia in order to steal its vast energy resources.

What’s at risk in Ukraine, and why it matters to America and its allies

Russian President Vladimir Putin has amassed an invasion force near Ukraine’s borders, although it is far from clear that he intends to use it. He has all but declared his intention to regain control of a land he sees as rightfully Russia’s. The Biden administration and NATO have made good statements and taken some military actions to deter Putin — but the West’s commitment remains ambivalent.

It must not be. Americans and Europeans must understand that Ukraine’s independence is of vital import — for ourselves as well as Ukraine — and must act accordingly. That is also the best way to deter Putin.

The establishment of independent Ukrainian and Belarusian states after the Soviet Union’s fall in 1991 moved Russia’s borders hundreds of miles to the east, creating a de facto buffer between Russia and Central Europe. The U.S. and Europe have relied on that buffer to reduce their militaries considerably.

With a Russian takeover of Ukraine, however, the re-emergence of a serious Russian conventional threat on the Polish and Romanian borders would transform the strategic situation in Europe. It would require a remobilization by NATO states and the deployment of significant forces on those borders. It would transform the Black Sea into a Russian lake, increasing pressure on Turkey (still a NATO ally, for all its problems). It would seriously question the willingness of the U.S., the European Union and NATO to defend NATO’s eastern members. It would add Ukraine’s 45 million people and heavy industrial base to Russia’s. And it would send a devastating signal to China and other predators about Western weakness, especially after America’s ignominious retreat from Afghanistan.

Putin’s threats against Ukraine occur on the backdrop of his steady absorption of Belarus. He already is moving Russian forces back into Belarus, and more are likely on the way. Poland and Lithuania are likely to find themselves facing Russian mechanized troops near the vital Suwalki Corridor, the only ground line of communication between NATO’s Baltic members and the rest of the alliance. Russian Control of Ukraine in addition would create an existential threat to Poland and even to Romania — one that could be met only by major deployments of U.S. and European ground and air forces to what could become a new Iron Curtain. 

Western ambivalence about defending Ukraine stems in part from confusion about Ukraine’s right to exist as an independent state. Russian propaganda and some experts question the “socio-cultural” basis of Ukraine’s independence from Russia or at least, of eastern Ukraine’s inclusion in a unitary Ukrainian state. Yet a sovereign state has no obligation to prove its socio-cultural uniqueness. Once recognized by the international community and the United Nations without qualifications, any state — however small, weak or culturally similar to another — has the same sovereign rights as any other.

Ukraine was recognized — including by the then newly independent Russian Federation — as an independent state within its current borders (including Crimea and the east) 30 years ago. There is no more of a legal basis for Russia to insist on regaining part of Ukraine than there is for Germany to demand the return of Alsace or Lorraine from France or to claim a right to defend ethnic Germans living in Czechia, Austria or Poland. Acceding to Russian claims of special rights to another country’s territory undermines the sovereignty of all countries. It invites international predators to return the world to a Hobbesian state.

Russian deployment near Ukraine’s border is not defensive and threatens aggression. Ukraine poses no military threat to Russia; Putin claims, falsely, that Kyiv is preparing an invasion of … its own territory, the Russian-occupied Donbas region. But Western discussions often accept an equally false basis — that Russia has any right to respond, even if Kyiv did move to retake Donbas. Russia’s supposed rights in the matter stem from the Minsk II agreement that froze the conflict that Russia began in 2014 by seizing and annexing Crimea, then launching a crypto-invasion and occupation of Donbas. Putin is asserting the right to prevent Ukraine from taking back what he seized. Why should the West honor that assertion?urn:uuid:4c320f59-5f50-16f6-0bda-16f65f504c32

The situation is really quite simple: Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, annexed part of it, occupies another part through proxies — and now threatens further aggression against the remainder of the country. 

The real trouble is that the West has no stomach for this fight, which would be quite difficult.

Putin has amassed sufficient force near Ukraine to launch an invasion with little notice. The withdrawal of most U.S. ground forces from Europe and the decline of Europe’s own military power precludes the deployment of Western mechanized forces to stop a Russian invasion. Instead, NATO would have to rely primarily on such defensive capabilities as Ukraine has or that NATO is willing to share. Even the use of NATO’s air and missile power would be problematic, because of Russia’s highly capable air defense systems. NATO would have to deploy many of its stealth aircraft inventory along with ship- and submarine-launched missiles to blunt a Russian offensive.

