Europe's Influence on Ukrainian State Building - A Struggle for Identity between Europe and Russia

Master's Thesis, 2006
126 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1. Introduction
1.1 Relevance
1.2. Methodology of Analysis

2. Ukraine after 1990 – Defining a Theoretical Approach to the State-Building Process
2.1. Obstacles to the Applicability of a Realist Approach
2.2. Feasibility of Institutionalist Thinking
2.3. Constructivism as an Approach to State Building in Post-Soviet Space
2.3.1. Constructivism and International Relations (IR) Theory
2.3.2. Shaping National Identity – A Constructivist Approach
2.3.3. Meanings of Constructivist Theory for Ukraine
2.4. The Influence of Foreign Policy o n State Identity-Building

3. Ukrainian History – A Point to Start
3.1. The Use of History as an Identity-Producing Instrument in Ukraine
3.2. Religion and Cossack Culture under Pressure between East and West (10th to 17th Century)
3.3. Commonness and Distinctiveness in Ukrainian-Russian Identity
3.4. The 20th Century – Corner Stones for Ukrainian National Independence
3.5. Conclusions from History

4. Ukraine’s Way to Statehood and National Identity Definition after 1991 – A Battle Field of European and Russian Interests
4.1. Domestic Conditions for Developing a State Identity
4.1.1. The Ethnic Composition of Ukraine as a Precondition for Nation-Building Considerations
4.1.2. Dichotomy between Foreign Policy Orientations and Domestic Reforms Foreign Policy as an Instrument of Identity Building in Ukraine Development of the Political System and the Lack of Domestic Reorientation of Elites
4.1.3. Impacts of Economic Conditions on the Identity Building Processes
4.2. Security Constraints of Independent Ukraine in the 1990s
4.2.1. The Influence of Ethnic Composition on State Identity and Political Preferences
4.2.2. Obstacles to the “Zero-Option” Arrangement Conflicts over the Black Sea Fleet and Crimea The Nuclear Assets Crisis The Implications of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)
4.2.3. The Rationality of Ukrainian Defence Policy towards Russia
4.3. The Implications of Regime Preference on Foreign Policy Objectives and Identity Building
4.3.1. Perceptions and Reinterpretations of Historic Facts and their Implications for State Building Processes
4.3.2. The Decision on Regime Type as a Precondition for Foreign Policy Decisions
4.3.3. The World’s Reluctance to take Ukrainian Developments Serious
4.3.4. Ukraine in Search of New Alliances The Mainstreams of Foreign Policy Orientations in the Ukrainian Political Arena Schemes of Cooperation in Regional Structures Cooperation in International Security Structures
4.4. The Theory of Foreign Policies’ Integrative Impacts on Identity Building – Failure or Success

5. Unexpected Bottom-up Democratisation in Ukraine and the Impacts on Foreign Relations
5.1. Political Realities at the Dawn of Revolution
5.1.1. Democratic Commitment of the Population
5.1.2. Factors Accelerating the Possibility of Political Change
5.2. Explanations for the Orange Revolution and its Problematic Outcomes
5.3. Ukraine After Power Change – A Country of Political Unrest
5.3.1. Domestic Crisis Internal Struggles in the Orange Coalition Struggles after Parliamentary Election of 2006
5.3.2. Impact of the Energy Security Issue
5.4. Transition from post-Soviet Legacy to New Democracy – A Stony Path to Integration

6. The European Unions Interests and Influence on Developments in Ukraine
6.1. Evolution of EU-Ukrainian Relations
6.1.1. Security Aspects
6.1.2. Assessment of EU-Ukrainian Cooperation and Agreements
6.1.3. Impacts of EU Enlargement Economic Impacts Development of Cooperation
6.2. The EU’s Relations with the Ukrainian “Orange” Government
6.2.1. The Action Plan (AP)
6.2.2. The 10-Point Letter Amending the Action Plan
6.3. Future Perspectives

7. Conclusion


1. Introduction

1.1. Relevance

Up to today the realities in Post-Soviet space are defined by the search for state and national identity in contrast to the former peripheral existence during the Soviet past. From the very beginning of their independence the newly independent states were afflicted with different problems resulting from the ambiguous situation of quasi sovereignty but still strictly Moscow centralised rule.[1] A regime change always demands great flexibility in ideas of these who have to deal with the remains of the past and the results of the breakdown in order to find an adequate approach to the new realities.

Military withdrawal after the ‘zero-option’[2] decision, the big ethnic Russian populations in some of the successor states, the historic and economic interdependence with Russia, and her obvious attempts to dominate the new states on these grounds were most often perceived as a threat to their sovereignty. It is therefore not astonishing that in account to the various economic and social constraints in the different Newly Independent States (NIS), each was in search of its own way to deal with the problems of state-building, acceptance of the international community and Russia’s attempts to dominate the former sphere of influence.

This analysis will deal with the special case of Ukraine emancipating from the USSR heritage and the historic dominance of an imperial Russia. The focus of analysis will be put on the processes of state-identity building in the framework of Central and Eastern European Countries (CEEC), Western Europe and the EU, as well as the context of Russian foreign policy towards the ‘Near Abroad’. The subject is especially relevant today, since a wave of ‘colourful’ revolutions has taken place on the territories of some former Soviet republics in the past to years, showing that the political processes of forming a nation are still hard to predict in that region.

