The New Ukraine

Change of Flags in Kiev

GALVANIZED by rising nationalist sentiment, the Supreme Soviet of the Ukraine declared by a vote of 355 to 4 on July 16 that the Ukraine is now a sovereign state with ``absolute and indivisible power'' over its internal affairs and ``independence and equality'' in its foreign relations. The significance of this declaration of sovereignty may be clear only as relations between the governments of the Soviet Union's 15 constituent republics and the central government in Moscow are redefined in the rough and tumble of post-communist reconstruction. However, the possibility that the Ukrainian legislature has triggered a process of major significance gained credence in late August when the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kiev called a press conference to announce that the agriculturally rich and industrially developed Ukrainian republic of 53 million will formulate and pursue an independent foreign policy beginning with initiatives ``to establish close relationships'' with ``immediate neighbors.'' By virtue of a historical anomaly, the Kiev government's decision to adopt new legislation and policy to facilitate the pursuit of Ukrainian ``national interests'' and ``international prestige'' could be announced by Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Anatoli M. Zlenko, and be conveyed abroad by a Ukrainian mission to the UN that has enjoyed a fictive existence since the Ukraine became a UN founding member.

All this has gone unnoticed by a world press mesmerized by the Persian Gulf crisis. Speaking alongside the Ukrainian foreign minister in Kiev, the chairman of the Legislative Committee on Foreign Affairs, Dmytro Pavlychko, signaled that the first focus of the Ukraine's foreign relations will be efforts to develop ties with public authorities and private associations in countries of East and West Europe, North America, and Australia that have ``large Ukrainian communities which are ready to help us.'' In June, a delegation from one such area, Indiana, led by the state's lieutenant governor, signed an agreement in Kiev to promote collaboration in trade, agriculture, and management training.

Indicative of a more ambitious second stage to come, Pavlychko has suggested that economic and cultural outreach should be seen as a prelude to the entry of the Ukraine as an ``equal partner'' into the ``European process.'' Emergent Ukrainian political leadership envisions independent participation in a continent-wide community of European states. In this regard, the republic's nominal status as a member of the UN could provide it with a useful precedent and platform.

As a condition for Soviet membership in the world body, Stalin exacted two extra seats for the USSR in the General Assembly of the UN. They were conceded as a symbolic gesture honoring the horrific human and physical devastation suffered by the Soviet Union. The Ukraine and Byelorussia, the republics which, along with the Russian Federated Republic (represented by the Russian central government) suffered most from Nazi atrocities thus assumed a formalistic role as UN members. This required that the two republics maintain structures and offices - ministries, ministers, missions, ambassadors - that may now assume functional reality.

Ukrainian delegation interventions in the proceedings of the General Assembly confirms a pattern that has prevailed for four decades: votes indistinguishable from those of the Soviet Union with whose mission both the Ukrainian and Byelorussian delegations are housed. Yet even here one detects hints of change. In August, the Ukrainian ambassador to the UN, Guennadi Oudovenko, met with a group of Jewish leaders in New York. Expressing surprise that the US group had been unaware of the Ukrainian Mission's existence, he urged the development of ``mutually beneficial ties with Jewish organizations'' in the US. Citing a renaissance in Jewish cultural and religious life in the Ukraine, the ambassador distinguished the situation prevailing there from that of the Russian Federated Republic. Referring to a rise of xenophobic movements in Russia, he commented, ``I would like to stress outright that in the Ukraine we don't have any organizations like Pamyat.''

Press releases of the New York mission are still bordered in red and blue - not the gold and blue of the national flag now flying in the Ukraine. But mission officials claim they are appointed by and responsible to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kiev, not Moscow. If and as the government in Kiev comes increasingly under the influence of national reformists led by the Ukrainian People's Movement for Perestroika, or Rukh, the structure of Ukrainian diplomacy may change.

Internally, the nascent Ukrainian state may face resistance and separatist moves by Russian communities much as has neighboring Moldavia, where both Russian and Turkish minorities are seeking to secede from a republic that has come under the political dominance of a Romanian-speaking majority. But the need to accommodate national and democratic yearnings within a framework of larger economic and security structures is bringing liberal communist and Rukh leadership to look to the European Community as a model for the Ukraine's future relationship with other regions of the Soviet Union as well as East Europe.

Those seeking clues about the political future of the Ukraine - and thus of Europe to the Urals - might monitor the words and activity of a previous non-actor, the Ukraine's UN mission.

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