One year ago, I represented Ukraine at the North American Invitational Model United Nations (NAIMUN) Conference at Georgetown University. At the time of the Conference, the eastern European state was engaging in a Cheese War—that’s right, a Cheese War—with Russia. Although it sounds quirky, the war was sadly an all-too-common occurrence between these two nations. Ukraine produces hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cheese each year, and 80% of it goes to Russia. When the Kremlin threatened to ban Ukrainian cheese, Ukrainians feared for their livelihoods.
Russian President Vladimir Putin likes to remind his former Soviets about their economic reliance on Russia by engaging in what some would call a breed of ‘economic terrorism.’ Moscow enjoys shocking the commodity market by threatening to restrict resources from Ukraine, and it often follows through on these threats. This is why Ukrainians are revolting against President Viktor Yanukovych, a neutered nationalist who often caves to the Kremlin. The people have had enough. Ukraine has two choices. It can either a) become further bounded to the Russian alliance, essentially putting all its eggs in one basket and betting against the West, or b) leave Russia to join the European Community and become a Westernized state. The protesters in Kiev are urging the government to choose the latter, simultaneously calling for Yanukovych’s removal.
Protesters hope for a resurgence of Westernized politics in Ukraine, a country that has expressed interest in joining NATO and the European Union only to about-face later due to Russian threats. It is necessary for Ukraine to understand that unofficial President for life Putin will not ally with them out of goodwill, but rather because of nostalgia. Putin declared years ago that “those who do not regret the collapse of the Soviet Union have no heart, and those that do regret it have no brain”; hypocritically, his actions seem to be reflecting his heart. He has been making great strides toward amassing his influence among former Soviet Republics in the region, creating a modern, Russian-centric bloc. Examples of this include the 2008 Russia-Georgia War or the aforementioned Cheese Wars.
When Yanukovych accepted an economic bond with the Kremlin, he kowtowed to Putin’s authority, permitting and encouraging future Russian power grabs. That being said, the Ukrainian people have something greater to fear than economic instability. Yanukovych has already surrendered their economic independence and now Putin will deprive Ukrainians of their political independence. Ukraine has subjected itself to the Russian sphere and Putin’s superiority; he will intervene against pro-Western forces if they threaten his expansion. In a few years, Putin’s Kiev might as well be Brezhnev’s Prague. The West and anti-Yanukovych forces must prevent a Ukraine-Russia alliance if they wish to continue to sing “Ukraine Has Not Yet Perished,” because it may soon become untrue.