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Published on July 12th, 2012 | by Harry Evans
Image ©   [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="566"] Russia Ukraine hybrid Flag © Eintracht4ever[/caption]   Russia’s relations with Ukraine were bound to be fraught after the Cold War. Tension in the region is exacerbated by language, and particularly by the large proportion of Ukrainians natively speaking Russian in the East of the country. Ukraine’s parliament just last week (3rd July) passed a bill that grants any language spoken by more than 10 percent of a region the possibility to be used in official proceedings such as court rooms and education. Whilst Ukraine is the only language allowed by the constitution (article 10) to be the state language, there are now many others, such as Romanian and Tartar that may be used at a formal, administrative level. But the most controversial of these is Russian. Russian is spoken by up to 82% of the total population, and almost 30% of the country list it as their native language. Those who hold anti-Russian sentiments in Ukraine are very wary that this may begin to separate the country along linguistic lines, with the East growing more dependent on Russia. This large proportion of Russian speakers has its origins in the rapid industrialisation of Ukraine by the Soviet government in the Cold War. The resource rich East was invested in to bring it up to standard and make use of the mineral deposits that Ukraine had to offer. As such the Russian language was imported as resources were exported. The East maintains generally close ties to Russia and many claim that not allowing such a large percentage of the population to speak their native language is a breach of human rights. This may well be the case, although, for the anti-Russian elements of the country it is a hard point to concede. Many still remember the breaches of human rights accorded by Russian over the status of the Ukrainian language. The language has been subject to suppression for centuries by various Russian emperors. The Russian empire banned its official use on multiple occasions, and banned books being published in the language. It was strongly symbolic of national unity when the constitution was written to expressly grant Ukrainian a monopoly as the state language. However, this history alone does not explain the fervent desire to keep Russian on the borders of acceptable use within Ukraine. There have been clashes in Kiev between riot police and protesters and a ban on protests had to be implemented by the government in order to safely pass the legislation. A group of five Ukrainian MPs called a hunger strike in protest over the bill, and there has been general condemnation from many quarters. There are other more up-to-date reasons for the public dismay; one of the most oft-cited sources of tension between Russia and Ukraine is gas. Resources are playing more and more of a role in shaping Eastern Europe relations. Currently, the Russians export more than 80% of their EU-bound gas through the Ukrainian system, and in return, Ukraine is heavily dependent on Russia for their gas imports. Both sides are in the midst of antagonising one another: Ukraine by trying to renegotiate energy contracts that closed years ago, and Russia are building a pipeline to the North which would bypass Ukraine entirely, reducing their reliance on Ukrainian co-operation. Russian interference in Ukrainian politics has also affected the already delicate relationship between the two countries. The ‘Orange Revolution’ of 2004 was overshadowed by a Russian presence, where the beneficiary of the revolution was supported by Vladimir Putin. Even now Russian political opinion still has strength in Ukrainian elections. Many fear a return to a Soviet system as Mr Putin pushes for a trade union for Eastern Europe akin to the EU. The overall mood in Kiev, however, is for closer ties with the EU and, understandably, Russian attempts to push for any sort of union has come up against heavy opposition. The choice to introduce Russian as a regional language has gone a long way to show Russia that there are no ill intentions towards them in Ukraine. For the moment, Ukraine is dependent on Russia and this will not change until the energy situation does, but if the country is committed to getting into the European club, putting the Russian language on health leaflets is a small price to pay for a little more stability in the region.

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War and Peace in Ukraine

 

Russia Ukraine hybrid Flag © Eintracht4ever

 

Russia’s relations with Ukraine were bound to be fraught after the Cold War. Tension in the region is exacerbated by language, and particularly by the large proportion of Ukrainians natively speaking Russian in the East of the country. Ukraine’s parliament just last week (3rd July) passed a bill that grants any language spoken by more than 10 percent of a region the possibility to be used in official proceedings such as court rooms and education. Whilst Ukraine is the only language allowed by the constitution (article 10) to be the state language, there are now many others, such as Romanian and Tartar that may be used at a formal, administrative level. But the most controversial of these is Russian.

Russian is spoken by up to 82% of the total population, and almost 30% of the country list it as their native language. Those who hold anti-Russian sentiments in Ukraine are very wary that this may begin to separate the country along linguistic lines, with the East growing more dependent on Russia. This large proportion of Russian speakers has its origins in the rapid industrialisation of Ukraine by the Soviet government in the Cold War. The resource rich East was invested in to bring it up to standard and make use of the mineral deposits that Ukraine had to offer. As such the Russian language was imported as resources were exported.

The East maintains generally close ties to Russia and many claim that not allowing such a large percentage of the population to speak their native language is a breach of human rights. This may well be the case, although, for the anti-Russian elements of the country it is a hard point to concede. Many still remember the breaches of human rights accorded by Russian over the status of the Ukrainian language.

The language has been subject to suppression for centuries by various Russian emperors. The Russian empire banned its official use on multiple occasions, and banned books being published in the language. It was strongly symbolic of national unity when the constitution was written to expressly grant Ukrainian a monopoly as the state language.

However, this history alone does not explain the fervent desire to keep Russian on the borders of acceptable use within Ukraine. There have been clashes in Kiev between riot police and protesters and a ban on protests had to be implemented by the government in order to safely pass the legislation. A group of five Ukrainian MPs called a hunger strike in protest over the bill, and there has been general condemnation from many quarters. There are other more up-to-date reasons for the public dismay; one of the most oft-cited sources of tension between Russia and Ukraine is gas.

Resources are playing more and more of a role in shaping Eastern Europe relations. Currently, the Russians export more than 80% of their EU-bound gas through the Ukrainian system, and in return, Ukraine is heavily dependent on Russia for their gas imports. Both sides are in the midst of antagonising one another: Ukraine by trying to renegotiate energy contracts that closed years ago, and Russia are building a pipeline to the North which would bypass Ukraine entirely, reducing their reliance on Ukrainian co-operation.

Russian interference in Ukrainian politics has also affected the already delicate relationship between the two countries. The ‘Orange Revolution’ of 2004 was overshadowed by a Russian presence, where the beneficiary of the revolution was supported by Vladimir Putin. Even now Russian political opinion still has strength in Ukrainian elections. Many fear a return to a Soviet system as Mr Putin pushes for a trade union for Eastern Europe akin to the EU.

The overall mood in Kiev, however, is for closer ties with the EU and, understandably, Russian attempts to push for any sort of union has come up against heavy opposition. The choice to introduce Russian as a regional language has gone a long way to show Russia that there are no ill intentions towards them in Ukraine. For the moment, Ukraine is dependent on Russia and this will not change until the energy situation does, but if the country is committed to getting into the European club, putting the Russian language on health leaflets is a small price to pay for a little more stability in the region.

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About the Author

Harry Evans

Harry is a recent Philosophy graduate from the University of York. He is taking a Master’s in European Studies next year at UCL and has a particular interest in Scandinavian politics and economy. His time is currently spent undertaking an internship, researching and writing a history of the University of York Philosophy department. At University, he was editor of the student Philosophy journal, and has been published by the Club of PEP journal. Harry is hoping to make a career in International Relations and Journalism, and writes for Catch21 in this capacity. For more information and updates follow @hevans567 or find him on LinkedIn. You can also read more from this author on their personal blog.



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