The important change that goes on in the former Soviet republics, including Ukraine, is the transition from the main foreign policy objective of the 1990s – either to escape from Russia or to stay. Now, the question seems to be: ‘Where to go?’.[3] Ukraine, during the events of November-December 2004, the so-called “Orange Revolution”, seems to have chosen a new quality of nation state identity – the Euro-Atlantic orientation in the international arena.[4]

A constitutional reform, which came into force in January 2006 making Ukraine a parliamentary democracy after fifteen years of presidential rule, may change the political arena again to a significant extent. Recently held parliamentary elections[5] will therefore provide for substantially more power to the prime minister and parliament when the new government will be in office. The coalition negotiations have not yet been successful, producing unexpected problems and insecurity among the citizenry and international partners.

In the following work, Ukrainian state identity building in the sphere of influence of two major world powers, the European Union and Russia, will be in the focus of social and political analysis. This approach is aiming at developing a better understanding of the Ukrainian situation which can be metaphorically be described as that of a “shock absorber” between Russia and the European Union (EU) in many perspectives.

1.2. Methodology of Analysis

With respect to history as well as to recent developments of the ‘Orange Revolution’, the parliamentary elections of March 2006, and reactions from the EU and Russia, this paper will try to work out the Ukrainian approach to identity building and its effectiveness between the influences of Europe and Russia (Eurasia).

Foreign policy perspectives will methodologically be analysed as the main source for identity building when the domestic platform does not provide for sufficient points of reference. Constructivist theory will be used to assess the feasibility of the nation building approaches applied by Ukrainian elites. In this theoretical framework of identity construction, the analysis of behaviour and statements leading to foreign policy perspectives of the main actors will be of main interest.

When identity-building processes are analysed, the statement ‘history matters’ gets a special connotation. Thus, a relatively detailed historic outline will show the special constraints the Ukrainian elites were facing at the threshold to independence and state construction.

In the main part of the paper, domestic difficulties and external influences that the country had to face on its way through the constraints of multiple transition processes are elaborated. Of special interest are the decisions that were taken concerning a new institutional system and their implications for foreign policy objectives of the newly independent state.

The preconditions and outcomes of the Orange Revolution, as the starting point for a decisive turn in Ukrainian politics will be covered in another chapter. In this respect, the influence of the two power blocks EU and Russia on Ukrainian political decisions will be carefully analysed and assessed. The EU will be treated as a political entity and single actor in her political relations towards Ukraine because the policy instruments applied were decided unanimously by EU institutions. A separate section will therefore deal with the development of EU-Ukrainian relations and the future of the European Union’s partnership with Ukraine.

The findings will have to show if the approach to state identity and nation building Ukrainian elites took, was of success for Ukraine’s identity construction in the national and international context. It should also become visible that despite the political problems of the new government under president Yushchenko, the common commitment to democratic institutions and constitutional rights throughout the vast majority of the population rendered recent developments, such as the Orange revolution and a more serious rapprochement to the West, possible.

2. Ukraine after 1990 – Defining a Theoretical Approach to the State-Building Process

The question comes up, which theoretical outline one can apply to the specific problems of transition in the newly formed state units after the identity giving Soviet ideology and the overwhelming Great Power status of the Soviet Union has fallen apart. Structural difficulties were the outcome of the breakdown of the USSR for most of the theories that were applicable to the world’s power balance during the times of the Cold War. Other approaches to the often chaotic and not at all predictable processes in domestic and foreign policy developments have to be found in order to assess the new situation adequately for each of the regions of the former Soviet Union that became independent.[6]

2.1. Obstacles to the Applicability of a Realist Approach

The situation of Ukraine, as an important regional geopolitical actor lacking the necessary political and financial power to influence its fate significantly without foreign help, provides for some problems in applying international relations theories such as realism and neo-realism.

Domestic constraints to any of the numerous attempts of formulating realist policies are various in Ukraine. First and foremost, there is a lack of sufficient and well-organised military power in comparison to the powerful neighbour Russia. Ukraine, being deprived of the Soviet Union’s military apparatus, has had no possibility to get involved in any such thing as struggling for power positions in the world community or even to preserve some status quo. This leads to the second point; Russian military superiority. Russia is the mightiest neighbouring state of Ukraine with clear ambitions to preserve influence over the NIS.[7] Although Russian political leaders did not bother to concentrate as much on the post-Soviet space as they tried to court the West in the early 1990s, it is possible to state that the old thinking of Union brotherhood still persisted. It seems as if claiming to be the only political successor of the Soviet Union meant for Russian leaders to preserve the dominant position of Russia over the former Soviet republics, Ukraine being no exclusion. Moreover, it is important to remember and to stress the military dominance of Russia in comparison to the other former republics, which is a reason in itself to exclude a realist approach of Ukraine to their powerful neighbour.

Another important aspect to the latter is that the Ukrainian attempts to exert a realist foreign policy has never been accepted by Western European states or organisations such as the EC, and was always seen as a threat to European stability. In these terms the West cooperated with Russia, which was seen as a stable and powerful partner in the post-Soviet disarmament strategies. Thus, it is possible to say that Ukraine’s position of persisting on power politics was lost from the very first moment because realist approaches to foreign policy indeed need a mighty military status.

From this point of view, the last chance of Ukrainian elites was to play the nuclear assets stationed in Ukraine since Soviet times as a joker in the power game of establishing not only nominal independence from the Soviet successor Russia. However, as this analysis will later show, the insistence on being a nuclear power state cannot be considered as a realist approach as such, since there were no chances at all that the West would back up such behaviour.

The last point, which destructs a realist approach to Ukrainian policies, is the most important one in terms of domestic realities. There is a great lack in fully structured and functioning political and economic policy that seriously hampered the formulation of clear-cut foreign policy objectives.