Air power alone would not likely be enough to stop that offensive, but it could impose a massive cost on Russia’s military. And therein lies the key to deterring an attack in the first place.

Russia is a poor country, in truth, with a dysfunctional economy and an ossifying kleptocracy. Russian GDP is well under one-tenth that of the U.S. or Europe — less than one-twentieth of the entire NATO alliance. The West can afford to replace even expensive weapons systems lost in combat; Russia cannot. Putin knows that. 

Russian military doctrine is built on the assumption that Russia cannot win a conventional war against a mobilized NATO. Putin’s belief that NATO will not fight such a war to defend Ukraine is critical to his willingness to contemplate aggression. Replacing that belief with a conviction that NATO indeed would fight is the key to deterring him.

The Biden administration and NATO have taken some important steps in this direction, but they must take more. They must stop talking about the need to compel Kyiv to abide by the Minsk accords while threatened with invasion. They must make clear to Putin that there will be no discussions about resolving Ukraine’s internal problems under these conditions. They must deploy the aircraft and continue deploying the ships needed to show Putin the price he would pay for an invasion. And they must dispel any uncertainty about defending Ukraine if he attacks it.

Putin will claim all such actions are provocations — such is the language of aggressors and dictators. Many may fear he will seize on such “provocations” to attack — but NATO has as much right to deploy its forces within its own borders and international waters as Russia does; it has the right to give or sell defensive weapons to threatened partners, too. Those activities are worrying only to a man who intends to attack and fears losing the advantage. If undertaking them prompts a Russian invasion, then a Russian invasion was already on the way.

The West must spend less energy fearing to “provoke” aggression and more energy worrying about losing Ukraine and the vital buffer between Russia and Central Europe. It should worry about losing a core principle of the international system and about continuing the world’s descent into chaos.

Those are the issues at stake in Ukraine today, and those are the stakes for which the West must be prepared to fight.

Five reasons why supporting Ukraine is in the USA’s interests

The new presidential administration in the US is currently shaping its policy towards Ukraine and the Euro-Atlantic region. Recently, the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asked his colleagues from G7: “Why should U.S. taxpayers be interested in Ukraine?” His straightforward question, handed over to the media by the French minister of foreign affairs, took many by surprise. The Institute of World Policy summarized five main reasons why supporting Ukraine is in the interests of the United States. These arguments were discussed with a number of US experts. We hope that this publication will trigger a wider expert discussion on the topic.

1. A secure Ukraine is the guarantee of productive Transatlantic relations

What Russia is doing against Ukraine is a violation of the European security order. Not only would Ukraine’s failure destabilize Europe more, but it could also prompt Russia to try similar tactics elsewhere in Europe. Under such a scenario, the US would find it even more difficult to stay out. Thus, Europe would become a problem rather than a partner: the US would have to invest resources into stability in Europe rather than profit from the united Transatlantic actions in countering geopolitical issues elsewhere.

Moreover, lifting sanctions on Russia may increase tensions in US-European relations, since leading European countries (Germany, Great Britain and France) firmly stated that any attempt to remove Ukraine-related sanctions imposed on Russia without full implementation by Kremlin of Minsk agreements is unacceptable.

2. The fate of global nuclear non-proliferation regime is at stake

Abandoning Ukraine will deal a major blow to the nuclear nonproliferation regime, the preservation of which Donald Trump defined as one of the top foreign policy priorities in December 2016. In accordance with Budapest Memorandum (signed in 1994) Ukraine surrendered 3rd largest nuclear arsenal in the world in exchange for security assurances of US, UK and Russia to respect its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Russian aggression against Ukraine in violation of the Budapest Memorandum, combined with the restrained response of international community, sets an encouraging precedent for those countries which have or would like to have nuclear weapons. For example, it could complicate significantly the US negotiations with North Korea on the surrender of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons or similar negotiations with other countries.

3. Ukraine’s security directly affects US welfare

As guaranteed security is the prerequisite for sustainable trade and investment in the Trans-Atlantic region, and European security is unimaginable without a secure Ukraine, US welfare depends on Ukraine’s security, too. The total US-EU trade in goods and services in 2015 amounted to $1.15 trillion, and the EU is the USA’s top trading partner. Also, total EU Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) in the US economy amounts to $2.65 trillion (70% of all FDI in the US).

