Dhaka August 12 2022 :
Inside Russia : Outside Russia : News Digest by the Embassy of Russian Federation on August 12 2022
Russia in talks with US about potential prisoner exchanges, says diplomat
MOSCOW, August 11. /TASS/. Competent authorities in Russia and the United States are in talks to discuss potential prisoner swaps, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Deputy Spokesman Ivan Nechayev said at a briefing on Thursday.
“We have repeatedly commented on this. On August 5, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov confirmed that Russia is ready to discuss the issue, but only within the channel negotiated by Russian President [Vladimir Putin] and US President [Joe Biden]. Let me remind you that corresponding competent authorities have been instructed to negotiate the issue. Competent agencies are in talks,” the Russian diplomat said.
He also recalled Moscow’s plea to Washington “not to speculate on the sensitive issue affecting specific individuals.”
“We would recommend abandoning futile attempts to put pressure on us and we are calling on them to concentrate on practical work along the available channels. There is no other way,” Nechayev concluded.
“We proceed from the fact that the negotiations should take the interests of both sides into account,” the diplomat emphasized.
Earlier, Washington offered Moscow to exchange Russian businessman Viktor Bout, who is serving a prison term in the US for arms trafficking, for basketball player Brittney Griner, sentenced to jail for drugs trafficking, and Paul Whelan, convicted in Russia of spying. The exchange of prisoners was one of the topics discussed in a telephone conversation between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in late July. American media reported later, citing unidentified sources, that Russia had proposed to include another Russian prisoner jailed in the West in the prisoner swap.
Switzerland is no longer a neutral state – Moscow
Bern’s sanctions against Russia mean it cannot represent Ukraine in Moscow, the Foreign Ministry says
Switzerland cannot represent Ukraine’s diplomatic interests in Russia as it gave up its neutrality status by joining anti-Russia sanctions, the Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.
Russian Foreign Ministry Deputy Spokesman Ivan Nechayev said Bern has asked Moscow whether it can represent Ukraine in Russia and vice versa, and that in response, “we made it perfectly clear that unfortunately, Switzerland has lost its neutrality and cannot act as a mediator or a representative of interests.”
Nechayev also noted that Switzerland has continued talks with Kiev despite knowing Moscow’s stance on the matter, which only confirmed that Bern “doesn’t really care about Russia’s interests.”
“This only reinforces our position that Switzerland’s role as a mediator and a representative is out of the question,” the Russian diplomat added.
The deputy spokesman accused Bern of supporting Kiev by joining the anti-Russia campaign launched by Western powers and Ukraine. “It is unclear how it’s possible for a country behaving like this to offer mediation, representation and other good services,” he said.
On Wednesday, Switzerland and Ukraine agreed that Bern could represent Kiev’s diplomatic interests in Russia, should Moscow consent to such an arrangement.
“Ukraine would like Switzerland to assume the mandate of a protecting power in Russia. The relevant negotiations have been completed. For the mandate of a protecting power to take effect, Russia has to give its consent,” the Head of Media at the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Michael Steiner, said at the time.
The Swiss foreign ministry also noted that it has been offering its services as a mediator since the outbreak of hostilities between Russia and Ukraine in late February, given that Kiev severed diplomatic ties with Moscow. According to Steiner, Bern is ready to host and support negotiations between Moscow and Kiev.
“The mandate of a protecting power” is meant to allow states to maintain low-level relations at times of conflict, and to monitor and safeguard the interests of parties to the conflict and their nationals.
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko confirmed such plans at the time, saying Ukraine had “reached an agreement in principle” with Switzerland that would allow Bern to represent Ukrainian interests in Russia. He also said that “the choice in favor of Switzerland was made because of its extensive experience in performing such functions.”
Switzerland has joined EU countries in imposing several rounds of anti-Russia sanctions over the Ukraine conflict. Earlier this month, Bern froze assets belonging to Russia’s Sberbank and banned trade in gold products with Moscow.