Taking these points into account Ukraine’s foreign policy approaches can hardly be defined as following realist thinking because obviously the country has steadily grown weaker and only slowly is getting out of economic crisis, not to speak of the political problems.

2.2. Feasibility of Institutionalist Thinking

Manoeuvring the country through transition, Ukrainian leaders had to create new institutional structures by establishing popular commitment to the changed political, economic and social situation. Coming back to the thesis that Ukrainian community is divided over preferences concerning cooperation with or alienation from Russia, this creation of a popular commitment to reforms had to be considered as the main task for the elites but as well as the main threat to the countries political and social stability. Therefore, a solely institutionalist approach is not feasible in the first place, since institutionalism follows the assumption that function follows form – a form obviously lacking in Ukrainian political structures up to today. The analysis however, will discus the applicability of a constructivist approach amended by institutionalist objectives which in this case may provide for a more serious explanatory value looking into domestic and foreign policy decisions and a theoretical link to state identity building.

2.3. Constructivism as an Approach to State Building in Post-Soviet Space

2.3.1. Constructivism and International Relations (IR) Theory

Scholars argue that Constructivism is a weak approach in IR theory, because it is merely more than descriptive and less useful to make predictions for future events. However, this paper does not aim to predict the line Ukraine is willing to take in foreign as well as domestic policy terms – either to closer relation to EU and the Western value system as such or to a (constructive) cooperation with Russia. In any case there is no such an approach as “either… or” for Ukraine in these terms anyway, although the events after November 2004 presidential elections gave rise to hopes that the new Ukrainian elites show the commitment to finally define a clear cut foreign policy that allows for much better relations with all international partners because of its straightness. As president Yushchenko has not only to struggle with the formation of already the third government since his inauguration on 23rd January 2005 but also with still unsolved problems of the recent constitutional reform, the high hopes have to be cut down respectively. Analysts have therefore to be aware that because of these permanent domestic problems the foreign policy objectives cannot be taken for granted but rather as a signal for the current domestic atmosphere towards international developments.

In search of a comprehensive approach to struggling with the situation of state building and not yet being fully accepted as an independent actor (though sovereign) on the domestic as well as global level, the Ukrainian leaders had and have difficulties to deal adequately with the transition process. Deciding to go the way of democracy and market economy was one of the options to form some kind of common grounds for identity building in an Europeanising context. The approach Ukrainian elites took at the threshold to a new era can be analysed from different perspectives, but this paper will argue that a constructivist point of view grasps the difficulties of state building in the post-Soviet context – and now at the threshold to overcoming post-Soviet transition – best.

2.3.2. Shaping National Identity – A Constructivist Approach

A key ingredient of nation building is the development of a foreign policy towards powers that previously dominated a country. This process is either perpetuated by nationalist groups or, as in the Ukrainian case, embedded in the shaping of a national consciousness and identity on grounds of formal sovereignty.

Identity is the meaning individuals or groups give to their shared stories, their being, and their roles in a community. On the level of collectives, identity means a common sense of belonging to a defined group with shared origins and continuity in life and ‘homeland’. A nation’s identity, as it is commonly perceived, is even more connected to territories and shared historic experiences, as well as boundaries to other ‘nations’.[8]

However trivial such a definition may seem, a nation does not exist without any socially constructed context. In other words, it is not a naturally given unit of people with a sense of common identity, as primordialists would argue. A nation has to be instilled as an ‘imagined political community’ for people to identify with. This becomes especially important when the ethnic composition is not uniform. Looking into the Ukrainian case means looking at a country that only recently[9] has gained independence from a centralised political body that for decades was propagating a Soviet identity with Russian cultural dominance being equivalent to the latter. Moreover, the cultural dominance of Russia over Ukraine, having taken place for centuries, was seen as a main reason for conflicts between the two. Why so? The answer, one could argue, lies in the struggle of finding a comprehensive self-definition for a new independent state entity. It had to be decided which status Ukraine was willing to take in the new regional structure of what the former Soviet Union was. “A constructivist view of nations as modern “imagined communities” opens up the possibility to locate the potential for conflict in particular constructions of nations, certain national narratives and styles of discourse.”[10]

From a meta-level perspective, constructivists of all tendencies share a similar focus on social facts, which are treated by social agents as if they were real. In other words, constructivists assume the primacy of the actor in relation to his social context, rejecting by implication the idea that truth and reality exist outside the minds and will of agents.[11] Social reality is produced by human cognition, beliefs, and reasoning. Constructivism therefore means that in trying to explain the world, people make it the way they want it to be. They construct a social reality which affects the self-identification as well as the behaviour of the other actors and hence the social reality itself – “behaviour based on particular ideas or theoretical models can have an impact on reality”.[12]

The question on the meta-level has to be, how social facts are actually socially constructed, for which reason, and to which effects on domestic and global politics?[13]

(1) Therefore, it is also important to look at the historic context used to shape the national identity. Such an approach makes it possible to observe in which way historic facts are reinterpreted and to conclude from this the intended outcome for the construction of a new society.
(2) The concrete work on these constructed social facts provides the researcher with a more profound understanding and the possibility to assess the effects of the actual outcome in a multi-vectored world as well.

Some constructivists assume that the identities states develop are variable. They have not to be considered as fully formed and stable but rather as in a constant process of adaptation to the changing structures and social practice between agents. To put it differently, national interest is a category that can be filled with whatever people find to serve their rationality.[14]

Moreover, the interactions of agents and structures, mutually constituting each other, are fluid, multiple and overlapping, making predictions of identities extremely difficult. However, historical, cultural, social and political contexts, defining as factual indicators (or social facts) to some extent the interpretation of the surrounding world, can help to understand this process of adaptation.[15] One of the main goals of this analysis is therefore to extract these factual indicators in the reasoning of Ukrainian political actors and set them into context with events and also external actors that have an impact on state identity building.