4. Investments in Ukraine will pay off in the long term

Considering the large amount of aid (more than $10 bn), which the US directly or indirectly provided to Ukraine after 1991, and especially after the Revolution of Dignity, Ukraine’s domestic reform course has become a special test case for US credibility as a democracy promoter. Over the last three years, Ukrainians have demonstrated their decisiveness in implementing reforms – there has been more positive change than in all the previous years of independence, and the USA has a major role to play. Ukraine’s success is a matter of time, not a matter of change. Ukraine has sufficient public resources and potential to become the most significant “success story” of Donald Trump’s Administration. Supporting Ukraine is the USA’s asymmetrical response to Russia’s actions which allows not entering into a direct confrontation, but will have a tremendous impact on the security of the region and the world. However, withdrawing support from Ukraine will most likely mean reforms will roll back.

5. Ukraine’s security is the prerequisite for the balance of power in the region

As long as Ukraine is kept independent from Russia, Russia will not be a superpower like the USSR, only a troublesome regional power. However, if Ukraine remains under Russia’s effective control, or aligned with it, the Kremlin would be allowed to further project its influence further in the Central and Eastern Europe, Balkans, and Black Sea region.

In the long run, Ukraine’s reform success will make Ukraine a democracy champion in the post-Soviet space, and will be a strong counter-argument to Russia’s hybrid interventions. As a result, Ukraine will actually need less foreign support of various sorts, with having accumulated enough capacity to withstand Russian pressure on its own.


aclj.org, “Why A U.S. Relationship With Ukraine is Important.” By Wesley Smith; thehill.com, “What’s at risk in Ukraine, and why it matters to America and its allies.” BY FREDERICK KAGAN; european-views.com, “Ukraine Is the Most Important Country for the EU. Here’s Why.” By Ivan Dikov; trtworld.com, “Why Ukraine matters to Russia so much”; nbcnews.com, “Seven Reasons Why Russia Wants to Keep Ukraine All to Itself: Moscow is using money and threats to influence Kiev while warning Western countries not to interfere. Here’s why”; usnews.com, “Explainer: Why Is Russia’s Putin So Focused on Ukraine?” By Mark Trevelyan; euromaidenpress.com, “Five reasons why supporting Ukraine is in the USA’s interests“; hbr.org, “Why Is Ukraine’s Economy Such a Mess?” by Justin Fox; uacrisis.org, “Why Ukraine is still not a NATO member: who is to blame and what to do?”; mearsheimer.com, “Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault: The Liberal Delusions That Provoked Putin.” By John J. Mearsheimer; theculturetrip.com, “11 Things You Should Know About Ukrainian Culture.” By Maria Sibirtseva;


Why Is Ukraine’s Economy Such a Mess?

When Ukraine became an independent nation in 1991, it was on more or less the same economic footing as its neighbors. Look what’s happened since:

A Growth Laggard and Its Neighbors Chart

I did leave off Moldova, which shares a border with Ukraine and is even poorer. But Moldova is a landlocked little country of 3.5 million. Ukraine has 45 million inhabitants, is the second-largest European country by land area (after the European parts of Russia and not counting the Asian parts of Turkey) and by all rights ought to be one of the continent’s major economic powers.

It isn’t. Instead, Ukraine was deeply in debt and looking for bailouts from West and East when an uprising ousted president Viktor Yanukovych in February, then a Russian invasion of the Crimean peninsula made the country the focus of global political attention. I was curious about the economic roots of this turmoil, so I talked to Chrystia Freeland.

Freeland is a new Liberal Party member of the Canadian Parliament representing downtown Toronto. She also grew up speaking Ukrainian. Her late mother was a child of Ukrainian refugees, born in a displaced-persons camp in Germany right after World War II and raised in Canada, who returned to Ukraine in the early 1990s to help craft the country’s Constitution, among other things. Chrystia Freeland was in Ukraine in those days too, working as a stringer for several Western publications. She went onto a journalism career at the Financial Times, Globe and Mail, and Reuters, and wrote books on Russia’s transition to capitalism and the rise of the global plutocracy. She spent last week in Ukraine, and wrote an essay on the political situation there for last Sunday’s New York Times.

What initially made us think of calling you was that news a week or so ago that the new government in Ukraine was asking a few oligarchs to help out by becoming governors of Eastern provinces. What’s up with that?

I also was really struck by that news. I think the people of Ukraine should have some medium-term concerns about that — one of the reasons that you had this uprising against Yanukovych was because there was too much crony capitalism.

