Ukraine: Swinging Away

Last week’s inauguration of Viktor Yanukovich as the President of the Ukraine marked an important shift in the country’s political alignment. Yanukovich’s victory, a close ally of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, reverses the country’s Orange Revolution—when Ukrainians embraced Viktor Yushchenko and the West in 2005. Like an elastic band, the Ukraine tried to pull itself as close as it could to the West. Traditionally, the eastern boundary of Europe was the River Don. This would encompass all of the Ukraine. However, the country is more culturally aligned with Russia than any other state. Indeed, the Rus originated in the fertile plains outside Kiev and, along with Swedes and other tribes, migrated east to colonize the Eurasian steppes. The Ukraine was always seen as Russia’s soft underbelly, which was fully demonstrated by Operation Barbarossa in 1941. Hence, it was for this reason that Moscow never took well to the idea of the Ukraine joining NATO or becoming a member of the European Union. Hence, Moscow made life miserable for Kiev, with moves such as blocking all natural gas supplies in the thick of a brutal winter. After the 2008 debacle in Georgia, where it was left to fend for itself against the Russian bear, the Ukraine realized that it was a minor pawn for the West. Leading politicians, such as Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, began making overtures to Moscow—slowly leaving Viktor Yushchenko as an isolated figure. Now, the elastic band snapped in the opposite direction, and the Ukraine is firmly ensconced within the Russian orbit. Although Yanukovich won the presidency by a narrow margin, the Ukraine would have still swung to the east regardless of who won—given that his rival, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, was also in the Russian camp. The electoral results in the Ukraine, along with the declining popularity of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, are allowing Russia to reassert its influence over its traditional domain. It is also a reaffirmation of the dwindling influence of the U.S. and Europe.

However, the realignment of the Ukraine into the Russian camp will not be without any strings attached. The Ukrainian economy was one of the most adversely affected economies in the world by the global credit crunch, contracting by more than 15% y/y in 2009. GDP dropped 15.9% y/y in the third quarter of last year, and 7% during the fourth quarter. Industrial production plunged 23.4% y/y in 2009, bottoming out at almost 27% in July. The collapse in steel production and the implosion of commodity prices were powerful blows. The global credit crisis and the decline in bank lending further added to the country’s economic woes. This was the reason why the IMF was called in to provide the country with a $16.5 billion bailout. Fortunately, many of the country’s credit indicators stabilized. For example, the Ukraine’s fiscal deficit stands at 3.6% of GDP. The government’s debt to GDP ratio is 17%. Consolidating the state-owned companies raises it to 23% of GDP—which is still very low by European standards. Nevertheless, Kiev realizes that it must maintain warm relations with the West in order to preserve access to the international capital markets and multilateral lending agencies. This was the reason why Brussels was the first destination for a state visit by the newly-elected President Yanukovich. Moreover, there are concerns that Europe will try to diversify its energy sources away from Ukrainian-transited gas, which would be a terrible blow for the economy. Therefore, Moscow needs to be careful. It secured the return of Kiev into its orbit, but it has the potential of being a very expensive ward if the rails again come off the global economy.

Fortunately, the Ukraine seems to be on the mend. As was the case across much of the developing world, the Ukrainian economy surged in 2010. The reactivation of global demand, higher commodity prices and a cold snap in Europe, which drove gas prices higher, were the main factor for the Ukrainian economic recovery. Still, the country’s situation is tenuous. The central bank recently labelled the recovery as unsustainable—mainly due to external factors and one-time events. The strength of the expansion was exacerbated by the low base, which exaggerated the increase. The central bank said that the country needs to implement a thorough fiscal reform, reduce political infighting and adopt pragmatic monetary and credit policies in order to place it on a more sustainable path. Otherwise, the Ukraine could end up being a very expensive trophy for Moscow.