On March 5, Moscow put Switzerland on a list of hostile countries, joining many other states, including EU members. Nonetheless, Switzerland has prior experience of representing other countries’ interests in Russia. Bern, in particular, has represented Georgia in Moscow, since Tbilisi cut diplomatic relations with Moscow following the 2008 conflict.
Russia’s Sputnik V Covid jab marks two-year anniversary
The world’s first registered Covid-19 shot has been supplied to 71 countries, home to four billion people, the head of the fund behind Sputnik V says
In the two years since its registration, Sputnik V has proven to be “one of the most effective and safe tools” against Covid-19 both in Russia and abroad, the head of the fund which financed the vaccine’s development and oversees its distribution said on Wednesday.
On August 11, 2020, Sputnik V became the world’s first vaccine against the novel coronavirus to be registered, after receiving the relevant papers from Russia’s Health Ministry.
Since then the jab, developed by the Moscow-based Gamaleya Institute, “has become the most exported drug in Russia’s history and rightfully established itself as one of the most effective and safe tools to combat coronavirus infection in the world,” Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) CEO Kirill Dmitriev said.
“Sputnik V was trusted in 71 countries around the globe where more than 4 billion people reside,” he noted.
In order to facilitate the access to the vaccine, RDIF organized mass production not only in Russia, but in 18 other countries, including India, China, Brazil, Argentina and Iran.
The two-component Sputnik V shot has shown 97.6% efficacy during the vaccination drive in Russia, according to data from the Gamaleya Institute and the Health Ministry.
Its effectiveness was also “confirmed by the results of more than 50 clinical studies and data from… national vaccination programs in various regions of the world, including Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America,” the RDIF chief said.
Research on the Russian jab has been published in international peer-reviewed medical journals including The Lancet, Nature, Vaccines, Cell Reports Medicine and others, he pointed out.
“The vaccine not only helped protect people from the original coronavirus strain and bring down the peak of the disease, its proven universal platform of human adenoviral vectors has shown high efficiency in combating new mutations [of Covid-19], including the Delta and Omicron strains,” Dmitriev said.
A joint study by the Lazzaro Spallanzani National Institute for Infectious Diseases and the Gamaleya Institute, which was published in early 2022, “confirmed that Sputnik V provided the strongest defense against Omicron,” he said. Among other things, that paper revealed that the Russian jab is 2.6 times more effective against Omicron than the US-made Pfizer shot.
A one-component Sputnik Light vaccine was also registered in Russia in May 2021 and later supplied to more than 30 countries. It became a “universal booster for other vaccines,” providing higher protection against the Omicron strain and other mutations, according to the RDIF chief.
However, Sputnik V and Sputnik Light still lack authorization from the World Health Organization and the EU’s watchdog European Medicines Agency (EMA). Russian officials have claimed the delay is due to political reasons. RDIF was also among the first Russian entities to face Western sanctions after the launch of Moscow’s military operation in Ukraine in February.
“The pandemic should be an important lesson for all of humanity – when it comes to saving lives, unity and collective efforts are required. Only this path makes it possible to effectively counter future threats, including epidemiological ones,” Dmitriev concluded.
Moscow slams Western hypocrisy over Ukrainian grain
Not a single ship with Ukrainian grain has reached starving African or Asian countries, the Russian foreign ministry said
Russia’s Foreign Ministry has expressed doubt about the sincerity of Western countries’ global food security concerns, noting that grain-loaded ships from Ukrainian Black Sea ports are mostly heading to the West, rather than to starving African or Asian countries.
Speaking at a press briefing on Thursday, Ivan Nechaev, the deputy director of the ministry’s information and press department, said that “so far not a single ship with grain has reached the shores of the starving countries of Africa or South Asia.”
“They go mainly to Western ports, and the range of exported goods is mainly not wheat, but corn grain and sunflower oil, which casts doubt on the sincerity of these voices in the West that world food security depends on the ‘grain deal’,” Nechaev said, referring to the recent deal between Moscow and Kiev which allowed the resumption of grain exports from Ukrainian ports.