Pouliot argues that social facts constitute the only ‘foundations of reality’ upon which constructivists can build knowledge about global politics and social life in general.[16] Despite that, not taking into account the way in which actors and ideas about self and others are introduced into the system of the unit would mean a mis-conceptualisation of identity construction. Constructivists who refuse to go beyond shared, construed social reality, therefore, cannot answer the question where these constructions come from.[17] Thus, constructivist theory has to be extended or reinterpreted to adequately explain the changes in social behaviour of agents that create social facts.

At this point it might be fruitful for the discussion to come back to the objectives of institutionalism. It is worth to look at the creation of democratic institutions as an instrument of state identity building in Ukraine even though the implementation may actually lack behind. As an example of such spillover effects deriving from institutionalisation of new social facts – i.e. democratic institutions – can be considered the so-called “Orange Revolution” and the parliamentary elections of March 2006. The effectiveness of this approach will be discussed more broadly in another section of the paper.

However, in assuming the correctness of a, with institutional spill-over effects on self-identification processes, adapted constructivist approach, the analysis has also to work out the problems of reality construction in Ukraine, despite the given regional division of domestic as well as foreign policy interests. In order to provide for some new angle to look at Ukraine’s problems of divergent political concepts and foreign policy perspectives that seemingly go along ethnic lines, the paper will try to show to which extent the obvious constructions of a common identity despite all the different views on national identity, be them Russophile or Westernised, were fruitful or not. It shall be argued that, after all, there exists one concept – democracy – that provides for the glue holding a community together that seems to be divided along two main identity concepts.

In this context, state building has to be seen as social construction of a common identity led by agents, such as intellectuals and politicians, who are interested in creating unity between people they consider should belong to a nation.[18] In fact this means that an approach has to be found where the actors can be analysed as the starting point of social changes establishing control over the social and natural environments in pursuit of their interests. For constructivists this does not necessarily mean that the actors are aware of their role themselves. They are rather considered as unconscious bearers of an immanent process of development.

But where do the incentives of agents lie, urging them to establish unitary identification for the population, or to the contrary to prevent that process?

2.3.3. Meanings of Constructivist Theory for Ukraine

First of all, the possibility to identify with the new structures (if there are any) is crucial for political and social stabilisation in an uncertain situation. When other terms of identification fall apart new ones have to be created to fill the gap. In most of the former Union Republics the new leaders (actually still the same old elites) went the way of nationalising their policies as a way of means to demarcate their independence to Russia. As was pointed out, this was not the right way to go in Ukraine because of the century old cultural and social interdependence with Russia. Except from the very nationally conscious Western regions (first and foremost Galicia) in most parts of Ukraine, even ethnic Ukrainians feel themselves comfortable speaking Russian in their daily live, not to speak of the considerable share of ethnic Russians in the Southern and Eastern regions. Therefore, a radical cultural and ethnic distinction was not possible for decoupling from Russia in the first place. The social stability would have come under threat. As successful examples for the nationalisation policy in the sense of demarcating sovereignty may serve the Baltic States.

Secondly, one has to keep in mind that attempts by elites to create a nation are most often aiming at enhancing power – power of the agents within the community (legitimacy), or power of the unit in contrast to external ones (in this sense constructivism is the precondition for the assumptions of realist theory – ‘balance of powers’), and most importantly, power to mobilise people for ideas. The question is where to start from when analysing a state that has been created only fifteen years ago and which is regionally divided over identity issues. A more explanatory approach has to be found, looking more deeply into expressions of awareness of group identity as a partially endogenous understanding of reality. First of all, self-constructed identity, as an endogenous intermediating variable between actor behaviour and social reality, may provide for feedback effects on changes in economic and political realities. At the same time, the political and economic factors affecting the expressions of identity could be put into consideration as providing for a feedback effect on actor behaviour.[19]

Put together these constructions may help to explain actor behaviour as an intention and effect of identity construction. In the case of Ukraine, this assumption can be used to explain the changes in domestic and foreign policy of the various political actors. Moreover, this approach provides for the best explanation of the November-December 2004 events. The search for ways out of the economic and political stagnation in oligarchic economic structures and semi-authoritarianism was the precondition for the national uprising leading to a power change that could provide for a new political era and a transformation of Ukraine into an Europeanising state.[20] Therefore, keeping the events of the presidential elections in 2004 in mind, the paper will look into the commitment of the Ukrainian population to democratic values as an instrument of self-identification and a way to Europe.

Important for such an analysis is to keep in mind that although essentialisation as such has to be avoided by the analyst, social agents commit acts of essentialisation continuously. In other words, continuously committed acts of democratic behaviour such as participation in elections or, on a higher level, the direct participation in a parliament, let them be unfruitful because of corruption or lack of commitment of the elites, will lead in the end to a socialisation of the least interested actor. As Luckmann and Berger would put it: when social agents repeatedly associate to products of human activity the meaning of a natural fact, this act of essentialisation will generate as a result a social fact. Such a social fact is produced if all relevant actors agree on its existence by virtue.[21] Ukrainians are surprisingly committed to their democratic rights, despite electoral fraud and insufficient transparency of decision-making processes.[22] Paradoxically the democratic West itself has created misunderstandings in tending to emphasise the mechanisms of democracy rather than the culture of democracy.[23] Election were always taken seriously although candidates were misusing their campaigns to tell people in every region what they wanted to hear instead of promoting a clear cut political agenda if there was one.

