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The karma of Ukraine

A country with many conditions to have a great weight in Europe, but weighed down by the Russian neighborhood

If the border between the West and the area of ​​Russian domination divided Germany during the Cold War, today that border passes through Ukraine. The open conflict with Russia hampers the objective conditions of great development that Ukraine has. The country is paying a high price for the desire to preserve its independence.

Manifestantes proeuropeos en la plaza central de Kiev, durante las revueltas de finales de 2013

▲Pro-European demonstration in Kiev's central square at the end of 2013 [Evgeny Feldman]

ARTICLE / Alona Sainetska [Spanish version]

Ukraine is a sovereign and independent state (since 1991) located in Eastern Europe, with the second largest area (after Russia) of European countries (576,550 km² without the Crimean Peninsula) and with a long history of struggle for preserve its identity. Ukraine is today the centre of tensions between Russia and the West. In 2014 Moscow decided to compensate for the fall of the pro-Russian government of Kiev with the annexation of the Crimean peninsula. It was then that Ukraine aroused worldwide interest. The Ukrainians finally achieved a leading role according to the size of their country, although they undoubtedly would rather want to do so with other types of headlines.

1. WHAT DRIVES IT FORWARD

Considering its geographical position and its strategic, economic and military weight, it is difficult to justify that before the outbreak of the conflict, for many people Ukraine was not a common place on the map. The country is surrounded by Russia, Belarus, Moldova, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, and has a direct access to the Black Sea. This central location makes very clear the fact that Ukraine should play an important role in the context of international relations.

Agriculture

The rich and fertile soil of Ukraine is known as black land or "Chornozem". The agricultural area used 70% of the farmland, around 42 million hectares, and is capable of feeding more than 500 million people. Consequently, the country, with its 46 million inhabitants, has considerable potential for the production, processing, consumption and export of agricultural and organic products. It is already one of the leading countries in the agricultural sector and can even become a "green vein" in the heart of Europe.

It is the leading producer and exporter of sunflower oil, 30% of exports go to India and 16% to China. It also produces large quantities of wheat, of which the sixth world exporter. It produces wheat flour and corn to manufacture food, which is then exported to France, Poland and Belarus, among others. It is among a number of leaders in the production of poultry, where it grew more than 55% between 2000 and 2011; its exports go mainly to Iraq and the EU and to another seventy countries.

Industry and logistics infrastructure

Ukraine also has an aeronautical industry, although lack of investment hinders its large-scale development. However, examples like Antónov's Mriya-225, the world's largest cargo plane, built during the Soviet era and capable of transporting up to 250 tons, speak of its huge potential which is waiting forward for some investments.

On the other hand, it is worth mentioning that Ukraine is ideal for an international trade center, mainly between the European Union, the Middle East and Asia. Five out of ten European transport corridors cross the Ukrainian territory; Ukraine has the most extensive railway networks in Europe that handle a substantial part of the traffic of passengers and merchandise; In addition, its road network covers the entire territory of the country and enables deliveries to any point of destination. Last but not least, there is the natural gas transmission system, led by the company Ukrtransgas, dedicated to the transmission and storage of natural gas in Ukraine. In 2013, it transported 132,000 million cubic meters (bcm), including 86 bcm for the EU and Moldova. Ukrtransgas has the largest underground gas storage network in Europe, with a total capacity of 31 bcm and consists of 14 subsidiary units operating in Ukraine.

 

The conflict with Russia hurts the Ukrainian economy

 

2. WHAT PREVENTS IT FROM DEVELOPMENT

However, the country is still underestimated by other actors on the international board and that exposes it to Russian ambitions. These are manifested in numerous obstacles to make it difficult for Ukraine to gain weight in the aforementioned sectors of commerce, industry, agriculture and transport. Likewise, there are other derived factors that hinder the development of the country.

Interest of Russia

Russia's interest in its neighbour to the west is mainly due to strategic reasons, since Ukraine is the key for expanding Russian imperial power. Therefore, Russia seeks to strengthen its influence in Ukraine through economic expansion, control over the maritime border, the installation of military bases and occupation troops in the territory, the expansion of interference in the Ukrainian information space, the influence of the Russian church, etc. Another measure attributed to Moscow is to place young people in positions of power in Ukraine: the Kremlin wanted to take advantage of the presidency of V. Yanukovich, a pro-Russian politician.

Internal instability

Today the future of Ukraine is as uncertain as ever. Economic and political reforms have not been able to overcome the serious structural problems of the country, the fight against corruption is scarce and the insignificant international support further reduces the already low expectation that Ukraine can overcome the crisis in a short term. Given the absence of means that are not sanctions to put pressure on Russia and given that those that have been implemented have barely changed the attitude of the Kremlin, it is safe to say that the normalization of the situation is far on the horizon.

All this is reflected in the growing popular discontent. 90% of Ukrainians disapprove of the management of the current government, express the desire for new elections and show their rejection that the regions closest to Russia participate in the political life of the country. This discontent makes that the only institutions the Ukrainian people trust in are the army, the church and the volunteers.

The "frozen" conflict

On the other hand, the "frozen conflict" in the East of the country still remains and continues to undermine the state budget. Defence and security expenditures accounted for 5% of GDP last year, a high figure that includes the government's efforts to create a new army. According to President Petro Poroshenko, this was one of the multiple reasons for the failure to increase the standard of living of citizens. In general, the prospects of a victory for Ukraine in a war to regain full sovereignty over its eastern lands seem very low, given Russia's support for the rebels and Ukraine's fear of an internal counter-reaction. Thus a vicious circle is generated, so that until there is a successful end of the war, economic and political tension on the Kiev government will increase and could even lead to a new Maidan, the popular revolt that collapsed the government in 2014.

The geopolitical clash between Russia and the West in Ukraine has been detrimental to all parties involved, but above all to the Ukrainian State. The decline in cross-border trade, the weakening of currencies and stock markets, and the increase in security risks all have affected the entire region. Poverty is growing at the same rate that the standards of living of citizens decrease and prices in the markets increase. As a result, Ukrainians cannot take advantage of the opportunities granted to them, as is the clear example of the visa waiver between Ukraine and the European Union (approved in May 2017), which many have not been able to use because of lack of means.

3. THE NECESSARY BALANCE

The geopolitical priority of Ukraine is to obtain the independence of Russia, something that means breaking the economic bonds with the country. It is an unbalanced battle with a high cost for the Ukrainians, who face the destruction of their own economy, the defeat of the elites and the impoverishment of the population.

This development strategy of the Ukrainian state is increasingly based on the concepts of radical nationalism. But the memory of the historical background, such as the Holodomor (the great famine of the 1930s), warns about the enormous power of the Russian "hegemon" and suggests the need to serve the national interest through a kind of balance between final objectives and the medium term diplomacy.

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