4 Responses to "Ukraine: Swinging Away"

  1. Guest   March 5, 2010 at 11:40 am

    Ukraine or “the Ukraine”?byAndrew GregorovichTHE NAME UKRAINE, which first appeared in the historical chronicles in 1187, has been common in the English language for almost 350 years. In the earliest years it appeared without the definite article “the” but in this century the definite article increasingly preceded the name Ukraine.First of all we might note that the Ukrainian language has no articles so this is not a factor except indirectly. The reason for this is that many Ukrainian immigrant scholars, due to their imperfect knowledge of English, used the form “the Ukraine” in their books thus helping to perpetuate this usage.Does English grammar require the definite article the before Ukraine? Ukraine is the name of an independent country. There are only two groups of countries which require the article in English: Those with plural names such as the United States or the Netherlands. The others have names with adjectival or compound forms which require the article, such as the United Kingdom, the Dominion of Canada, or the Ukrainian SSR.English grammar does not require a definite article before the names of singular countries such as England, Canada or Ukraine.Geographical regions such as the Arctic, the Atlantic, the North, the West, and the prairies all require the definite article, but these are not countries. Since 1917 Ukraine has had very definite borders so it cannot be regarded as merely a region. Some people have mistakenly thought that Ukraine is a general word meaning “the borderland;’ “the steppes” or “the prairies;’ which would require the article. A few neanderthal writers in the past have even promoted “the Ukraine” to reflect the original meaning “the borderland” in order to diminish the international political stature of Ukraine. They betrayed their ignorance of Ukraine, or their bias against it, with this usage. See for example, the view of Robert 0. Grover in the U.S. News & World Report (Dec. 9, 1991).Is there any other reason to use the definite article in English with Ukraine? Usage has been suggested as a reason but this cannot be accepted today since the majority of books and newspapers do not use it.For example, the authoritative five volume Encyclopedia of Ukraine edited by Danylo Struk and published by the University of Toronto Press does not use it. The article is not used by such prominent publications as The Ukrainian Quarterly (New York), Ukrainian Review (London, England), Forum Ukrainian Review (Scranton, Pa.), Ukrainian Voice (Winnipeg), Ukrainian Echo (Toronto), Journal of Ukrainian Studies (Toronto), Ukrainian News (Edmonton) or News From Ukraine (Kiev). In fact, today there is no Ukrainian periodical in English which uses the article although Harvard Ukrainian Studies once forced it on scholarly contributors.But what about the regular daily press in the USA, Canada and England? Even The New York Times (which once required it in its Style Guide) does not use it now. Neither do The Times (London), The Economist (London), Washington Post, TIME, Newsweek or Maclean’s. News services such as Canadian Press, Reuters, CNN and Associated Press do not use the article. When the December 1991 referendum confirmed the independence of Ukraine the White House in Washington, D.C. officially announced that it would discontinue use of the definite article before the name Ukraine.Even the computer age has ruled that “the” Ukraine is wrong in English. Gram-mat-ik, the very popular grammar and style checker for computers by Reference Software International of San Francisco, uses Ukraine without the article and labels “the Ukraine” as a mistake of grammar.There appears to be virtually no grammatical or logical reason to use the definite article before the name Ukraine. But it is still encountered occasionally because of habit or because the writer is careless or ignorant about Ukraine. Sir Bernard Pares the eminent English historian of Russia suggested that “the Ukraine” came from French usage. We say Ia France, le Canada and l’Ukraine in French but not ‘the France; ‘the Canada’ or ‘the Ukraine’ in the English language. The definite article the does not add anything to the meaning or clarity when used before the proper noun Ukraine.Now, the exception to the rule. Yes, it is possible for “the Ukraine” to be correct in English but it is a very rare usage in apposition to contrast the past with the present. For example, one could correctly say, “The America of George Washington is not the America of Bill Clinton” as well as “The Ukraine of Shevchenko is not the Ukraine of Kravchuk.”We may conclude then, that the use of the definite article in English before the name Ukraine is awkward, incorrect and superfluous. Writers who care about good style in their English grammar and the correctness of their language will always avoid the use of “the Ukraine” and use only the simpler and correct “Ukraine.”