Prior to the deal, Kiev and its Western supporters were accusing Moscow of deliberately preventing the food shipments and in this way threatening global food security. Moscow repeatedly denied those claims, saying that Ukraine had made the shipments impossible by laying naval mines in the waterways around the ports.
The foreign ministry spokesman also touched on the situation with the Sierra Leone-flagged freighter Razoni, which sailed out of Odessa on August 1 carrying 26,000 metric tons of chicken feed destined for Lebanon. The ship was turned back from Beirut on Monday, after the Lebanese buyer refused to accept the shipment, on the grounds of it being several months too late.
“As it turned out, there was not the wheat on board that the Lebanese needed, but corn, fodder corn,” Nechaev said.
Nechaev’s remarks about the destinations of Ukrainian grain echo a recent article by New York Times. On Tuesday, the outlet noted that since the Istanbul deal took effect on August 1, none of ten ships which have left the Ukrainian ports, were bound for Yemen, Somalia, or other countries facing “catastrophic levels of hunger.”
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky told his counterpart Mokgweetsi Masisi of Botswana on Monday that Ukraine was committed to remaining “a reliable food exporter.”
Stressing that Russia is “committed to its obligations and is looking forward to effective fulfillment of the Istanbul deal,” Nechaev noted that the deal includes agreements not only on the export of grain from the Ukrainian ports, but also on the normalization of Russian food exports to the world market.
While implementation of one part of the deal has been ongoing for a week and a half now, the other element is yet to be fulfilled, Nechaev said, expressing hope that the Western countries will “create the necessary conditions” for access of Russian fertilizers and food to the global markets.
EU admits it applies double standards to Ukraine and Palestine
The EU’s foreign-policy chief Josep Borrel has admitted that double standards permeate international relations, after being asked in an interview why Brussels was far more willing to support the people of Ukraine than the people of Gaza. The Middle East conflict is not in the EU’s hands, he said, pointing the finger at the US.
“We are often criticized for double standards. But international politics is to a large degree about applying double standards. We do not use the same criteria for all problems,” he told El Pais newspaper, as cited on Thursday.
Earlier in the interview, Borrell had said that supporting Kiev against Moscow was a “moral imperative” for Western nations.
“Resolving the situation with those people trapped in an open-air prison, which Gaza is, is not in the hands of the EU,” the diplomat said. He called the squalid living conditions in Gaza “scandalous” and “a shame,” but would not be drawn on the origins of the humanitarian crisis.
Gaza is under a blockade by Israel, which claims it is the only way to contain the threat of Palestinian militants, who hold power in the area. There are regular clashes between the sides. The latest hostilities, during which Israel fought against the Islamic Jihad group, occurred this month and ended in a truce on Monday.
Critics say the suppression of Palestinians, both in Gaza and in the West Bank, only breeds more hatred and radicalism, perpetuating a vicious cycle of Arab-Israeli violence.
Borrell explained that “there is no solution to the Middle East conflict without a very strong commitment on the part of the US.” Many attempts were made in the past, but at the moment there appears to be no path forwards, he concluded.
The US has demonstrated unwavering support of Israel, even as it continued building illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territories and took other actions that antagonized the Palestinian people.
Critics of Washington, including the leadership of the Palestinian authority, said it has long lost its credibility as an impartial mediator in the conflict.
Latvian Parliament declares Russia a state sponsor of terrorism
MOSCOW, August 11. /TASS/. The Parliament of Latvia (the Saeima) has declared Russia a state sponsor of terrorism, the parliament said in a statement published on its official website on Thursday.
On August 11, the Saeima adopted a statement, which recognizes activities of Russian troops in Ukraine as terrorism and declares “Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism.”
“The Saeima’s statement calls on EU countries to immediately suspend the issuance of tourist and entry visas to Russian and Belarusian citizens,” the statement reads.
Members of the Latvian Parliament state that Russia allegedly “has for many years supported and financed terrorist regimes and organizations in various ways — directly and indirectly.”