Searle follows this argument and aptly observes that institutional facts are ontologically subjective but epistemologically objective, meaning that their existence depends on collective meanings, though not necessarily on the individual agent’s particular beliefs.[24]

Following this, the task of the paper will be to analyse the way of constructing a social reality of identity through promoting a political concept – democracy – more favourable to deal with the political necessities (meaning reconciliation with the West and East). Moreover, it is important to look at the definitions of shared national identity in contrast (or in relation) to the external world that are formulated in foreign policy objectives.

2.4. The Influence of Foreign Policy (FP) on State Identity-Building

Here the importance of actors outside the close circle of internal decision makers becomes obvious. When approaching national formation we have to keep in mind that identities are connected to interests (individual or state interests) that are not necessarily homogeneous but rather fluid and variously changeable.[25] As pointed out before, of special concern in any analysis of nation building process are the national elites that have the power to influence identities by changing the perception of state interests on the domestic as well as international level. Because, arguably, interests are tied to identities – that is, what we think we need is connected to who we think we are – the whole question of self-understanding, goals, aspirations, and fears and anxieties must be investigated as prerequisite to analysing the security requirements of states.[26]

During the inarguably chaotic time of Post-Soviet state building, the main factor determining the new states domestic structures as well as foreign policy objectives were the decisions of the ruling elite. These decisions established the basis for the construction of social threats, enemies or allies.[27] Suny, as well as Prizel and others, emphasises the role of elites as the key agent projecting national identity not only into domestic policy areas but first and foremost into foreign policy.[28] The interrelationship between identity and foreign policy offers a wide range of analytical interpretation. In the process of building a state/national identity, as it is the case in Ukraine, foreign policy making has to be seen as the main identity-producing practice. And, although this might sound like a tautology in the first place, identity has to be taken into account as an essential variable in the process of foreign policy decision-making.[29]

The existence of a common inter-subjective system of meanings about threats, or culture of security, may well serve as an indicator of a developing understanding for a shared identity community that the analyst can observe. As Wæver aptly puts it: ‘the community works when the actors choose to act as if there is a community.’[30] When analysing foreign policy decisions of the Ukrainian leaders it becomes obvious that there are attempts to demarcate Ukrainian from Russian policy objectives. One of the main focuses of the first years of independence was it to start an integrative process towards as Western European perceived values such as democratisation (although the level of implementation rather lacked behind the rhetorical manifestations), as well as a reorientation towards the Central and Eastern European Countries (CEEC). One might define these attempts as an indicator for an identity construction not only in the sense of searching for new spheres of alliances but as well through the negation of the Soviet past and the impacts of Russian attempts to once again establish their dominance over the former Soviet republics through the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).[31] Today the focus of foreign policy orientation lies on the integration into Western European structures, such as WTO, NATO and of course the EU.

In essence, foreign policy works as one of the principle instruments for the realisation of self-identification, either defining the collective against the external environment or as a part of the latter. The next section will provide for some background information about the historic facts that were used and reinterpreted for creating models of identity that Ukrainian elites chose to propagate.

3. Ukrainian History – A Point to Start

3.1. The Use of History as an Identity-Producing Instrument in Ukraine

The Ukrainian national movement demonstrated from the beginning of independence in the year 1991 an interest in demarcating Ukrainian traditions, culture and language as significantly different from Russian ones. Such attempts were not surprisingly aiming at counterbalancing the dominating power of the Soviet Union and her successor Russia. Measures were taken to establish a European in the sense of Central European identity for Ukraine referring to long historic and cultural traditions of the Ukrainian people as a distinct nation belonging to the European value system. These measures were perceived with concerns, sometimes with disbelief by different interest groups. They caused internal distrust, misunderstandings and were sometimes followed by foreign policy crisis.

That Ukrainian leaders followed the policy of denying Russian influence over Ukrainian decision-making procedures in order to establish a national identity might be interpreted from different perspectives. However, as a reasonable explanation can serve the necessity to find ways of justification for domestic and external difficulties related to state building – like the loss of the former space of reference, the Soviet Union, or the decline in economic prosperity.

In the following section the paper will work out some information about historically important facts that in the period of Ukraine’s hardships of nation building were and still are interpreted or reinterpreted by various actors to enforce their policies. Afterwards these findings will be taken into consideration when analysing Ukraine’s approach to democracy and foreign policy decision-making.

Why is Ukraine’s national identity of so great concern? Various interpretations do exist, each of them giving a different picture of the difficulties defining a Ukrainian nation in a complicated puzzle of identities. But there is no simple answer to that question. A nation in the modern sense of the word has to be constituted out of a national community that identifies itself with their national territory.[32]

Some Western scholars did define Ukraine as a ‘non-historical nation’ because of the discontinuity of a ruling elite as a ‘traditional representative class’.[33] But, the real obstacle for establishing a comprehensible self-definition was and is first of all the historic borderland situation of Ukraine between the East and the West, which is already implied by her name ‘u kraia’ – at the edge/ borderland. It might seem unnecessary to go as far back in history as the 15th century to explain the reasons of the Ukrainian efforts to form a national identity. However, history matters – especially when the historic ties of the country in question are that complicated and multilateral and, what is more important, do influence policy decisions and internal stability up to today, as it is in the Ukrainian case.

Not only do the above-discussed theoretical approaches demand some kind of self-definition in order to establish a state identity, but also the very recent debates on European enlargement and vehement Ukrainian association attempts put the subject constantly on the agenda. Therefore, the following overview on Ukraine’s historic ties to the surrounding powers might give some new inspiration to the reader in developing his own interpretation of the subject.

