When David Miliband chose to deliver a broadside, denying any legitimate Russian interest in the conduct of its neighbours, in Kiev, I cited with approval an article which pointed out the gross insensitivity of his preferred location. Ukraine’s history is one of division between east and west and its politics still divides roughly along those lines. In central Ukraine and its eastern areas, a majority are drawn linguistically, culturally and politically toward Russia, whilst in the western part of the country historical influences have fostered a more European outlook.
Of course these tendencies are generalisations and Ukraine as a whole is a crucible of divergent influences. The finely balanced nature of these influences makes the country politically volatile and a new government crisis reflects the shifting allegiances which characterise its governance.
Miliband’s comments were prompted by the war in Georgia and that war has also precipitated the latest political spat in Ukraine. Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko had refused to join the virulent condemnation of Russia’s actions which her coalition colleague, Viktor Yushchenko has been quick to indulge in. Now her party has joined the pro Russian Party of the Regions in voting to strip the president of several powers.
There is a degree of tactical manoeuvring behind these machinations which reflects ambitions and antipathies which already exist between Tymoshenko and Yushchenko. Nevertheless the political positioning is necessary because Yushchenko’s position on the Georgian war is not an uncontroversial one and nor is it particularly popular.
Ukraine is by no means a country which is united behind its leader’s desire to join Nato. Foreign politicians should recognise and respect that this debate is for Ukrainians and it is finely balanced. They have no place making assurances which align them with one side or another.