The statement also reads that “the MPs strongly condemn the military aggression and large-scale invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation with the support and involvement of the Belarusian regime and call on the Euro-Atlantic community and its partners to urgently intensify and implement comprehensive sanctions against Russia.”
Russia’s special operation in Ukraine
The situation along the line of engagement in Donbass escalated on February 17. The Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics (DPR and LPR) reported the most massive bombardments by the Ukrainian military in recent months, which damaged civilian infrastructure and caused civilian casualties.
On February 21, President Vladimir Putin announced that Moscow was recognizing the sovereignty of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. Russia signed agreements on friendship, cooperation and mutual assistance with their leaders. Moscow recognized the Donbass republics in accordance with the DPR and LPR constitutions within the boundaries of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions as of the beginning of 2014.
Russian President Putin announced on February 24 that in response to a request by the heads of the Donbass republics for assistance he had made a decision to carry out a special military operation in Ukraine. The Russian leader stressed that Moscow had no plans of occupying Ukrainian territories, noting that the operation was aimed at the denazification and demilitarization of Ukraine.
The DPR and the LPR launched an operation to liberate their territories under Kiev’s control.
Russia and Turkey reach deal to ditch dollar in trade
Russia and Turkey have reached an agreement in principle to switch some of the payments for Russian natural gas to rubles as part of deepening trade ties between the two countries, the Turkish energy ministry announced on Thursday.
The move to avoid payments in US dollars helps both countries. Russia has called the currency “toxic,” as Western sanctions make it difficult to conduct transactions. It also helps Turkey protect its dwindling hard-currency reserves.
Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed that Ankara would start paying for some natural gas imports from Russia in rubles after several hours of talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Sochi.
The two nations also signed a roadmap for economic cooperation that envisages bringing bilateral trade turnover to $100 billion a year. The presidents also discussed a broad range of issues, including Ukrainian grain exports.
Earlier this month, Putin said EU countries should be grateful to Turkey for ensuring a reliable supply of Russian gas to the bloc via the TurkStream pipeline.
The agreements come amid unprecedented Western sanctions on Russia over its military operation in Ukraine. Turkey has refused to join the sanctions, and instead has pushed for truce talks between Moscow and Kiev.
For more stories on economy & finance visit RT’s business section
SPECIAL MILITARY OPERATION IN UKRAINE
World on the brink of nuclear catastrophe – Moscow
If Ukrainian forces keep attacking the Zaporozhye power plant, a nuclear disaster can happen at any moment, Moscow warns
Kiev’s “reckless” actions are pushing the world ever closer to a major nuclear disaster, Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, told the UN Security Council at a meeting focused on the Zaporozhye power plant in southern Ukraine. The plant has been under the control of Russian forces since the start of the conflict between Moscow and Kiev and has since been shelled by Ukrainian troops on several occasions.
“We have repeatedly warned our Western colleagues that, should they fail to talk sense into the Kiev regime, it would take the most heinous and reckless steps, which would have consequences far beyond Ukraine,” Nebenzia told the Security Council on Thursday. “That is exactly what is happening,” he said, adding that the Western “sponsors” of Kiev would have to bear the responsibility for a potential nuclear catastrophe.
Kiev’s criminal attacks on the nuclear infrastructure facilities are pushing the world to the brink of a nuclear disaster that would rival a Chernobyl one.
If the Ukrainian forces continue their attacks on the power plant, a disaster can happen “at any moment,” Nebenzia warned. According to the Russian envoy to the UN, a catastrophe at the Zaporozhye power plant – the biggest one in Europe – could lead to radioactive pollution of vast swathes of territory, affecting at least eight Ukrainian regions, including its capital, Kiev, major cities like Kharkov or Odessa, and some territories of Russia and Belarus bordering Ukraine. The Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republics, as well as Moldova, Romania, and Bulgaria are likely to suffer as well, he warned.
“And these are the most optimistic expert forecasts,” Nebenzia said, adding that the potential scale of a nuclear disaster of such magnitude was “difficult to imagine.”
