Ukraine in Crisis: Kremlin Stirs Up Fears of Ethnic Russians as Turmoil Engulfs Nation ; Ukraine in Crisis
Krushelnycky, Askold, The Independent (London, England)
MANY PEOPLE predicted that Ukraine would rapidly divide in two after it became independent in 1991 following the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
Foreign politicians, diplomats and experts, pointed to what seemed cataclysmic political fault lines that they predicted would lead to upheaval, possible civil war, but certain division.
Ukraine is said to be divided by language, history, religion and ethnic make-up. Of its 48 million population some eight to 10 million are ethnic Russians, most of whom want closer links with Moscow. And the Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, backed by Vladimir Putin, has ruthlessly exploited ethnic Russian passions to recreate some vestige of a Moscow-led political bloc.
However, many Ukrainians who speak Russian every day of their lives, support the opposition in this power struggle.
Those differences have been crucial in the presidential election whose bitterly disputed result has brought hundreds of thousands of opposition demonstrators onto the streets of the capital and other big cities.
The two opponents were the pro-Russian Mr Yanukovych and the pro- Western liberal candidate, Viktor Yushchenko. The opposition accused the government and Mr Yanukovych of using fraud to steal the election, allegations supported by the EU, America, the Organisation For Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Council of Europe and Nato.
During his campaign Mr Yanukovych emphasised the differences between parts of the country, while Mr Yushchenko stressed the ties between all portions of the nation.
The turmoil in Ukraine and the events of the next few days could prove one of them right.
In medieval times much of the territory of present-day Ukraine was the then powerful state of Kievan Rus, centred on Ukraine's capital, Kiev. Prince Volodymyr, the ruler of this state, which existed centuries before Moscow, accepted Christianity for himself and his people. Russia traces its existence and its church from Kievan Rus and that is why many, even liberal, Russians find it difficult to accept Ukraine's independence.
The Kievan Rus Empire fell apart after Mongol invasions. Those who remained on the steppelands were joined by serfs or noblemen escaping from Polish lords or the rule of the Tsars. These people banded together in military groups of expert horsemen and fighters who became the Cossacks to defend their lands from Tatar invaders and incursions from Russia and the Polish empire.
Ukrainians protesters trace their passion for democracy to the Cossacks, who elected their leaders in proto-democratic one- Cossack, one-vote, elections at regular intervals.
In the 18th century the Cossacks were overwhelmed and their territory divided between the Russian empire and the Austro- Hungarian empire. Ukrainians in the west were cut off from their countrymen under Russian control. …