A way out for Ukraine

A way out for Ukraine

UKRAINE - Ukraine is going to the presidential polls at the end of this week a torn, bankrupt state, a country which is no longer secure about its national identity, let alone its territory. Yet, all the protagonists in this crisis believe that, somehow, the ballots themselves will provide a way out of the existing logjam.

Ukraine's revolutionary government assumes that it would somehow strengthen its legitimacy with a newly elected president. Its Western backers hope that, once a new head of state is in charge, Ukraine's current rulers will suddenly become efficient and incorruptible, qualities which eluded all their predecessors.

And, brooding darkly from the sidelines, Russia believes that the entire electoral process will fail, forcing the West to accept that Ukraine must eventually be carved up between its various minorities, with ethnic Russians getting the lion's share of the land.

Yet, everyone is likely to be disappointed. A new Ukrainian president will not signify the end of the power struggle, but merely the start of a new one. And although Ukraine will remain disfigured by ethnic violence, it will not break up into pieces as Russia wants.

The only way out of the crisis is for everyone involved in this conflict to shed current prejudices by accepting that Ukraine defies all stereotypes and requires some unique solutions.

Divide between east and west

It is simply wrong to suggest, as many Western governments continue to do, that the entire crisis was invented by Russia as a pretext for a land grab. For the reality is that, although Ukraine cannot be dismissed as an "artificial" creation, it has always been a very fragile state.

The problem is not so much a mixture of nationalities - at 17 per cent of the population, ethnic Russians are not that numerous - but, rather, the different mentalities of the country.

Western Ukraine, which used to be part of central Europe until World War II, is entrepreneurial and culturally vibrant. There are still people alive in that part of Ukraine who recall what it was like to live without Soviet communism.

But in eastern Ukraine, one would have to be at least 100 years old to recall life without communism, so the people look up to the state and state-owned enterprises for their livelihood.

The first duty of any Ukrainian government is to bridge this fundamental divide, but every single Ukrainian politician since the country regained its independence in 1991 has singularly failed in this endeavour.

Russia, of course, made matters worse by regularly blackmailing Ukraine over the price of oil and gas deliveries, and by exporting Russian corrupt practices.

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