Ukraine has historically been at the heart of many important events, be it with dramatic tones, such as the Chernobyl accident or Stalin’s famine, or rosy endings such as its well-deserved independence and the Orange Revolution, precursor to the Arab Spring. The current Ukrainian crisis has its roots in former President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to shun a European Union Association Agreement to work with Russia. The move led to Yanukovych’s ouster as well as Ukraine’s loss of Crimea and the establishment of a pro-Russia separatist ethnic group. This article starts from the premise that historical events are always inscribed in a symmetrical repetitive pattern with outstanding parallels that reveal themselves later in time. The symmetrical parallelism is not exogenous to Ukrainian culture for it recalls Bulgakov’s recalling of the Jerusalem of Pontius Pilate’s trial of Yeshua, in The Master and Margarita. Ukraine’s position regarding the American invasion/liberation of Iraq under President Bush will be recalled here in order to teach us lessons about the Ukrainian cultural reaction to the ethnic strife that is putting the country in an impossible compromise between Russia and Europe. The article claims that Eurasia is the winning equilibrium for Ukraine in the same way that in the Iraq crisis, the then Ukrainian authorities, probably under a heavier Moscow spell, adopted a pro-American posture balanced with a pro-Russian stance.
In his statement to the United Nations at the Plenary Meeting of the 56th session of the United Nations General Assembly on agenda item 166 entitled “Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism”, the first of October 2001, Ambassador Valery Kuchinsky, head of the Permanent Representation of Ukraine to the UN said that “Ukraine has repeatedly condemned, in the strongest possible terms, international terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.” He also added: “We have consistently supported the concerted efforts by the international community in combating this scourge. My country has ratified most of the instruments of universal character in this field. Last year, Ukraine signed the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, the Terrorist Bombing Convention is to be ratified in the near future.” This tone locates the Ukrainian apparatchik in a universal framework of the war against terror, but the question that triggers our curiosity is the extent to which the Ukrainian version of the war is different or “independent” from the American version, spreading its shade over a world falling gradually under the spade of standardized globalization. Since the discourse on terror is somehow linked to that of the war on Iraq, one might examine the Ukrainian stance on the US liberation/occupation of Iraq, especially in light of Mr. Kuchinsky’s espousal of “international norms”, citing the different elements that might explain the blurry position of the Ukrainian government on this matter. In fact, Ukraine had sent 318 military Ukrainian soldiers and 58 machinery units to Kuwait but it said that the shipment was only for defensive purposes, similar to many other countries like Morocco which claimed that the soldiers were there to defend holy Mecca. How reliable is the Ukrainian discourse of international norms given that the United Nations included on the tenth of September 2001 depleted Uranium among the weapons of mass destruction? And what political variables might explain Ukraine’s “two-level’ games”?
Mr Kuchinsky had said in a press communiqué on February 18 2003 (CS/2450) that “war would be the last and the worst solution” referring to the American invasion of Iraq. However, the fact that the Ukrainian diplomat in Iraq Valentyn Novikov had left the country on March 11th foretells a Ukrainian belief in the American preference for war. One crucial element here was the refusal of Russia, a strong member of the Security Council, to back this war. Did Ukraine speak from the other side of the fence just to inconvenience its former patriarch? Maybe Ukraine’s decision to participate in the reconstruction of Iraq is part of the answer. Elements in this direction were already provided in the Russian massacre against Chechnya when the leader of the Ukrainian People’s Self-Defense Party, Andrei Shkil, spoke about a “Ukraine-Chechnya” partnership aided by the honorable refusal of the Ukrainian foreign ministry to shut down Chechen news agencies. This posture will be somehow mimicked in 2014 when Russia will partner with Crimea and other Eastern provinces of Ukraine. However, this official position was tempered by the statement of President Kuchma on October 24 2002 after meeting Croatian President Stjepan Mesic about the moments of violence in Moscow that he called an insolent act of terrorism. Hence, the stance of Ukraine, regarding the War on Iraq, might well be influenced by the historical blurry relationship between Russia and Ukraine, a mirror of the ethnic and ideological divide between the Eastern and Western oblasts of the country. The Ukrainian alliance with the United States was expressed by the press-service of the US embassy to Ukraine, as it has reported to a Ukrainian news agency that “On March 25 (Tuesday) we asked the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington and the Presidential Administration in Kiev whether Ukraine would welcome being cited in President Bush’s speech the following day as part of the Coalition to Disarm Iraq. We were very clear that President Bush would cite Ukraine as part of the Coalition and that this is why we were asking” mentioning also that “Ukraine asked that we recognize that the role of its battalion is defensive and not part of the military conflict.”