But in the short-term, particularly given the subsequent Russian invasion of Ukraine, it is turning out to be a rather prescient action. What is not fully apparent if you’re outside Ukraine is the extent to which Yanukovych compromised the entire structure of government. State institutions were incredibly compromised, incredibly corrupt.  The result was, following the overthrow of Yanukovych, in parts of the country the government just melted away. What the Eastern Ukrainian oligarchs have been able to do because they are very, very wealthy and have their own strong local organizations and contacts, is rebuild some sort of government presence really fast.

The other consequence of putting them in charge of Eastern Ukraine is it shows the extent to which this image of the country as being divided along ethnic lines, of this being a Yugoslav-style ethnocultural conflict, just isn’t true. As it happens, many of these oligarchs are not ethnically Ukrainian.

Who are these oligarchs? We’re familiar with the Russian variety, what’s the same and what’s different about the Ukrainian ones?

In general they’ve made their money in heavy industry, so that’s quite different from most of the Russian oligarchs. That’s why they’re not quite as rich, because there wasn’t quite as much money to be made. There were a lot of Soviet-era machine-bulding plants in Eastern Ukraine, machine-building and metals. There is also some banking, and media interests.

The East has this old industrial base. What does the Ukrainian economy consist of on the whole? Is it heavily agricultural?

The industrial base is important, particularly in eastern Ukraine. We all know about Ukraine as the breadbasket of Europe, and it is indeed an incredibly fertile country. There’s been a lot of Chinese investment in that part of the Ukrainian economy. There is also a technology outsourcing industry. And then finally, in some parts of Ukraine, tourism has been becoming more important.

Why is the economy such a mess?

Because of very bad, kleptocratic governments. That is 90% of the reason. In terms of the economy, Ukraine only accomplished maybe half of the things that you need to do, when the Soviet Union collapsed and they moved to a market economy. They did do privatization. There are now a lot of private companies, and there is a market. It’s important for us to remember that not so long ago even selling a pair of jeans was illegal.

But what they failed to do was build an effective rule of law and government institutions. Corruption, in the Yanukovych era at least, was absolutely rampant. And some important reforms of state finances haven’t happened. In particular, energy prices are still subsidized. Of course, when you move to free-market prices that’s a huge shock to the society. But Ukraine’s failure to liberalize energy prices is part of the reason that it has this great dependency on Russia.

Having said all of that, and having been in Kyiv* last week, I think there’s a bit of an Italian phenomenon going on, where you actually have a highly educated, very entrepreneurial population, but because you had this incredibly corrupt state, a lot of the Ukrainian economy has gone underground. Walking through the streets of many Ukrainian cities — Kyiv, Lviv in Western Ukraine, Dnipropetrovsk in the East — you feel yourself to be in a much more prosperous society than the official data reflect.

The official data is incredible. Poland on the one side and Russia on the other are both in the low twenty-thousands in GDP per capita, and Ukraine is officially at $7,298.

There is no doubt that Ukraine has fared much, much worse than Poland. That is a testament to how important government decisions are. These countries were not so far apart in 1991 when Ukraine became independent, and the Poles by and large have done the right things, and the Ukrainian government has not.

The sense I get is that pretty much every government since independence has had big issues with corruption, but under Yanukovych it went from being this thing that the government did on the side to the entire reason the government existed. Is that fair?

One of the founders of the Maidan movement is this former investigative journalist named Yegor Sobolev. He said what drove him crazy was you couldn’t even call it corruption anymore. It was like a marauding horde. Corruption stopped being something that poorly paid government officials did on the side and became the main reason for the government’s existence.

Radek Sikorski, the Polish foreign minister who has been playing a very good and important role in Ukraine, said that before the Yanukovych regime fell he went into one meeting with Ukrainian officials and they laughed at him for having a regular watch. He said everyone in that room had a wristwatch worth $30,000. That’s the sign of a really corrupt government.

With this new regime do you see potential for Ukraine moving in the right direction?

I think this government has a better chance than any previous Ukrainian government has had. A lot will depend of course on the presidential elections, and then there will be a need for new parliamentary elections. But so far it’s a group of people who understand what they need to do. They’ve seen Central Europe and the Baltic republics walk that path. It’s pretty clear what needs to be done.

What was quite impressive to me was that the government immediately took some steps last week to be more transparent and less entitled. All the ministries had these huge fleets of cars, and they cut them back to just one car per ministry. When Yatsenyuk, the prime minister, traveled to Brussels last week, he demonstratively flew commercial. These are gestures absolutely, but they symbolize something important.