The Zaporozhye plant, which is located in the Russia-controlled Ukrainian city of Energodar, has been subjected to a series of attacks over the past few weeks. Moscow has accused Kiev of launching artillery and drone strikes on the facility, branding these moves as “nuclear terrorism.” Kiev has claimed that Russia was the one targeting the plant in an alleged plot to discredit Ukraine while stationing its troops at the facility.
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, told the Security Council that the situation at the plant was under control and that there was “no immediate danger” to its safety as of yet. At the same time, he called reports his agency received from Russia and Ukraine “contradictory” and urged both sides to provide the IAEA access to the facility “as soon as possible.”
“I ask that both sides cooperate … and allow for a mission of the IAEA to proceed,” he said. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for any military activities around the plant to be stopped as the Security Council was holding its meeting.
Earlier, Russian Foreign Ministry deputy spokesman Ivan Nechaev said that Moscow was in favor of an IAEA inspection of the Zaporozhye plant.
“The facility must not be used as part of any military operation. Instead, urgent agreement is needed at a technical level on a safe perimeter of demilitarization to ensure the safety of the area,” the UN chief said in a statement.
China also urged all “interested parties” to sit down at the negotiating table and “find a solution” to the issue. Meanwhile, the US has put all of the responsibility squarely on Russia.
The US under secretary for arms control and international security affairs, Bonnie Jenkins, argued that Russia created all the risks now associated with the plant by invading Ukraine and demanded Moscow withdraw its troops. At the same time, she also backed Guterres’ call for a demilitarized zone.
How Ukrainians voted for the preservation of the Soviet Union in 1991, but still ended up in an independent state later that year
Back in early 1991, few thought the disappearance of the Soviet Union from the political map was likely. The results of a huge national referendum held in March indicated as much. Ukraine’s vote exceeded 70%, and public discussion of the joint future for all the socialist republics mainly focused on various forms of a federation.
Even the proponents of Ukrainian independence did not really believe this was within reach. But, by August things started to unravel and, after a failed coup d’état in Moscow, Kiev proclaimed sovereignty.
Both the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and its peers began to believe the collapse of the country was inevitable and had to be accepted as such. It was then that both Donbass and Crimea began to demand greater autonomy from the central government and more protection of their interests. In this article, RT revisits the six months between the USSR’s landmark referendum and the independence vote in Ukraine that somehow turned out to be enough for the republic’s population to change their minds, and explores the reasons why this outcome both put an end to the world’s largest ever country and sparked off the separatist movement.
Looking for a Compromise
After 1988, a series of conflicts broke out one after another in different parts of the Soviet Union, creating a lot of tension: in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Transnistria, among others. In politics, at just about the same time, the “parade of sovereignties” began with the Estonian Sovereignty Declaration of November 16, 1988 that proclaimed the supremacy of Tallinn’s laws over those of the USSR. This was followed by a number of other republics, including the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic declaring sovereignty in 1989 and 1990, which in the end played a crucial role it taking the Soviet Union down.
The ensuing struggle between Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR Boris Yeltsin led to the formation of an alternative center of power that ultimately was able to challenge the Kremlin.
The situation was spiraling and changes appeared irreversible. Lithuania became the first Soviet republic to declare independence: This was enacted on March 11, 1990 by the Supreme Council of the Lithuanian SSR. It became finally clear that all these years, the very existence of the USSR was based on a silent agreement between the republics’ elites. The agreement, however, was seriously shaken by a severe economic crisis triggered by a sudden removal of state monopoly mechanisms, as well as by the rise of separatist movements, plus ethnic conflicts and by a long-overdue need for political change.
In an effort to contain the situation, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev proposed a New Union Treaty that would significantly expand the freedoms and rights of all the Union’s republics. In December 1990, the IV Congress of People’s Deputies, the equivalent of a parliament, voted to hold a referendum on the preservation of the USSR as a renewed confederation of equal sovereign republics and to pen a New Union Treaty. The idea of a confederation was proposed by the “architect of perestroika” Alexander Yakovlev. The proposal was put to a popular vote.
