Dilemma of political transition in New Post-Soviet Ukraine

Arto Luukkanen,
Dr., University Lecturer of Russian and East-European Studies,
University of Helsinki,

According to Bible, Moses had a possibility to deliver his last speech for his people when they were approaching to “The Promised Land”.  After this, he ascended Mount Nebo to view the horizons of Canaan but could not follow his kin.

This same dilemma troubles the present leaders of the New Ukraine. Ukraine is now on the threshold of a mission impossible; it is trying to liberate itself from the Russia’s political influence.

In order to survive Ukraine seeks desperately new friends from Europe and overseas. The situation is difficult; Ukraine suffered severely in the economic crisis of 2008 and it is still recovering. Furthermore, Putin’s Russia is waging a war against East-Ukraine using pro-Russian thugs and cronies at Donetsk. Ukraine bleeds, shakes and trembles – but alas – it is marching forward.

The question follows; what it the political path of Ukraine? Are the old political leaders and parties able to travel to the “promised land” of peace and prosperity or does the Ukraine need new leaders and political movements to attain solid allies and finally make a lasting peace with Russia?  Is President Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelensky only a transitional leader or does he represent a new kind of a political leadership in Ukraine?

Transition of 1950’s and 1990’s

The history of Ukraine gives us many examples of political transitions. Just to mention few, Stalin’s death in 1953 gave Ukrainians a possibility to “semi-national” re-birth. It is indeed a paradox, since ideas of “Thaw” did not touch Ukraine as such – only the party. Surprising enough, it was the communist party inside Ukraine, which was promoting the idea of national cadres inside Ukraine.

The liquidation of Ukrainian intelligentsia in 1930’s had made a devastating effect and the communist party had lost many of its local Ukrainian workers but after Stalin’s death it was elementary to find local people to work for the party. Only after Stalin’s death, the local cadres were able to make modest attempts the reclaim their national identity. The condition was: one could be a Ukrainian communist but only as a member of the people of the Soviet Union.

The prize of this project was the full obedience to Moscow and to its political line. The Communist Party of the Ukraine was able to organize its Eighteenth Congress of the CPU in 1954 in which it acknowledged its loyalty to the general party line and to the new leadership. Thus doing it, the Ukrainian leadership could continue its semi-independent policies. In the Nineteenth Congress of the CPU 1956, this line was intensified and Ukrainians were appeased by donating Crimean peninsula to the Ukrainian SSR.  Moreover, native communist Oleksii Kyrychenko was promoted as a first secretary of the CPU and later he was promoted to Moscow and it was mentioned that he could be the potential successor to Khruschev.

As mentioned earlier, the secret of this “communist national transition” was the unconditional loyalty to new leader. As a token of the “national-mindedness” during the 1950’s and 1960’s the Ukrainian ethnic communist secretaries such as Oleksii Kyrychenko (June 1953–December 1957) and Mykola Pidhornyi (December 1957–June 1963) or Nikolai Viktorovich Podgorny (from 1957 to 1963) were able to conduct unofficial Ukrainianization of the CPU. Only from 1976, the second secretary of the Ukraine was supposed to be an ethnic Russian. The peak of the Ukrainanization was the rule of party leader Petro Šelest in Ukraine.

Second transition to national rebirth was the crisis of 1990’s when Ukraine reclaimed its independency. As the archival sources testify even the Ukrainian KGB was very rapidly able accept new political values of national independency after August 1991.

The pace was so fast that the last leader of the communist UKGB – Nikolai Mikhailovich Golushko underlined that the Ukraine should take good care of the atomic weapons inside Ukraine. According to one report, Golushko believed that if Ukraine wanted to keep nuclear weapons, it should consider the reduction of their amount to the amount agreed with the new Russian Federation. However, as the experts had already stated “the transporting arms to Russia could be economically difficult” and, if exported to Russia, would have “negative consequences for Ukraine’s independence” (!). Therefore, experts had suggested the creation of a special joint “union” command center. The tasks of this joint military headquarter should then be defined in accordance with the new federal treaty. Golushko also pointed out that Ukraine has the opportunity to make such weapons on its own territory, even independently (!). [i]

Transition of 2020’s

The latest transition period of Ukraine started with the revolution of dignity (2014 – Революція гідності). The contemporary situation is an interesting mixture of good symptoms and alarming signals. The much-needed political and economic reforms made a good start when president Zelensky took the helm. In addition, the local election in autumn 2020 had a pacifying effect to the society. Moreover, the banking law in May 2020 was a success.

However, the progress has stalled. The fight against corruption has not been successful enough. A real transition of Ukraine from the premises of the Soviet legacy and Russian Imperial past can happen only and if the state and political system of the Ukraine are able to find real solutions to this problem.

The question is dire – whether the regime of Zelensky resolves this question or it will go the dustbin of history together with persons such as Poroshenko, Yanukovych and Kuchma. Zelensky may see the horizons of “Promised Land” but is denied to go there.

[i] GDU SBU (ГАЛУЗЕВИЙ ДЕРЖАВНИЙ АРХІВ СБУ – Former KGB Archive in Kiev)  Фонд 16; 2293 одиниці постійного зберігання; 1930–1991 рр. Довідковий апарат: здавальний опис, тематична картотека, історична довідка – Секретаріат ГПУ–КГБ УРСР. GDA SBU f. 16, op. 1131, d. 187/ 29.8.1991; GDA SBU f. 16, op. 1131, d. 212/ 16.8.1991. See also Arto Luukkanen: Suomi hajoavan imperiumin sylissä. 2019. Otava. Helsinki.

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