In this perspective a closer look into the cultural and religious past of the country would be of importance, but especially the geopolitical changes have to be put into consideration. Unfortunately, does the subject of this paper not allow for a very detailed historic abstract, thus, the often cited personalities of the 10th to 19th century who were of great importance to Ukrainian identification will be covered in the following only in a brief manner. Despite that, will the outcomes of main foreign policy decisions in Ukraine’s history up to 1991 be analysed in respect to their influence on national identity.

3.2. Religion and Cossack Culture under Pressure between East and West (10th to 17th Century)

The linkages between Ukrainian territories and other European regions including Russia were well developed since ancient times. After Slavic Prince Volodymir the Great had introduced Christianity in 988 to improve the cultural and political relations with Byzantine – the main trade partner of the Kyivan Rus’ at that time – the territory of modern Ukraine always belonged to the Slavic Orthodox community. Having been one of the biggest high cultures of medieval Europe throughout the 10th to 13th century, the memory of the mighty Kyivan Rus’ became an important factor of Ukrainian national pride in the following periods of foreign rule.[34] Today this part of Orthodox history is exploited not only by Ukrainian but as well by Russian history books, which tend to define the Kyivan Rus’ as the cradle of All-Russian history. Here already an important dichotomy becomes obvious. Ukraine builds up its national history and territorial integrity on a tale that at the same time Russians use as their historic heritage, and which they cannot permit to be decoupled from them.

Nowadays, Ukraine’s population is constituted out of ethnic Ukrainians, Russophone Ukrainians, Russians, to some extent people from other former Union Republics, and also Tatar peoples who are mainly settled in Crimea. The Tatars’ roots go back to the Mongol invasion in the 12-13th century and the Turkish rule during the 16th century.

Other foreign powers such as the Poles and the Baltic Rus’ (Kingdom of Lithuania) started to capture territories step by step from the Ukrainians in the late 14th century. This picture of different powers struggling for domination over Ukrainian territories and the inability to withstand foreign rule since ancient times has to be interpreted from a modern analyst’s perspective as the main aspect of Ukrainian elites’ efforts to prevail statehood by searching for powerful allies. The incomprehensive foreign policies of modern Ukraine in the 1990s, such as the ‘Third Way’ or ‘multi-vector’ approach, which will be discussed later on, can be interpreted from the same angle.

Concerning religious identification, up to today, the special division of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church accepting the Pope in Rome as their religious head and not the Metropolitan in Moscow has to be taken into account when elaborating concepts of identity throughout the Ukrainian regions. Influenced by these ties, the cultural and philosophical achievements of Western European heritage swap over to Ukraine for centuries.[35] Especially the western regions tend to make a point of belonging to Western European value system not at least because of the close religious ties to Poland.

On behalf of the history of political systems in Ukraine there has to be mentioned the Cossack bands’ system of the 16th century. As one of Ukraine’s most extraordinary national symbols, these bands united and created a mixture of centralised military discipline and democratic constitution.[36] This “first democratic” system in Ukraine is cited frequently in speeches of politicians of all ‘couleur’ to demonstrate Ukraine’s democratic heritage, which is then used to demarcate from “authoritarian” Russian rule.

It were the, by Orthodoxy inspired, Cossack uprisings against the Polish-Lithuanian suppression that can be interpreted as a first cultural revival of Ukraine as a nation. Despite that, most of Western and Ukrainian scholars perceive the orientation to ‘Great Russia’ for help against Poland as the first steps to Russian dominance over Ukrainian Cossack state and therefore over Ukrainian territory that lasted until the break-down of the USSR.[37]

Considering the role of religious division and political uniqueness it becomes obvious how distinct and at the same time close Ukraine was to most of the powers interested in dominating the fertile soils of the black earth region and access to the Black Sea. Between the mightier foreign powers surrounding their territories, the Ukrainians always had problems to sufficiently demarcate themselves.

3.3. Commonness and Distinctiveness in Ukrainian-Russian Identity

Despite all the different connections to other foreign powers, Russia played an exceptional role within Ukrainian history – although modern Ukrainian scholars try to present this relationship persistently in a more negative way and acts of reinterpretation take place frequently in modern Ukraine.

One could say, the history of the Russian empire started with the integration of Ukrainian territories under Muscovite Russian rule through the geopolitical transfer of the princely seat to Moscow in the 13th century. And, it became a new quality with the subordination of the hetmanate under Russian rule by the Pereiaslav Treaty of 1654. This plays an important role when interpreting political statements of Russia against Ukrainian attempts to establish self-rule, since the loss of Ukraine has to be seen as the tombstone to imperial Russian pretensions.

Adding to that, the existence of an incomplete statehood (being divided between at least three competing powers over time) caused unfavourable conditions for all following political developments (including the ideas of democracy and socialism in the 19th century). Therefore, the Ukrainian elite lost at times the idea of an independent full nation state. Especially the regional preferences of association with one of the two cultural spheres had a dividing impact on Ukraine, the East being culturally more assimilated by Russia, whereas western Ukraine is a hoard of nationalist feelings.