Having said all of that, economic reform, urgent though it is for Ukraine, falls by the wayside when you’re being invaded, and that is the state of the country right now.

* When Freeland said it, it sounded like “Kayiv,” so I went with this spelling instead of the old-fashioned “Kiev.”

Why the Ukraine Crisis Is
the West’s Fault

The Liberal Delusions That Provoked Putin

Why Ukraine is still not a NATO member: who is to blame and what to do?

Ukraine cemented its course towards full-fledged NATO membership in the Constitution two years ago, while a NATO Membership Action Plan is part of the country’s Strategy for National Security. Recently, in a 15-minute interview for HBO’s Axios program, President Zelenskyi said that NATO membership is a security matter of primary importance to Ukraine. The President of Ukraine also said he is hopeful of a new era and a new start in the Ukraine-U.S. relations. When asked, what he would say to President Biden, Zelenskyi answered: “Why are we still not in NATO?”

Following that statement, Ukraine Crisis Media Center organized a public discussion on Ukraine-NATO relations. Ukrainian politicians and experts, as well as the Ambassador of Canada to Ukraine participated and had their say. We’ve picked the highlights of the discussion. 

What is Ukraine’s progress towards NATO membership?

NATO membership as Ukraine’s strategic goal. Valeriy Chaly, Chair of the Board at Ukraine Crisis Media Center, emphasized that membership of NATO is Ukraine’s strategic foreign policy track. Seen as a key actor bolstering defense and safeguarding security in Europe, the Alliance is Ukraine’s benchmark, becoming its member is an objective. “The Constitution provides a clear framework for the accession strategy and NATO membership in the future. It is important, though, to remember that much needs to be done along the way, that’s Ukraine’s homework,” Valeriy Chaly said. 

Enhanced Opportunities Partner status as the final step toward the Membership Action Plan. Larisa Galadza, Ambassador of Canada to Ukraine, noted that the Enhanced Opportunities Partner status granted to Ukraine in June 2020 sends a big signal. It is now important that Ukraine makes best use of the opportunity. “Ukraine needs to keep showing that it’s doing its homework to keep removing the practical barriers to NATO membership. (…) It’s a week to take a moment to recognize the hard work that was done two years ago to make the changes to Ukraine’s Constitution that are so defining of what Ukraine is and the path that Ukraine is on,” the Ambassador of Canada to Ukraine said.

Yehor Chernyev, MP (“Servant of the People”, Sluha Narodu faction), member of the Ukraine-NATO Interparliamentary Council reassured the public that Ukraine does not stand still on the way toward achieving full NATO membership. “Can we progress faster? We possibly can. Are we standing still? No, not at all. Ukraine being granted the Enhanced Opportunities Partner status is a confirmation of its progressing integration with the NATO member states. It’s the final step toward the Membership Action Plan,” the MP said.   

What are the steps Ukraine needs to make to ascend to NATO membership?

Legislation and parliamentary cooperation. Discussion participants underscored that lawmaking and inter-parliamentary cooperation are particularly important in the context of Ukraine’s accession to NATO membership. Ruslan Stefanchuk, first deputy head of the Parliament (“Servant of the People” faction), said that the work area has three components. “First one is the cooperation between the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) of Ukraine and the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. Second – the lawmaking process. Third – parliamentary control of the executive branch in Ukraine over adherence to the criteria that the Alliance sets for the candidates for NATO accession,” Stefanchuk said. 

Ukraine’s Security Service: White Paper of the Intelligence Service. Maryana Bezuhla, MP (“Servant of the People” faction), head of the parliamentary subcommittee on implementation of the NATO values and standards, international military cooperation, and peacebuilding said the subcommittee works towards creating a security service capable of delivering quality cooperation with Euro-Atlantic partners, and safeguarding the statehood. 

Access to information is key to the nation. It is equally true for the capacity of the intelligence service, and the civilian democratic control. One of the elements is the recently presented White Paper of the Intelligence Service of Ukraine, a report for the public limited to declassified information. Still, that is unprecedented in Ukraine,” Bezuhla explained.