The 1991 Soviet Union referendum remains the only example of actual democracy in the history of the USSR. The ballot was set for March 17, 1991. Citizens had to answer “Yes” or “No” to the question: “Do you consider it necessary to preserve the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as a renewed federation of equal sovereign republics, where human rights and freedoms will be guaranteed to all nationalities?”
A lot of criticism was voiced regarding the vague wording, which allowed the results to be interpreted very broadly. But for most Soviet citizens, the question presented a simple choice between the two options: they had to say whether they are for or against the existence of the Soviet Union. In the course of the preparation for the referendum, it became clear that the USSR as it was no longer existed, as Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Georgia, Moldova and Armenia had declared they would not hold an all-out referendum on their territory. There, votes were held in some designated areas: polling stations worked in a number of organizations, enterprises and military bases.
Some of those republics that agreed to run the referendum made changes. In the Ukrainian SSR, a supplemental question was added to the main one: “Do you agree that Ukraine should be part of the Union of Soviet Sovereign States on the basis of Ukraine’s Sovereignty Declaration?”The republic’s population was en masse not bothered by the inherent conflict within the wording, between the preservation of the USSR and the republic becoming its part as a “sovereign state” based on the 1990 Sovereignty Declaration. That can be easily explained by the fact that nothing really changed after sovereignty was enacted, except some attempts to introduce a new currency.
A total of 113.5 million people, or 76.4% of USSR citizens voted for the preservation of the Soviet Union. The referendum showed that despite the growing disagreements, Soviet people wanted to continue living in one big state. 70% of the Ukrainian SSR’s population were in favor, and 80% said yes to the republic joining the union of sovereign states on the basis of the Sovereignty Declaration. In Ukraine’s western parts, around Lvov, Ivano-Frankovsk and Ternopol, however, the majority of the population voted against the preservation of the USSR.
It did seem at the time that Gorbachev had received the green light to go on with the reforms and get the New Union Treaty signed. However, due to the failed coup d’état attempt by the State Committee for the State of Emergency (GKChP), undertaken between August 18 and 21, 1991, to “stop the policies leading to the liquidation of the Soviet Union,” the New Union Treaty was not signed as scheduled. These events gave impetus to the disintegration process. In a matter of days, between August 20 and 31, 1991, Estonia, Latvia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan declared their independence.
Separatism Inside Out
Thus, the results of the Soviet Union referendum ceased to have any significance five months after it was held. The union’s republics moved on and held independence referendums, one by one. Eventually, on December 1, 1991, Ukraine declared its independence from the Soviet Union. The leadership of the Ukrainian SSR, which until then was still a Soviet republic and part of the Communist Party’s system, had spent those few months since the August 1991 attempted coup d’état waiting for the right moment.
Another factor that played a role was the fact that Gorbachev had Vladimir Ivashko moved from Kiev to Moscow as his new deputy. Ivashko was at the time chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR and head of the Ukrainian Communist Party. Gorbachev’s idea was to strengthen the ties between the leaderships this way and secure more support for himself in his fight against Yeltsin. However, the move backfired: Ivashko, who was a native of Kharkov in Eastern Ukraine, was replaced in the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR by Leonid Kravchuk, a Western Ukrainian, and this only accelerated the disintegration processes.
When the State Committee for the State of Emergency made its official public announcement of attempting to change the country’s political course on August 19, Kravchuk addressed the people of Ukraine on television with an appeal to “focus on solving the most important problems of the daily life of the republic” and to maintain peace and order. In a conversation with the then Commander-in-Chief of the Ground Forces of the USSR General Varennikov, Kravchuk gave an assurance that he would be able to independently maintain order in the republic.