Analysing the historic facts, one can argue that the praised unity of the Russian and the Ukrainian people as brothers was a construct established in retrospect, not only through interpretation by the emperors of Russia but as well by Soviet rulers.[38] With exception of Russian scholars most experts of Ukraine do hesitantly speak of common national or linguistic ties with Russia (or what used to be the Muscovite Rus’), but they all have to admit the importance of the common religious faith.[39] Therefore it is not astonishing that Russians would interpret the cultural ties exactly from the standpoint of this common faith – by the rules of the Russian empire everyone who claimed to be Orthodox and paid taxes to the Tsar was considered to be Russian. However, although there exist this relationship of near relatives, Russians had still to admit the very obvious attempt of Ukrainians to show their individual identity.[40]

This brings us back to Wæver saying: ‘the community works when the actors choose to act as if there is a community.’[41] The fact that a lack in high rank patriotic Ukrainian leaders was produced through awarding Ukrainian elites for cooperative behaviour with Russian rulers with titles, ranks, territories, and serfs is of great importance for any analysis of historic Ukrainian independence movement. This historic fact provides for a starting point for the analysis of events in the 1990s, when the old soviet elites were the only ones in the newly created independent Ukraine to take over power from the centre.

The pull towards Russia had defined Ukraine’s position in the world since the seventeenth century. Ukrainian leaders have rarely been indifferent to Ukraine’s particular interests as opposed to those of Russia, but few have escaped the allure of federalism, seeing Ukraine within the greater framework of Russia.[42]

3.4. The 20th Century – Corner Stones for Ukrainian National Independence

In 1917, a time when other parts of the Great Russian Empire, which had some kind of independent status, could gain sovereignty from Russian rule (Finland and Poland), diverse attempts were undertaken to establish an independent Ukrainian republic. Unfortunately did the problematic situation of the centuries lasting division of the Ukrainian people deprive the nationalist movement of an united approach, so that changing alliances with Poland, Germany and Austria-Hungary, as well as the tsarist loyalists – the ‘Whites’ – fighting the one or the other at the same time had to lead to a disaster. In the end, the defeat of Petliura – as the last commander who could rise enough people to withstand the Red Army up to 1922 – set an end to the civil war that had held Ukraine in its grip for five years.[43]

The establishment of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1921 as a sovereign Union Republic can be interpreted as the first time since 1654 that Ukraine existed again as a sovereign nation (not taking the actual domination by the Soviet centre into account). However, the dreams of a Ukrainian ‘sovereign’ republic under the roof of the USSR were sharply interrupted by Stalin’s brutal repressions starting in the late 1920s.[44] Beginning with the forced collectivisation, industrialisation and the engineered ‘Holomar’ (the great famine of 1930-33)[45], as well as the ethnic and political ‘cleansing’, which shocked the whole country, a forceful Russification policy was undertaken.

In 1939, following the agreements of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and the invasion of Poland by German and Russian forces, territories that had been given to Poland and Rumania in the aftermath of World War I fell again to Ukraine. Soviet leaders, such as Molotov, tried to construct the idea of liberation of Ukrainian territory from Polish occupation. But already in 1941 the German assault on the Soviet Union started, welcomed in some places as liberation from Soviet rule. The hopes for an independent Ukraine that the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) put on the new rulers were sharply disappointed. Most of them were sent into German concentration camps because their efforts to form a sovereign Ukraine was not at all conform to Nazi Germany’s intentions for the territory.[46]

At the end of World War II, when the obligations of the Yalta conference were met, nearly all territories where Ukrainian speakers lived became unified after about 250 years of division.[47] Stalin took his well-known measures to integrate all territories and people into the Soviet system. To mention some examples: The expulsion of the Polish population from Soviet territory – an accepted method among the Allies, the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians as well as Crimean Tatars, and the re-education propaganda against the collaborators, where the nucleus of this “integration” policy meaning in the first place oppression of national movements.

The centralisation of higher education and the policy to only accept Moscow loyal persons (i.e. non-nationalist and Russophiles) in high positions set other insurmountable limits to the dreams of sovereignty. Nevertheless, it happened that all high rank Ukrainians in the Soviet system were Ukrainophil, though not anti-Union, leaders[48] and saw it as their task to protect Ukrainian interests in a Russian dominated USSR. However, they did not manage to overcome the peripheral existence of Ukrainian cultural and national identity.[49] Still, it is most noticeable that as soon as a convinced communist leader got a power position either in the Ukrainian or Union’s Supreme Soviet, although not calling the Union into question, he took the chance to speak and act for the revival and preservation of Ukrainian culture and identity as such.

3.5. Conclusions from History

This historic overview shows that over time there have always been attempts to revive Ukrainian nationhood and establish independent statehood. Following the events leading to the break down of the USSR, the idea of independence suddenly had the chance to become more than a dream.

However, Ukraine as a quasi-sovereign entity came into existence only in 1921, a period of radical political and social changes. The current territorial unity was reached after World War II (disregarding the Crimea peninsula given to Ukraine in 1954 by Khrushchev), which did not necessarily mean that a culture of common identification did exist in Soviet times. Before that time, territorial division and all related factors including cultural influences as well as religious diversification had been reality for centuries. Taking into account these circumstances, it is possible to say that the industrialisation policies going hand in hand with the Russification of the Soviet Union’s republics enhanced the difficulties for an ethnicity based identity especially in Ukraine, which shared so many identity-building categories with Russia.[50] This gives reason to the assumption that the territorially based differences have not yet been overcome fully in the heads and minds of the population in respect.


[1] Тренин 2005, p. 6, 7

[2] The ‘zero-option’ arrangement, in short, included surrendering all Soviet nuclear military assets as well as other weapons of mass destruction to the legal successor of the Soviet Union, Russia, in exchange for debt release and technical support with the transfer.

[3] Тренин 2005, p. 6

[4] Ibid. p. 8

[5] On 26th of March 2006, the Ukrainian citizens voted for new representatives to the Verkhovii Rada – the Ukrainian parliament.