Another element that might explain Ukraine’s position on this War on Iraq is oil. Back in 1993, Ukrainian experts foresaw the Ukrainian oil dependence on Russia and suggested diversifying the resources of energy so that the Vice President of Ukraine, Masyk, paid a visit to Iran and countries of the Persian Gulf in order to consider building the gas pipe. However, the project failed due to some political pressures from certain lobbies that are certainly at odds with a romantic attachment between Ukraine and the Middle East. Today, in light of the arm twisting between Gogol and Pushkin, the energy independence issue is on the priority agenda. In the summer of 2001, President Leonid Kuchma symbolically welded the last juncture of the oil pipeline Odessa-Brody which unites the south of Ukraine with the highways coming from Siberia to Europe. This pipeline’s cost for the Ukrainian Oil Corporation and its state was 465.5 million US dollars and since the oil pipe extended to the Polish port Gdansk, it attracted some countries which were moved either by territorial concerns, like Poland, or profit motives, like the US. Little notice has been made then of the meeting between a special counselor of Steven Mann, the US State Secretary on diplomacy in issues connected with power engineering in the Caspian region, and the Ukrainian government to negotiate the creation of an international consortium devoted to the operation of this oil pipeline. It was maybe a tactic by the Ukrainian government to incite the help of the United States regarding this consortium before the European Union and the international financial organizations, in the same way that the aid package for Ukraine from the European Union keeps an eerie eye on the Russian board.
The anti-war protests in Washington DC were matched by the anti-Kuchma Kiev protests where about 30,000 went out in the streets including opposition figures like Viktor Youtchenko. A study conducted by the polling firm Taylor, Nelson, Sofrez-Ukraine showed that 82% of Ukrainians hold the view that “the military operations in Iraq are not acceptable under any circumstances.” A Ukrainian poll which was conducted by the sociological service of the Razumkov Center of Political and Economic Studies on September 18 – 24, involving 2002 respondents aged 18 and up, came up with 72.9% Ukrainians opposing war on Iraq and 60% wanting Ukrainian official denunciation of military actions. Moreover, Ukrainian Muslims have expressed their condemnation of the war on Iraq represented by the Center of Muslims of Ukraine and of Kyiv, the Muslim Religious Community (Markhamat), the Kyiv Muslim Religious Community, the Interregional Association of nongovernmental organizations (Arraid) and the Islamic Public Culture Center. To know the importance of such a position, suffice it to say that there are about 2 million Ukrainian Muslims located mainly in Crimea, a factor that rendered Kuchma’s position on the war ambiguous lest he revived secessionist feelings. However, Kuchma could have used the war as an ideological tactic in his duel against his parliament, either to drive the public’s attention away from the mounting criticism to which he has been exposed, or to set a motion of symbolic power of contestation with the legislative power. In fact, on March 20, 2003 Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada approved the deployment to Kuwait of an army battalion that specializes in the clean-up of chemical, biological and nuclear contamination by a voting margin of 258 to 121. Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Councilapproved the request from the United States on February 20 to use the 19th Special battalion in Iraq, while President Kuchma signed a decree supporting the Kuwait invitation on March 6 to use Ukraine’s expertise. It is interesting to notice here that the Tymoshenko factions opposed the deployment bills while other factions supported it. In other words, in order to understand the Russian presence in Ukraine, as a vital political issue for Ukrainians, one needs to see how the Ukrainian political culture of the Iraq invasion laid ground to such a refusing or acquiescing posture vis-à-vis foreign interventionism.
Another issue of symmetry is the weapons of mass destruction. We all recall how Ukraine’s disarmament task had set a “repertoire of settlement” for Iraq, in the tortuous road of weapons of mass destruction. After the disintegration of the USSR, Ukraine found itself in possession of the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal with 176 launchers of intercontinental ballistic missiles and 1,240 warheads. The Ukrainian independence was founded upon three premises: 1) no acceptance, 2) manufacturing or 3) acquiring nuclear weapons. Western sensitivity over nuclear issues convinced Ukraine’s leaders that they could sign the trilateral agreement in Moscow on 14 January 1994 by the United States, Russia, and Ukraine, a Western success in disarming Ukraine by dictating that the Russian Federation sends 100 tons of fuel to Ukraine for its nuclear-power plants and the United States pays $60 million to the Russian Federation in support of that process. The agreement bounded Ukraine to transfer 200 nuclear warheads over a 10-month period and as of May 1994, 120 SS-19 Stiletto and 60 SS-24 Scalpel intercontinental ballistic missiles had been shipped out of Ukraine to Russia. No attack was launched on Ukraine because it agreed to return its weapons of mass destruction to Russia, and it did not rebel against the American implication in the disarmament process, a factor absent in the Iraqi case by official standards. In fact, at the Special Operations Forces Exhibition (Sofex), in October 2002, in Jordan, many Middle Eastern states coveted a piece: “It has since emerged that, following the fair, the Ukraine reportedly sold the system to Iraq, in breach of the UN arms embargo. US defense intelligence has confirmed that Iraq has the system.” Thirteen American and British experts traveled to Ukraine in November 2002 to investigate whether the country sent any Kolchuga radar systems to Baghdad in violation of U.N. sanctions after the U.S. State Department said it had verified the authenticity of a July 2000 recording, in which President Leonid Kuchma is heard approving the sale of a radar to Iraq for $100 million. The investigators found in their report that Ukraine had provided documentation on seventy two Kolchuga systems with four radars “missing.” Ukraine said that it sold the four systems to China, but refused investigators access to the contracts, on the ground that they were commercial secrets. Furthermore, the investigators reported that Ukrainian officials denied them access to complete reports of their own internal investigations and refused to answer key questions. If Ukraine’s refusal to cooperate fully with the investigative team, on the grounds of preserving commercial secrecy is legitimate, isn’t Iraq’s refusal to cooperate on the grounds of a higher motive, preserving national secrecy, a tolerable practice in the ‘repertoire of refusal’? Isn’t then the Russian posture claiming national security in the latest Ukrainian episode to be examined?