Beyond defense and security. Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, MP (“European Solidarity”, Yevropeiska Solidarnist faction), Chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Integration of Ukraine with the EU underscored that Euro-Atlantic integration entails transformation of the defense and security sector, alongside a wider set of commitments. A country aspiring to NATO membership is also expected to deliver on democratic procedures, rule of law, efficient anticorruption policies and tools, human rights protection, equality, and tolerance.     

Dealing with NATO countries hesitant to support Ukraine’s membership aspirations. Andriy Zahorodnyuk, Defense Minister of Ukraine (2019-2020) said that the Membership Action Plan and NATO membership itself are both obtained through a political decision that is formally not linked to implementation of the standards. Still, Ukraine has to demonstrate its partners that the standards are being implemented. The country needs to support its aspirations to NATO membership with actions, not words. 

“We need to take action to work with the countries that are not yet sure that Ukraine needs to be a member of NATO. Far from all the countries support our membership aspirations, take France, for example. Our diplomats and state leaders need to take action and lobby respective decisions. (…) Having the Ambassador to NATO would help. It’s been a while since we had one, that’s a problem. (…) Besides, civilian control is important. If we don’t have civilian control, we’ll never get NATO membership. Civil society, the Parliament and the government need to control the military,” Zahorodnyuk said.  

Larisa Galadza emphasized that the transformations to be made by Ukraine are many including the “procurement and defense reform, the corporatization, closing the space for corruption, and opening the opportunities for the Allies. The Allies are very conscious of this particular sector of reforms,” the Ambassador of Canada to Ukraine added. Democratic changes are also part of the list. They concern the institutionalization of the government mechanisms in the Defense Ministry that will entail strong accountability within the institution, Larisa Galadza elaborated.

As part of their proactive stance on bringing Ukraine closer to the Membership Action Plan, the Ukrainian state leaders need to constantly remind the western allies that Ukraine has paid a heavy price on NATO’s eastern flank, where over 13 thousand have lost their lives for European security, Valeriy Chaly said. “We need to use the situation we’re now in because of Russia, otherwise – we don’t know what will happen in five years. We may be still discussing the urge to implement,” he added.  

When will Ukraine get the Membership Action Plan?

Is the current situation favorable? Is 2021 a realistic date? In late 2020, the Defense Minister Andriy Taran said Ukraine’s ambition is to receive the Membership Action Plan at the next NATO summit in 2021. Not all experts consider it a realistic scenario.   

“There is a window of opportunity now that can accelerate our pace towards NATO. The world is dynamic, so is the geopolitical situation that unfolds in Ukraine, across the Atlantic – post-election in the U.S., and after the Transatlantic Partnership is restored. The way towards NATO requires a more decisive action today,” underscored Valeriy Chaly, Chair of the Board at Ukraine Crisis Media Center.

Alyona Hetmanchuk, director of the “New Europe Center”, said that assuming that there is a window of opportunity for Ukraine now would be groundless. “Last year, after Ukraine was granted the Enhanced Opportunities Partner status, I wrote a piece suggesting that we take 2023 as a tentative date for getting the Membership Action Plan. It would give NATO time to ‘detox’ from this debate, and us to hold consultations with our partners. Unfortunately, (granting Ukraine) the Membership Action Plan is still a toxic issue in NATO,” Hetmanchuk said.      

Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze said Ukraine would have a higher chance if the executive branch, from the President to the Ministers articulated more clearly where the country is headed, why it matters, and what its contribution is. “There are no public information campaigns. It is a joint task for all who believe that Ukraine’s membership in the Alliance and the EU is the only acceptable way forward. The MPs need to take action, they need to team up with the civil society and foreign partners,” Klympush-Tsintsadze said.

Wrapping up, Valeriy Chaly said that a Membership Action Plan and NATO membership for Ukraine can become a joint objective for all branches of the government as well as a historic mission of the President. He added that Ukraine’s political realities in four-five years may be more complex for ascending to NATO membership, so the time to take action is now. 

11 Things You Should Know About Ukrainian Culture

Ukraine is a highly traditional country, where the observance of certain customs and practices plays a central role in its culture. Younger generations gladly adopt and follow these rituals, making them even more vivid and up-to-date. Here are the 11 things most Ukrainians do and the reasons behind them.

Making pancakes for an entire week

A popular Ukrainian custom is Maslenitsa week. This holiday already existed in the times of Kievan Rus. The pancake was considered a symbol of the sun (yellow, round and hot), therefore, it meant seeing off the winter and greeting the spring. Celebrated in the last week before the Great Lent, Maslenitsa is a cheerful event. People serve freshly baked pancakes every day, go to visit each other, sled, ski and simply enjoy life.