[6] Prizel 1994, pp. 103-104

[7] Garnett 1995, p. 133

[8] Suny 1999, p. 145

[9] I will follow the argument of Dmitri Trenin that 10-15 years are a short period in terms of political development into a state. It has to be taken into account that sovereignty is not the sole factor constituting a state, but that there has to be a process of formation for a national political elite who is committed to the change from post-Soviet nomenclature to a new code of conduct. (Тренин 2005, p. 7)

[10] Suny 1999, p. 146

[11] Houweling and Amineh 2003, pp. 322-323

[12] Guzzini 2000, p. 64

[13] Pouliot 2004, p. 320

[14] Guzzini 2000, p. 71

[15] Suny 1999, p. 143

[16] Pouliot 2004, p. 319

[17] Houweling and Amineh 2003, p. 322

[18] Suny 1999, p. 144

[19] Houweling and Amineh 2003, p. 323

[20] Shulman 2005, pp. 67, 82

[21] Berger and Luckmann 1966/1991, p. 106

[22] Hagen 2005, p. 247

[23] Sherr 2004, pp. 316-317

[24] Searle 1995, p. 63

[25] Suny 1999, p. 139

[26] Ibid., pp. 139-149

[27] Wendt 1992, p. 405

[28] Suny 1999, pp. 144-149 and Melvin 2000, p. 880

[29] Kassianova 2001, p. 821

[30] Wæver 1998, p. 77

[31] Тренин 2005, p. 6, 11

[32] Some of the most recognised texts in this discussion are the works of Ernest Gellner, “Nations and Nationalism”, 1983, Benedict Anderson’s “Imagined Communities”, 1983, Anthony Smith’s “The Ethnic Origins of Nations”, 1986, as well as Hobsbawm’s “Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality”, 1990

[33] Pritsak and Reshetar 1963, p. 224

[34] Kappeler 1994, p. 29

[35] Pritsak and Reshetar 1963, pp. 226-227

[36] Kappeler 1994, pp. 55-56

[37] Pritsak and Reshetar 1963, pp. 231-235; Kappeler 1994, p. 58; Dmitriev 2002 (Review Article on Magocsi 1996)

[38] Peter I forbade all publications in Ukrainian language except translations of religious texts from Russian into Ukrainian. Furthermore, the import of Ukrainian publications from western Ukraine, which was under Austrian rule, were nearly completely prohibited.

[39] Pritsak and Reshetar 1963, pp. 237, 241, 248

[40] Furman 1995 (footnotes cited in the following as Furman 1995 were accessed from the internet as: Фурман, Д. Е.: «Украина и мы, Национальное самосознание и политическое развитие», В первые опубликовано в журнале «Свободная мысль», № 1,1995; retrieved from: Yabloko Party homepage:, accessed on 16.05.05)

[41] Wæver 1998, p. 77

[42] Kuromyia, p. 47

[43] At this time, Kiev had seen four different Ukrainian governments and had been under the siege and occupation of nine different national and international military powers.

[44] Kappeler 1994, pp. 197-205

[45] The Holomar is a broadly discussed issue not only in Ukraine. The question if Stalin intended to punish Ukrainian people for their continuous national resistance or even exterminate them has not been clarified up to today.

[46] Kappeler 1994, pp. 215-216

[47] Kuromiya 2005, p. 40, (by the agreements of the Yalta Conference parts of Poland and Rumania were given to the Ukrainian SSR)

[48] Such leaders were first of all Khrushchev’s protégé Kyrychenko (first secretary of the Ukrainian Communist Party 1954-56, member of the Presiding Board of Central Committee ) followed by Pidhornyi, Podgornyi, Kosygin. Brezhnev himself, although he did promote the development of a clan of Ukrainian ‘apparatchiki’ in Moscow, did not take such a pro-Ukrainian approach. Petro Shelest in his position as president of the Ukrainian Communist Party tried to counterbalance attempts to further bind Ukraine on Moscow and actively supported Ukrainian writers and the national cultural movement as such against the what he called “chauvinist” attitude of Russians towards the Ukrainian language. His predecessor Shcherbytskyi was even more important since he presided the Ukrainian Communist Party for 17 years, devoting all his live to Ukraine’s interests, although never calling into question the legitimacy of the Union. (see Kuromiya 2005, pp. 42-46 and Kappeler 1994, pp. 246-248)

[49] Here the term ‘peripheral existence’ is used in terms of independent policy decisions. For example had Ukraine a seat in the United Nations, but her diplomatic staff was hold inefficient and dependent on Moscow, which in effect limited her international ambitions and gave Moscow another vote in the UN.

[50] This does not only take the Russification through immigration into account which had a negative impact on the consolidation of an Ukrainian national identity, but as well the better opportunities a Russian identity provided for in Soviet structures.

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Europe's Influence on Ukrainian State Building - A Struggle for Identity between Europe and Russia
University of Hamburg  (Departement für Wirtschaft und Politik)
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Summary: Analysis of Ukraine's identity building process in the sphere of influence of two power systems - Russia and Europe. Theoretically a bridge between a constructivist foreign policy approach and institutionalist theory is build, which is preceded by a thorough historic abstract illuminating the commonness with, and respectively the distinctiveness from Europe and Russia.
Europe, Influence, Ukrainian, State, Building, Struggle, Identity, Russia
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MA in European Studies Alexandra Weber (Author), 2006, Europe's Influence on Ukrainian State Building - A Struggle for Identity between Europe and Russia , Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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