Dr. Roman Serbyn wrote some words of wisdom in The Ukrainian Weekly of November 6, 1988 when he informed us that “Ukrainians can make a major contribution in the field of international politics by becoming advocates against the use of food as a weapon. Who is better placed than Ukrainians to inform the world on how totalitarian systems resort to under nourishment and starvation in order to keep the whole nations in submission?” Isn’t the issue of European conditioned “aid” to Ukraine somehow similar to food as a weapon in that it twists Ukrainian arms into an isolationist posture with Russia? By the end of April, 2004, Ukraine had lost five soldiers in Iraq. According to Reuters, President Kuchma said the following words: “Our troops are not occupying Iraq and are not taking part in military action against Iraq. Our position remains the same.” He reiterated his opposition to the military solution from the beginning. Furthermore, Ukrainian troops pulled out of Kut, in Early April, after an explosion killed a Ukrainian soldier. Hence, the Ukrainian official position in the War against Iraq had moved from a humanitarian position of opposition to war, dictated by its public opinion, to a desire to be part of the American led coalition. However, the alleged accusation of the shipment of Ukrainian Radars to Iraq, directly or through China, reflects the blurry position of the Ukrainian regime in this war, and might be explained by the predominance of the Russian oblast political culture in the Ukrainian land. In fact, according to Reuters “Ukraine sent the troops last year to repair ties with the United States, which had been strained by reports of illegal arms sales to Baghdad before the overthrow of Saddam.” (Reuters, 4/28/2004, 11:18) The episode of contention between Kuchma and his public, or his parliament, is indicative of this confused policy. The failure of complete Ukrainian compliance with the investigative British and American arms team, regarding the alleged selling of radars to Iraq, is another parallel between Iraq and Ukraine, but the outcomes were not the same. In the last episode between Russia and Ukraine, we witnessed that wax and wane posture between Europe and Russia, playing on the ethnicity/minority card with a slightly invisible background of Syria. If the political trajectory goes linear, we will witness a schism between Ukraine and Russia, with times of convergence, around the Syria/Iraq issue and a more economic penetration, by Gulf countries, of the Ukrainian territory. If one draws dramatically the parallel between Ukraine and the Levant, one can predict the emergence of a very narrow-minded Slavic Xenophobic group in Ukraine that will claim some sort of hegemony over the rest of the Dominion in the same vein in which ISIS claims the Islamic caliphate in Syria and Iraq. If one accepts the now-common allegation of the financing of ISIS by some Gulf entities, one has to be vigilant as to who will chip in with the new Slavic Frankenstein whose shadow will unfortunately come to loom over Ukraine’s pretty sky if separatism continues to be the predominant paradigm. I run the risk of being ridiculed as a parallel universe pessimistic dreamer if I dare say that Ukraine will become the New Ireland if we do not take the matter seriously and monitor the financial “bounties” that are pouring into the country by the “philanthropic” external dogs and the wolves to use Irene Nemirovsky’s title, and we should not romanticize Europe and demonize the East lest our short memory reminds us that The anti-Semitic Dreyfus affair was made in Romantic France. It is perhaps timely, with respect to Ukraine’s East/west rift, to reminisce the famous Baghdad Sufi Junayd’s wisdom: “The water’s color is the color of its container.”
Dr. Abdelilah Bouasria is a term assistant professor of global politics at George Mason University, Virginia, USA
 This concept was coined by Robert Putnam in 1988 in an international context in which a country negotiates with an international polity bearing in mind its domestic constituents and Kuchma is torn here between his public opinion and his interests with America as an ally.
 Woronowycz, Roman, 2003. Majority of Ukraine’s citizens against U.S.-led war in Iraq. The Ukrainian Weekly. 13, Vol. LXXI
 Burrows, Gordon, 2002. The right to fair arms. The Guardian. October 17