Thin pancakes 

Getting treats for Christmas

Christmas in Ukraine is a family holiday when all the relatives gather together. They set a festive table with 12 traditional dishes (like the apostles), sing Christmas songs, remember all the good things that happened in the past year, and wish each other health and happiness. During the Christmas holidays, the tradition of carolling is also followed. Children go from house to house, sing Christmas songs and wish the hosts all the best. The most important part is “seeding” the floor with grains of wheat or barley, which brings prosperity and happiness to the house. Hosts, in turn, have to give money, sweets or any other treats to the carolers.

Wearing vyshyvanka in everyday life

Although vyshyvanka (an embroidered shirt) is a part of traditional Ukrainian attire, it is a trendy piece for everyday life as well. Many Ukrainian brands have created their own interpretations of its shape, color and length, thus, making it a popular item all over the world. Fashion celebrities like Anna dello Russo (Vogue Japan journalist) and Dita Von Teese have been spotted in vyshyvanka by Ukrainian designer Vita Kin. Locals do not miss the opportunity to show off in the embroidered clothing either.

Ukrainian Festival 

Being overemotional and loud

Ukrainians are very friendly and welcoming. They love large groups and gatherings, always help each other and consider all people around them to be their best friends. Thus, if you happen to come to a party in Ukraine, don’t worry, you’ll definitely make some friends and will chat, laugh and sing your favourite songs till dawn.

Painting eggs for Easter

The most important elements in Easter are the krashenki (multicoloured boiled eggs), as well as pysanka (painted eggs). The latter have a very deep symbolic meaning because every detail of the patterns means something. For example, the red colour symbolizes the good and the joy of living. Yellow is for warmth and crops, while green means hope. Superstitious Ukrainians have been observing this tradition for many centuries and gladly continue to put heart and soul into this activity, even nowadays.

Easter egg 

Pricing a bride at a wedding

The tradition of buying a bride is as old as the Ukrainian wedding itself. In the past, such a rite had significant implications. Nowadays, though, this tradition is just an innocent game. Together with friends and an entourage, he participates in competitions and gets comic assignments in order to show that he is worthy of the bride.

Eating a piece of paper as the chimes strike twelve

An absurd but funny custom in Ukraine is to put a piece of burnt paper in a glass of champagne and drink it at the New Year. It is believed that a written and swallowed wish will definitely come true. But the trickiest part is that you have to do it while the chimes are striking twelve.

Christmas tree 

Celebrating the New Year twice

On the night of January 13, Ukraine celebrates the Old New Year. Despite the fact that this holiday is not an official one, locals never miss a chance to celebrate it one more time. Such a historical phenomenon appeared as a result of a change in calendars. At the times of Kievan Rus, people followed the Julian calendar, which was 13 days behind European time. To reduce this gap, the transition to the Gregorian calendar was carried out in 1918 and January 14 turned out to be the date of the Old New Year.

Expressing gratitude through gifts

In Ukraine, people pay a lot of attention to interpersonal relations. If in Germany there’s a notion of die Termine (the appointment) that cannot be changed (and of adhering strictly to rules in general), in Eastern European countries, it’s a bit more flexible: there’s a possibility of kindly asking for a reschedule, explaining your circumstances and getting what you want. The same rule applies almost to every segment of everyday life. Therefore, to express gratitude, locals usually buy flowers, chocolate or alcohol and present it to someone who’s been very helpful.


Having a picnic at a grave

Commemoration week in Ukraine follows Easter and ends on the 9th day after this holiday. This period is called Radonitsa or Hrobki. The tradition has pre-Christian roots and is closely related to the cult of ancestors. The ancient Slavs came to the graves of their deceased relatives because they believed that the dead rejoiced in hearing warm memories of themselves. Nowadays, even though the church does not approve of having fun at the graveyard, people come here to put some food on the grave, have a snack and, thus, share it with their dead relatives.

Plunging into an ice hole

Plunging into an ice hole on January 19 (the day of the Baptism of Jesus) is a national tradition in Ukraine. However, the Epiphany frosts are considered the coldest, so people believe that it is impossible to get ill. On the contrary, the waters become holy on this day and heal from all the diseases. So, if you spot Ukrainians screaming but swimming in the icy waters in winter, do not be surprised, and keep this peculiar tradition in mind.

Man swims in cold water