A country with many conditions to have a great weight in Europe, but weighed down by Russia's proximity to it
If the border between the West and the Russian-dominated area divided Germany during the Cold War, today that border runs 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.
▲Pro-European protesters at place central Kiev, during the riots in late 2013 [Evgeny Feldman].
article / Alona Sainetska [English version].
Ukraine, a sovereign and independent state (since 1991), located in Eastern Europe, with the second largest area (after Russia) of the European countries (576,550 km² without the Crimean peninsula) and with a long history of struggle to preserve its identity, is today the center of tensions between Russia and the West. In 2014 Moscow wanted to compensate for the fall of the pro-Russian government in Kiev by annexing the Crimean peninsula. It was then that Ukraine aroused global interest. The Ukrainians were finally achieving a prominence commensurate with the size of their country, although they would undoubtedly have wanted to do so with another subject headline-grabber.
1. WHAT DRIVES FORWARD
Considering its geographical position and its strategic, economic and military weight, it is difficult to justify that before the outbreak of the conflict Ukraine was not for many more a fuzzy place on the map. The country is surrounded by Russia, Belarus, Moldova, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, and has direct access to the Black Sea. This central location makes it very clear that Ukraine should play an important role in the context of the International Office.
Ukraine's rich and fertile soil is known as black soil or "Chornozem". The agricultural area used covers 70% of the arable land, or about 42 million hectares, and is capable of feeding 500 million people. The country, with its 46 million inhabitants, therefore has considerable potential for production, processing, consumption and export of agricultural and organic products. It is already one of the leading countries in the agricultural sector and can be considered a "green vein" in the heart of Europe.
It is the leading producer and exporter of sunflower oil, 30% of whose exports go to India and 16% to China. Ukraine also produces large quantities of wheat, of which it is the world's sixth largest exporter. It produces wheat flour and corn flour for food production, which it exports to France, Poland and Belarus, among others. It is also one of the leaders in poultry production, whose issue grew by more than 55% between 2000 and 2011; its exports go mainly to Iraq and the EU and seventy other countries.
Industry and logistics infrastructure
Ukraine also has an aircraft industry, although lack of investment is holding back its development on a large scale. However, examples such as Antonov's Mriya-225, the world's largest cargo plane built during the Soviet era and capable of carrying up to 250 tons, speak of its potential while awaiting investment.
On the other hand, it is worth mentioning that Ukraine is ideally suited to be a hub for international trade, 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 passenger and freight traffic; moreover, its road network covers the entire territory of the country and enables deliveries to any destination point. Last but not least, there is the natural gas transmission system, led by business Ukrtransgas, engaged in natural gas transmission and storage in Ukraine. In 2013 it transported 132 billion cubic meters (bcm), including 86 bcm for the EU and Moldova. Ukrtransgas owns Europe's largest subway gas storage network with a total capacity of 31 bcm and consists of 14 subsidiary units operating in Ukraine.
2. WHAT SLOWS DOWN THE DEVELOPMENT
However, the country continues to be underestimated by other players on the international chessboard and this exposes it to Russian ambitions. These are manifested in numerous obstacles that make it difficult for Ukraine to gain weight in the aforementioned sectors of trade, industry, agriculture and transport. There are also other derived factors that slow down the country's development .
Interest from Russia
Russia's interest in its neighbor to the west is mainly due to strategic reasons, since Ukraine is a fundamental piece for any expansion of the former Russian imperial power. Therefore, Russia seeks to strengthen its influence in Ukraine through economic expansion, control over the maritime border, installation of Russian military instructions and Russian occupation troops in the territory, expansion of interference in the Ukrainian information space, influence of the Russian church, etc. Another of the measures attributed to Moscow is the placement of people with similar interests in positions of power in Ukraine: the Kremlin wanted to take advantage of the presidency of V. Yanukovych, a pro-Russian politician.
Today the future of Ukraine is as uncertain as ever. Economic and political reforms have failed to overcome the country's serious structural problems, the fight against corruption is weak, and the insignificant international support further diminishes the already leave expectation that Ukraine can overcome the crisis in a short time. Given the absence of other means to put pressure on Russia than sanctions, and in view of the fact that those that have been applied have hardly changed the Kremlin's attitude, it is safe to say that normalization of the status is far away on the horizon.
All this is reflected in the growing popular discontent. 90% of Ukrainians disapprove of the current government's management , express the desire for new elections and show their refusal to allow the regions closest to Russia to participate in the country's political life. Desperation means that the only institutions the Ukrainian people trust are the army, the church and volunteers.
The "frozen" conflict
On the other hand, the "frozen conflict" in the east of the country remains and continues to undermine the state's budget . Defense and security spending 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 many reasons for the failure to raise citizens' living standards. Overall, the prospects for a Ukrainian victory in a war to regain full sovereignty over its eastern lands appear dim, given Russia's support for the rebels and Ukraine's fear of an internal counter-reaction. A vicious circle is thus generated, so that as long as there is no successful end to the war, economic and political tension on the Kiev government will increase and could lead to a new Maidan, the popular revolt that collapsed the government in 2014.
The geopolitical standoff between Russia and the West in Ukraine has been detrimental to all parties involved, but most of all to the Ukrainian state. Declining cross-border trade, weakening currencies and stock markets, and increased security risks have affected the entire region. Poverty is growing at the same pace as the standard of living of citizens is declining and market prices are rising. As result, Ukrainians are unable to take advantage of the opportunities granted to them, as is the clear example of the exemption of visas between Ukraine and the European Union (approved in May 2017), which many have not been able to use as they have been unable to finance their travel.
3. THE NECESSARY BALANCE
Ukraine's geopolitical priority is to gain independence from Russia, which means breaking economic ties with it. This is an unbalanced battle with a high cost for the Ukrainians, who face the destruction of Economics, the defeat of the elites and the impoverishment of the population.
This strategy of development of the Ukrainian state is increasingly based on the concepts of radical nationalism. But the report of historical antecedents, such as the Holodomor (the great famine of the 1930s), warns of the enormous power of the Russian "hegemon" and suggests the need to serve the national interest through a sort of balance between ultimate goals and halfway diplomacy deadline.