From the very beginning of its independence, Ukraine has been standing up for subjectivity on the international stage, trying to step out of the shadow and sphere of influence of Russia. World leaders slowly started to recognise the power and independence of Ukraine as a state. But despite the fact that Ukraine defended its democracy in two revolutions, resists Russian occupation, and continues its development even during wartime, the disparaging and diminishing rhetoric towards Ukraine still can be found in international media. In this post, we share examples of such rhetoric and examine how the attitude towards Ukrainian autonomy is changing.
For a long time after gaining its independence, Ukraine was defined as a state in the sphere of influence of Russia on the international stage. Ukrainians have been building a civil society systematically, trying to cut ties with the Soviet past shared with Russia. However, only the beginning of the full-scale Russian army invasion of Ukraine set up the discussion on the international level about whether Ukraine and Russia are “brotherly nations”. In addition to war crimes, Russia continues its information pressure, actively promoting the thesis that Ukraine is the “younger sister” of Russia, incapable of existing independently.
Different forms of this stereotype manifested in the attitude to Ukraine of foreign companies, diplomats, media, and even presidents since the 1990s. Now the world is coming slowly to the realisation that Ukraine is not only a separate state but also an important player, one that can not only ask for assistance but also give a lot in return. Next, we will share examples and trends concerning the underestimation of Ukraine and the refutation that was acquired while struggling for independence and sovereignty.
“Ukraine can’t be independent”
In 1991, during his visit to Kyiv, former president of the United States George H. W. Bush called for saving the USSR and against the sovereignty of the Ukrainian state. At that time, the US was wary of the destabilised geopolitical situation, believing that Ukraine belonged to Russia’s sphere of influence. Therefore Bush Sr. called for refraining from “a suicidal nationalism”, which will never be supported by Americans:
“We will support those in the centre and the republics who pursue freedom, democracy, and economic liberty. […] Yet freedom is not the same as independence. Americans will not support those who seek independence in order to replace a far-off tyranny with a local despotism. They will not aid those who promote a suicidal nationalism based upon ethnic hatred.” – H. W. Bush said in his Kyiv speech.
Even then, the speech of the US president caused outrage. American William Safire, the editor of The New York Times, sarcastically called the president’s address the “Chicken Kyiv speech” to highlight the fear of the former American leader to recognise Ukraine’s independence:
“This summer, in his dismaying ‘Chicken Kyiv speech,’ he (H. W. Bush — ed.) lectured Ukrainians against self-determination, foolishly placing Washington on the side of Moscow centralism and against the tide of history.”
In less than a month after the speech of Bush Sr., the Act of Declaration of Independence of Ukraine was adopted by the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR. Since that time, the Ukrainian national idea went through two revolutions (in 2004 and 2013), aimed at liberation from Russian interference in Ukrainian politics. For eight long years, Ukrainians also have been defending their independence in the Russo-Ukrainian war, which became a full-scale war in February 2022.
In May 2022, the US introduced the Lend-Lease program for the second time in its history, according to which they provide allies with weapons, equipment, food, and so on. For the first time, the Lend-Lease program was introduced during World War II. This help became decisive for victory over the Third Reich. Under this program, a record amount of $33 billion was allocated to support Ukraine.
US President Joe Biden wrote a column for The New York Times, in which he pointed out that the main goal of America is to see a strong, independent, and democratic Ukraine and confirmed the supply of weapons to defend its borders.
“Ukrainian army has no weight in the world”
Until the full-scale invasion in 2022, the Ukrainian army was greatly underestimated around the world. Back in 2014, when the Russo-Ukrainian war began, Western media published many analytical articles, the essence of which boiled down to the fact that Ukraine had no chance to resist Russia because the Ukrainian Armed Forces had no “real” combat experience.
“[…] Inexperienced Ukrainian forces that look for insurgents are either untrained civilians with assault rifles, or professional servicemen with heavy machine guns.” – Ralph Boulton, Reuters, 9 May 2014.
According to the Permanent Mission of Ukraine to the UN in New York, since July 1992, Ukraine has been actively participating in UN peacekeeping operations. During this time, more than 44,000 Ukrainian servicemen took part in military operations.
In the summer of 1995, during the war in Bosnia, Ukrainian soldiers, headed by Mykola Verkhohliad, managed to organise the evacuation of 10,000 civilians from the demilitarised zone of Žepa (Bosnia), without the support from either the UN or NATO. Seventy-eight servicemen – less than one company – were involved in organising the evacuation. Until 2014, this operation was called the most successful of those carried out by the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
After the full-scale invasion, when the Ukrainian government requested to return its servicemen from peacekeeping operations, this raised concerns in the UN; for example, one official said the mission in Congo, where Ukrainian helicopters make up one third of the fleet, will be severely affected without the participation of Ukrainians.
It should not be forgotten that the Ukrainian military have carried out quite a few successful operations during the actual war with Russia since 2014. Moreover, they definitely proved their mastery by deterring the full-scale invasion of Russia’s army, which for a long time was considered “the second in the world” thanks to propaganda and myths.
“You only have a few hours left”
After the beginning of the full-scale invasion, Ukrainian diplomat Andriy Melnyk, who was the Ambassador of Ukraine to Germany until 9 July 2022, asked Germany’s Minister of Finance Christian Lindner for help. Instead of the support, he got the minister’s assurance that after a few hours, everything would come to an end (as a defeat of Ukraine — ed.), and the whole world would learn how to live in a new reality.
“You only have a few hours left. Supplying [Ukraine] with weapons or disconnecting Russia from SWIFT is pointless,” – these words of Christian Lindner were retold by Andriy Melnyk to the German publication Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
At that time, this thesis and Russians’ expectations matched each other: for example, such a conclusion can be made from an article RIA Novosti accidentally published about the defeat of Ukraine that was prepared in advance.