With Yeltsin declaring himself Gorbachev’s “deputy” during the coup and acting like a de facto leader of the USSR calling for a “strong Russia,” Ukraine’s leaders realized that the time had come for decisive action. Events in Moscow triggered a lot of activity in Kiev. An emergency meeting of the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR was set for August 24. Deputies Levko Lukyanenko and Leonty Sanduliak wrote a draft Declaration of Independence overnight, but at the meeting it was decided the document was in need of major adjustments. A commission was set up to do this. Among its members were Alexander Moroz, the future head of the Socialist Party of Ukraine for many years to come, and Dmitry Pavlichko, who claimed that he had fought in the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA is recognized as an extremist organization and banned in Russia) and was tasked to join the Komsomol and the Communist Party as an undercover agent for the WW2 Nazi collaborators in order to help sabotage the regime from the inside.
The final draft was a botched job anyway. Moroz later recounted how he’d proposed to remove any words of recognition of Yeltsin’s role from the text of the Declaration of Independence right in Kravchuk’s office: “After our meeting with Kravchuk, I said: let’s remove any wording about Yeltsin’s role in this process, because as time will pass, it will become just awkward. This is a historical document. Everyone agreed, we crossed it out and went to present it for the vote.”
The support was almost unanimous. Even the Communists voted for independence. “[The Communists] voted for Ukraine’s independence because they understood that the imperial games of power in Moscow could end badly for Ukraine, and because the precedent was already set by Vilnius and Tbilisi … It all boiled down to who would take power, Gorbachev or Yeltsin,” Moroz, who would become chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, said later.
Nevertheless, most Ukrainians didn’t want to break up the country, severing economic and political ties with Russia – the two republics had close connections, including the familial ones. At the March referendum that was held in the USSR the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians voted for keeping the Soviet Union. That’s why Kravchuk and his government needed to rally people’s support ahead of the referendum on Ukrainian independence to undermine the legitimacy of the USSR vote.
There was another factor that contributed to the success of this scenario – Yeltsin, concerned with staying in power, benefited from Ukraine’s declared independence and the referendum. It made signing the renewed Union Treaty impossible, which would inevitably strip Gorbachev of his power and throw him out of the equation in the eyes of the Communist party elites, as well as regular Soviet people.
The plan of the Ukrainian authorities was successful. Almost 85% of registered Ukrainians voted in the referendum held on December 1, 1991. Only one question was asked – about the declaration of independence. The overwhelming majority (90%) said ‘yes’ to gaining independence. The numbers spoke for themselves. 83.9% of Donetsk residents voted ‘yes,’ 83.9% in Lugansk, 86.3% in Kharkov, and 85.4% in Odessa. Crimea had the lowest score in that respect, only 54.2% of people supported the independence scenario.
To this day, Ukrainian politicians use those numbers as proof that this was a time when the people came together in their nation-building ambitions. In reality, the overwhelming support of Ukraine’s independence even in the “pro-Russian” regions came as a surprise to many at the time. There were several reasons for the massive ‘yes’ vote, however.
First off, people were promised that all ties with Russia would stay intact and there would be no boundaries, cultural or otherwise, between the two states. The authorities also ensured the citizens that the Russian language would be protected. Kravchuk himself said this on a number of occasions. Nobody expected that there would be immediate borders dividing Russia and Ukraine. Subjectively, citizens of the two republics didn’t want a breakup, but they wanted strong power, which the Kremlin couldn’t demonstrate, so Ukrainians thought that there would be more order if the republic gained sovereignty. Many hoped that nothing would really change in the grand scheme of things, while Ukraine’s independence would result in its prosperity. Propaganda promised economic growth comparable to that of Germany and France. After all, before the fall of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was the European leader in steelmaking, coal and ironstone mining, as well as sugar production.
People were completely disoriented after the “parade of sovereignties” and August Coup. Another important factor is that the referendum was held at the same time as the presidential campaign, which Kravchuk won. Many didn’t necessarily vote for independence, they voted for the “boss,” which was the usual MO for the Soviet people. These were the same people who said yes to keeping the Soviet Union earlier, in 1991. And nine months later they chose Kravchuk and Ukraine’s independence.
