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Don't succumb to the Yalta temptation

Since Russia invaded and annexed Crimea, Ukrainians have been living through a phony peace. There is nothing phony, however, about the efforts we are now making to defend our country and democracy, says Yuliya Tymoshenko.

ht view Updated: Apr 11, 2014 23:27 IST
Yuliya Tymoshenko

The quiet period between the declaration of war in September 1939 and the Nazi blitz on Belgium and France in May 1940 is often called 'The Phony War'. Since Russia invaded and annexed Crimea, and began massing troops on our eastern border, Ukrainians have been living through a phony peace.

There is nothing phony, however, about the efforts we are now making to defend our country and democracy. Our government has negotiated a standby loan agreement that we need to get our financial and economic house in order. This will impose economic pain, but we are ready to pay the price to preserve our independence. We are also increasing our defence spending, despite our economy's precarious state. There will be no more surrendering of our territory.

Most important, next month, Ukrainians will choose a new president — the best rebuke possible to Russian propaganda about our supposed failure to uphold democracy. And yet, as Ukrainians work to rebuild our country after Viktor Yanukovych's predatory rule, we are facing a new threat, in the form of a "peace offensive" — that old staple of Soviet diplomacy designed to undermine the West's resolve.

Putin's gambit is akin to the infamous Yalta Conference in 1945, where Joseph Stalin made Winston Churchill and Franklin D Roosevelt complicit in a division of Europe. Today, Putin is seeking to make the West complicit in the dismemberment of Ukraine by negotiating a Kremlin-designed federal constitution that would create a dozen Crimeas — bite-size chunks that Russia could devour later.

Of course, federalism sounds like a good thing. But for Putin, a federal system is a means for the Kremlin to make political mischief and incorporate Ukraine's eastern and southern regions into the Russian Federation. Look at the Russian proposal's fine print: Ukraine's new federal units would have a powerful say over Ukraine's foreign-policy direction. That provision would enable Putin to try to coerce Russian-speaking regions into vetoing the country's European future.

Ukraine's constitutional structure is for only us to decide. Ukraine is not Bosnia or Kosovo, Ukraine is a sovereign State. To buy into Putin's sham federalism is to accept the lies that the Kremlin has been spewing about Ukraine's interim government and the brave people who ousted Yanukovych.

Putin's factotums claim that Ukraine's Russian speakers are under threat, but they cannot point to a single case of persecution. There is no oppression of Russian speakers in Ukraine, and there never has been. Ukraine's government under Yanukovych was corrupt but was an equal-opportunity oppressor.

The desire of diplomats to find a peaceful solution to Ukraine's crisis is understandable. But the terms that Russia is demanding, if accepted by the West, would undermine Ukraine's sovereignty; worse, accepting Russia's terms would ratify the idea that powerful countries may bully less powerful neighbours into doing their bidding, to the point of surrendering their independence.

Ukraine will stand up to the bully — on our own, if necessary. We refuse to play the part of hapless victim in future history textbooks.

Yuliya Tymoshenko is a candidate for president in the May election
The views expressed by the author are personal
Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2014