A Controversial Anniversary: What's in Store for Ukraine after Its 30th Anniversary?

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Sergiu CEBAN

Tomorrow, Ukraine will celebrate the 30th anniversary of its independence. Under what conditions is Kiev meeting a new milestone of its modern history and what is the future of the Ukrainian state?

Chisinau has long been closely watching developments in Ukraine, with which we share strong historical ties, as well as general plans to restore territorial integrity and pursue the sustained implementation of the European integration course. The founding summit of the Crimean Platform starts in Kiev a day before the thirtieth anniversary. About fifty official representatives of states and international organizations are expected at the international event. Many of them were invited to celebrate the anniversary of Ukraine's independence, but in the meantime became participants in a political performance important for the Ukrainian leadership. Maia Sandu, despite all the risks, decided to go to the capital of Ukraine personally, which only confirms the level of relations between the two countries and the degree of interest of the Moldovan leadership in the further contacts with Kiev. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also paid a one-day farewell visit to Ukraine yesterday. At the end of her political career, she decided to make several shuttle trips, primarily to Moscow and Kiev. The Ukrainian topic has lately caused so many disputes that a personal mediation on the part of the German leader was apparently required to somehow mitigate or bridge the communication deficit between Moscow and Kiev. Ukraine is celebrating its 30th anniversary under extremely difficult conditions faced perhaps for the first time since the collapse of the USSR and gaining independence. This country has in principle been challenged a lot over the past three decades: economic crises, two revolutionary Maidans, the last of which finally divided the country's political field and liquidated the post-Soviet balance of the Ukrainian elites. The heaviest burden remains the protracted, already seven-year-long, armed conflict in the east of the country and, in fact, the state of war with Russia. Summing up Kiev's domestic policy over the past few decades, its characteristic feature, like almost all CIS countries, is the gradual exhaustion of the Soviet-era resources which led to a certain de-industrialization and, in fact, deterioration of the post-Soviet development model. Therefore, the time has come for the political elites and also the oligarchy - which has generally become the backbone of the Ukrainian statehood - to seriously think about the country's systemic reorganization. In its foreign policy, the Ukrainian authorities tried to adhere to the tactics of balancing between the West and the East (Russia) at the early stages. However, after Viktor Yushchenko took office in 2005, the international dimension started shifting more clearly towards the west, and the first drastic actions to distance from Moscow were made. After a series of pro-Western breakthroughs that provoked acute protracted crises with the Kremlin, such a foreign policy line was continued, which eventually led to almost inevitable consequences in 2014: a tough long-term confrontation, territorial losses and a lasting military campaign in Donbass. Admittedly, the Kuchma-proposed moderate, non-conflict and predominantly identity-based model titled “Ukraine is not Russia” was the most optimal form of coexistence with its northern neighbor, which allowed Kiev to occupy a special place in Europe as a separate project at the junction of the western and Russian areas of interests. Since 2014, after well-known events, Kiev has turned its Russian neighbor into an enemy and pursued a tough course aimed at deep integration with Western, European and Euro-Atlantic structures. This policy is primarily based upon the approach of maintaining the unresolved armed conflict in the east and retaining its high intensity. Not focusing on the current challenging situation, the main sad conclusion after three decades is that the Ukrainian leadership has not given the society an answer to the fundamental question: who are Ukrainians and in what direction are they moving? The concept has been dominating over the past seven years but has not yet yielded visible results, therefore, sooner or later, such a long waiting without any clear perspective from the West will require some analysis and comprehension from the Ukrainian politicians. Oddly enough, a good example of how the interests can be rationalized might be the approach of the new Moldovan leadership, who, despite all the risks and criticism, has nevertheless decided to try to establish pragmatic relations with the Kremlin. There is no doubt that Kiev needs to change something in its approaches and, above all, in relations with its neighbors. Paradoxically, along almost the entire state border from Russia to Moldova and the countries of the European Union, Ukraine has its own set of sensitive problems that create constant tension and long-term challenges to territorial integrity. Therefore, experts hold thematic discussions more and more frequently about how successful the Ukrainian statehood project is after 30 years and whether it will be possible to preserve it within the post-Soviet borders. Certainly, Kiev has the right to pursue the sovereign course that it thinks is the most correct. The post-Soviet model of state structure in Ukraine is dying painfully in anticipation of a new Ukrainian strategy that will breathe new life into the country. If the political class and business elite are unable to offer Ukrainians an acceptable and adequate model of state development in the coming years, then, unfortunately, with a high degree of probability Ukraine will face another cycle of internal political turbulence and even more severe social upheavals, and the "third Maidan" may actually be fatal for the Ukrainian statehood.