Ukraine has been defending itself and the whole European civilisation for six months and receives support from global partners, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Poland, and others. In addition, not only the Armed Forces of Ukraine but also ordinary residents of the front-line territories and occupied cities show extraordinary results. The fierce resistance of Ukrainians to the invaders has already made many people reevaluate the distribution of forces on the chessboard. As for Christian Lindner, he is now expressing support and calling to confiscate the assets of the Central Bank of Russia in favour of Ukraine.
“Ukrainian army does not meet NATO standards”
In November 2021, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in the interview with Australian journalist Jonathan Swan that Ukraine isn’t a member of the North Atlantic Alliance, and so it cannot count on the protection from Russian invasion:
“To be a NATO member, you need to meet the NATO standards. We helped with modernising, and fighting corruption. But 30 allies have to agree, and we don’t have a consensus agreement in NATO now on inviting Ukraine into becoming a full member.” – Jens Stoltenberg stated.
In total, NATO has about 1,200 agreements on standardisation. As of 1 January 2021, Ukraine met 292 requirements of them. According to Phillip Karber, the president of the Potomac Foundation, which supports countries’ integration with NATO, it’s a larger number of compliance standards than some countries that have already joined the Alliance have.
After the beginning of the full-scale invasion, the Ukrainian army once again proved that it can defend not only its own country but also the eastern border of Europe. This is even despite the fact that, according to Global Firepower’s total military strength ranking, the Russian army takes second place in the world and prevails in both human and technical resources, as well as has a significant number of aircraft and missiles. Besides that, Ukrainian soldiers proved that they learn fast and can perfectly cope with the Western weapons, which are used by NATO units.
Now Jens Stoltenberg is claiming that NATO member states will give aid as long as necessary, because “a strong, independent Ukraine is vital for the security of the Euro-Atlantic area and for global stability.” They’ll keep on helping with training soldiers and transferring technical equipment, but still won’t interfere in the war and involve their army, because Ukraine is not a full member of NATO.
In his speech at the NATO summit on 24 March 2022, Volodymyr Zelenskyy strongly called on the Alliance states to never again say that the Ukrainian army doesn’t meet NATO requirements. In his address on 12 July 2022, President Zelenskyy reported that Ukraine became an associate member of NATO’s Multilateral Interoperability Program:
“Now Ukraine is not only implementing NATO standards but can also take part in the developing of new standards. The experience of our servicemen, capabilities of Ukrainian institutes, IT-potential of our country — all of this from now on will be the Ukrainian contribution to the development of collective security in Europe.”
“Ukraine needs decades to meet the EU requirements”
In August 2021, Kersti Kaljulaid, the fifth president of Estonia, said in a European Pravda interview that Ukraine has to work for a long time to get a membership in the European Union:
“Joining the EU has many requirements. And, honestly, none of your countries [Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova] meet the membership criteria. You need 20 years of work before you are ready.”
After the beginning of the full-scale invasion, Karoline Edtstadler, Austrian Federal Minister for the EU and the Constitution, mentioned that five to ten years were required for a membership in the EU.
While in reality, the consent of their members plays a significant role in Ukraine joining international organisations. For example, Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó claimed that Hungary will block the joining of Ukraine to the EU because of the language law under the pretext of protecting “Hungarians in Zakarpattia”.
Despite the dissatisfaction of some countries, Ukraine got the opportunity to fill out the EU questionnaire for candidate countries for membership in the union. On 23 June 2022, at the European Council in Brussels, the leaders of the EU countries supported the granting of the EU candidate status to Ukraine. Gaining the candidate status is an obligatory stage for a state that aims to become a full member of the EU. It’s a strong political sign showing recognition of Ukraine as an equitable participant in the Europe political arena.
Speaking of Estonia, it’s now one of Ukraine’s partner countries that helps to fight against Russian occupiers, particularly by providing weapons.
“Ukraine should cede territory to Russia”
On 19 May 2022, The New York Times published the editorial titled “The war in Ukraine is getting complicated, and America isn’t ready”, in which journalists argue that plunging into Russia’s war against Ukraine is not in the interest of the US because it could destabilise long-term peace in the world and security on the European continent.
The article states that the return of all Ukrainian territories captured by Russia since 2014 is an unrealistic goal.
“Though Russia’s planning and fighting have been surprisingly sloppy, Russia remains too strong, and Mr. Putin has invested too much personal prestige in the invasion to back down.<...> If the conflict does lead to real negotiations, it will be Ukrainian leaders who will have to make the painful territorial decisions that any compromise will demand.” — the editorial says.
On May 23, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger declared at the World Economic Forum in Davos that Ukraine should enter into negotiations with Russia, even if it (Ukraine — ed.) needs to make concessions.
“The negotiations (between Ukraine and Russia — ed.) must begin in the next two months, before it creates upheavals and tensions that will not be easily overcome. Ideally, the dividing line should be a return to the status quo ante.”
Later, in an interview with The New York Times, Henry Kissinger said that Russia should find a place in the world to prevent it from becoming an outpost of China. He added that the decision not to provide Ukraine with an action plan for NATO membership in 2008 was the right one.
Due to the Ukrainian army’s resistance, Russia had to withdraw its troops from the northern regions of Ukraine. Also, Ukrainians managed to deter the breakthrough in the direction of Mykolaiv. From the beginning of the invasion and as of 2 July, the Armed Forces of Ukraine have liberated 1,027 cities and towns. The army of occupiers is constantly losing its soldiers and equipment in the remaining fronts. Ukraine’s global partners are only increasing the provision of military assistance and arms to counter the aggressor, while Russia is starting to save high-precision weapons and drove more modest equipment at the main propaganda parade on 9 May.
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