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October 22, 2008

Ukraine at the Polls

By Spear's

It was hard to believe former Soviet states would join NATO.

Looking back to the collapse of the Soviet bloc it is hard to imagine that some of its constituent parts would join NATO and embrace democracy. The pattern through much of eastern Europe has been an extraordinary success, and now Georgia and the Ukraine are at another major political and strategic turning-point in their history.

Following the August invasion and occupation of part of Georgia there may be some who want to back-peddle on plans for NATO to embrace Kiev and Tiblisi, and doubtless that was part of the Kremlin’s purpose as Russian tanks moved into the disputed provinces, but the imminent election in the Ukraine may take the decision away from NATO.

The governing collation has collapsed over what is essentially a problem of language and culture in the relatively new democracy of the Ukraine. The large Russian population in the east and south have found it hard to live with Ukrainian nationalism. For instance, Ukrainian, not Russian, is now the first language at school, and all official forms must be completed in Ukrainian, requiring a significant part of the country to employ an interpreter for even the simplest tasks.

The invasion of Georgia proved a dramatic litmus test, and the result is an election to choose a new administration. Will it be pro-western and continue a policy of NATO membership, or will it side with Russia? The issues are clear-cut, but we can anticipate some covert intervention.

For example, the lease on the Russian naval base at Sevastopol expires in 2018 and Russia’s only other Black Sea port, at Sochi, is too shallow to accommodate large ships. Britain and France joined Turkey in a war to seize Sevastopol and prevent Russian expansion into the Black Sea 164 years ago but, despite the defeat of the Czar’s forces in the Crimea, the Russians eventually achieved their objective.

Without a viable naval base in the Black Sea Russia will be severely disadvantaged in the region, and certainly unable to sustain the present menacing fleet now on patrol off the coast of Georgia, so it is easy to see that there is much at stake as the Ukraine election campaign opens.

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