During the past two years, Ukraine became the scene of clashes on several levels. From the internal regions of Western and Russian-speaking, from struggle between Kiev and Moscow, up to the war of position, or even cold, between Russia and NATO. In order to better address these issues, we interviewed Elena Dundovich, Teacher of History of Eastern Europe in the Department of Political Science of the University of Pisa.
Prof. Dundovich from the historical point of view, how are true the Donbass e Crimea’s reasons? Are they culturally closer to Russia?
“Nowadays, the contrast between Ukraine and Russia, especially regarding the East, can be understood by the linguistic e religious differences. In its history, Ukraine ha shared in two parts for several centuries. The western area has long been part of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, united in 1569 in the Polish-Lithuanian Confederation. When it disappeared in 1795, part of the Western Ukraine went to Austria. The Eastern part, instead, has always belonged of the Russian Empire, and consequently, has always been inhabited by Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine. Currently, Ukrainans understand both language. In the Eastern Ukraine, especially in the regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, 65-70% of population speakes Russian; on the other hand, in the West this percentage decreases to 10%. By the social and cultural point of view, the Ukrainian national unity begins in mid-nineteenth century and so it’s very recent. Surely, the majority of Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine lives in Donbass, as there are many in the Crimea. And by economic point of view, these areas depended from Soviet Union mining industry up to 1991”.
Since the Orange Revolution, through the Yanukovich deposition, up to the referendum in the Crimea: has Ukraine become the battleground of the new Cold War between the US and Russia?
“Ukraine has become the battlefield of Usa and Russia disagreement at the moment. But now we can’t understand how it’s desired by these two countries or not. This anxious situation began when Ukraine received proposal of Association Agreements by European Union. I don’t share this decision because the European Union didn’t fail to take of economic and social hard ship, weakness of political institutions, influence of the oligarchs on institution and party of Ukraine after the independence in 1991. Moreover, Russia has always considered East Ukraine almost like its country and Crimea has become an important military base of Russia since 1999. I think that this European behaviour changed Ukraine in battleground of new Cold War. The United States are also trying to expand Nato to the borders of Ukraine, next
to the frontiers of Russia: ukrainans shouldn’t welcome this project. Furthermore, Russia is the most important trading partner of Ukraine and has always discount its gas to Kiev since 1991”.
What is your opinion about sanctions increase from European Union to Russia?
“I disagree with this decision because we European almost totally depends on Russian gas. It’s politically trivial if Russian oligarchs are not allowed to travel in Europe. Instead, United States are not so addicted to russian gas. And then we have many different kinds of trade relations with Russia, which has been quickly responding by blocking the import of many European and Italian products. The annexation of Crimea was a strong gesture but understandable because Putin could not leave the most important basis in Crimea to a weak government. Also Poroshenko is a powerful oligarch, but oligarchs are used to continuously changing their political position: some of them are pro-European Union because this could improve their business, while others are pro-Russia. I want to remind that in Ukraine an average pension is about 80 euro and an average salary is about 120 euro, but the cost of living is similar to ours. A strong reaction from Europe and the United States would make true at the begin of the Crimean question. But right now, I don’t understand these sanctions. In addition, we have to consider why Ukrainians have really interested to join the European Union: thanks to the Schengen Treaty, they could have moved vacantly in Europe. And disputes in Maidan Square were against the Yanukovych’s corrupt government. International press has misunderstood real ukrainian situation”.
What do you think about the recent elections in Donetsk and Lugansk districts? Are they different from Crimean referendum?
“I think that there are two different situations to individualize. The first one, which began on the 28th November 2013 and finished with Crimean referendum, when European Union overlooked risks and Putin made an iron fist. The second one, when Putin has lost the control of situations and other eastern regions have tried to make like Crimea. European Union and Usa could have avoided this situation if they had discussed with Putin at the beginning. For all the reasons I have explained before, Ukraine is strongly influenced by Moscow. ”