By Bohdan Nahaylo
Aug. 21, 2021
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin may have put on a smug face when he received Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel on Aug. 20. But in reality, he has good reasons to feel vexed and frustrated by Ukraine and its defiant stance against Russia’s war. Despite Putin’s continuing occupation of Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine, persistent scare-mongering tactics and subversive elements of hybrid warfare, Kyiv has stood firm and has in effect launched its own subtle non-military counter-offensive.
It has been highlighted by the highly impressive scale of international support for President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Crimea Platform initiative and for Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence on the 30th anniversary of the restoration of its independence.
And to rub salt into Putin’s wounds, the Patriarch of Constantinople has arrived in Kyiv for the celebrations. He has begun holding religious services in the most sacred shrines dating from the period of Kyivan Rus with the hierarchy of the autocephalous (self-governing) Ukrainian Orthodox Church who in 2019 finally returned their fold canonically under his jurisdiction and their “Mother church.” They thereby broke free of the Moscow Patriarchate’s age-old stifling control and significantly weakened Russia’s imperial pretensions towards Ukraine.
The presence of the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholemew in Kyiv has a very symbolic aspect. For it connects the relatively recent restoration of Ukraine’s independence with its precursor 1,000 years ago – the medieval state of Kyivan Rus. It had derived Christianity in 988 from Byzantium, or rather its capital, Constantinople.
Russia’s precursor Muscovy was not to appear until much later. Hence, the joint religious services with the Patriarch in Kyiv’s St. Michael’s Gold Domed Monastery and St. Sophia’s Cathedral are a poignant reaffirmation of Ukraine’s historical links with its glorious and European past and once again expose the calculated falsity of Putin’s insistence that Russians and Ukrainians historically are one people.
And there’s also another link with Ukraine’s past, particularly its quest for freedom, that is being highlighted during these festive days. As part of the celebration, the original version of the Constitution of Ukrainian Cossack leader Pylyp Orlyk, which he prepared in 1710, has been brought from Sweden and put on display for the first time in Kyiv.
Orlyk was the successor to the legendary Ukrainian Cossack Hetman (or leader) Ivan Mazepa who attempted to secure freedom for Ukraine from Muscovy by allying himself with Sweden’s Charles XII. Unfortunately, they were defeated in 1709 at the battle of Poltava.
According to modern Ukrainian historians, Orlyk’s was the first European constitution in the modern sense and was based on Christian and democratic values. The efforts of Mazepa and Orlyk did not pass unnoticed. In 1731 that first great modern European, French philosopher Voltaire, wrote “ “L Ukraine a toujours aspiré à être libre” (Ukraine has always aspired to be free).
The founders of modern Ukraine who declared the country’s independence in 1918 and the unification of its lands in 1919 were certainly aware of all this. Defeated, forced to flee, murdered, or imprisoned, they were convinced that one day Ukraine would re-emerge as an independent democratic European state.
This finally happened in 1991 after almost a century during which Ukraine suffered enormous losses and saw its patriotically minded figures purged repeatedly. Eventually, to borrow from Irish poet W.B. Yeats, another “terrible beauty was born,” and Ukraine appeared as a late European child.
Although Ukraine has so far not managed to secure its rightful place as a full-fledged member of the European Union and NATO, it has aligned itself with them and been accepted into their fold as a friend and partner. And this, given the circumstances, is no mean achievement.
In fact, Kyiv is set to host the biggest diplomatic event held in Ukraine since it restored its independence. The dazzling list of confirmed participants signifies a major diplomatic success for President Volodymyr Zelensky and Ukrainian diplomacy in bolstering at this difficult time international support for Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity.
Of the 45 foreign delegations participating in the launch of the Crimea Platform Initiative in Kyiv on August 23, 13 will be represented by heads of state and government.
• Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Hungary, Moldova, Slovenia, and Finland and the European Council will be represented by their presidents.
• Romania, Georgia, Croatia, Slovakia and Sweden will be represented at the level of prime ministers.
• Two states – Switzerland and the Czech Republic – will be represented by the heads of their parliaments.
• Another 14 countries are sending their foreign ministers. These include Turkey, France, and Germany.
• Britain and Portugal will be represented by defense ministers, and the United States by a presidential delegation led by the Secretary of Energy.
• Eight states are delegating their ambassadors.
• The European Commission will be represented by Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis and NATO by the deputy secretary-general.
• The Council of Europe and GUAM will be represented at the level of secretaries-general.
Not many capitals can take pride in having had so many high-ranking foreign dignitaries participating in events affirming their nation’s independence and territorial integrity.
And, of course, this will not pass unnoticed in the Kremlin. In fact, Putin’s closest “friend” in Europe, Merkel, embarrassed him at their press conference by reiterating the illegality of Russia’s seizure of Crimea and mentioning that “Ukrainian soldiers” are continuing to be killed in eastern Ukraine.
Nor will it be unheeded in Minsk. Neither by the cruel dictator Aleksander Lukashenko as he clings to power, nor the heroic Belarusian people.
And when the celebrations are over, hopefully, Zelensky will have a stronger hand when he meets President Joe Biden in Washington at the end of the month. The fact that the US has just beefed up its delegation to the Crimea Platform summit and anniversary celebrations offers some grounds for cautious optimism.