The referendum on Ukraine’s independence killed the scenario of an updated Soviet Union. The USSR soon disappeared from the map. In his comments on the referendum results, Yeltsin clearly stated that “without Ukraine, the union treaty would make no sense.” At that point, 13 out of the 15 republics had already declared independence and held similar referendums (Russia and Kazakhstan were the only ones that hadn’t done it). The events in Ukraine weren’t shocking, but they put an end to the dream of another union. Ukraine was the second most important republic and without it Gorbachev or Yeltsin had no union to rule over.
Cost of Independence
Nevertheless, even after the results of the December 5 referendum were announced Yeltsin met privately with Gorbachev to discuss the prospects of the Soviet Union. On the same day, during his inauguration, Kravchuk promised that Ukraine wouldn’t join any political unions, but would build bilateral relations with the former Soviet republics. He said that his country would be independent in its foreign policy and institute its own army and currency. The New Union Treaty was never signed, and on December 8, 1991, Belarus, Russia and Ukraine put their signatures under the famous Belovezh Accords, instituting the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). This was the final nail in the Soviet Union’s coffin.
Later Leonid Kuchma, the second President of Ukraine, admitted that the Ukrainians had been misled ahead of the referendum: “We weren’t completely honest with the people when we said that Ukraine had been feeding Russia. In our estimates, we just used global prices on everything we manufactured, but we didn’t take into account the cost of products supplied by Russia for free. In 1989, our Economy Institute published a report about the Russia-Ukraine pay balance, and it ended up being negative for Ukraine. Ukraine paid for oil and gas less than for tea or water. The country was forced to sober up when Russia switched to the global prices in trade. This resulted in hyperinflation, the scale of which couldn’t compare to any other former Soviet republics.”
Already in the beginning of the 1990s local authorities began to realize that it wasn’t just the issue of economic growth that was presented in a misleading way. During the independence campaign, it was clearly stated that Ukraine would respect the rights of Russian and Russian-speaking citizens, that everyone would be equal and there would be no discrimination. In the end of 1991, Kravchuk promised that forced “Ukrainianization” would not be allowed, and his government would “take decisive action” against any ethnic discrimination.
In 1990, after the Ukrainian legislators declared sovereignty, the Crimean parliament scheduled a referendum on the peninsula’s legal status and re-establishing the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. It took place on January 20, and 94% of Crimeans voted for creating an autonomy within the USSR.
However, Crimea didn’t turn into a conflict zone in 1991. The Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic even passed legislation granting the peninsula its autonomous status, but within Ukraine. Russia didn’t do anything about it because it was busy dealing with its own problems and the fight between Gorbachev and Yeltsin. The government of Crimea was also satisfied, since it got the right to its own constitution, president and guarantees for ethnic Russians.
However, Crimea was not the only region striving for autonomy – other Ukrainian territories also wanted political independence. The International Movement of Donbass lobbied for autonomous status for the Donetsk region, and it even had a scenario in which the Donetsk–Krivoy Rog Republic would be re-established. This was formed in 1918 as part of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and included the Kharkov, Dnepropetrovsk and Donetsk regions.
Ukrainian authorities were able to avert the crisis at the time by passing a law that criminalized activities aimed at undermining Ukraine’s territorial integrity – this could now cost a perpetrator up to 10 years in prison. The government also promised that the Russian language would be equal to Ukrainian in its state-language status, but this never happened; the legislation never went through, even though, according to Kravchuk, independent Ukraine “was going to be a state for Ukrainians, Russians and other ethnic groups.”
In the following years, Kravchuk, Kuchma and their successors in office greatly disappointed the Russian-speaking communities of southeastern Ukraine – especially in Donbass and Crimea. After a prolonged political crisis, failed promises to Russian-speaking Ukrainians and two major Western-backed street uprisings (the 2004 Orange Revolution and the 2014 Euromaidan), 22 years and 364 days after the first referendum, the Crimean Autonomous Republic held its last referendum, during which it chose to be reunited with Russia. The Donbass had fought for autonomy since 1991, and now it decided to follow its own way as well, different from that of Ukraine.
Bangladesh Beyond is an online version of Fortnightly Apon Bichitra
(Reg no: DA 1825)