Staunton, June 22 – Two-thirds of the deputies of the Verkhovna Rada have voted for a declaration calling on the UN, the OSCE, the Council of Europe, and the European Parliament to focus on Moscow’s violation of the rights of ethnic Ukrainians living in the Russian Federation and stating that bilateral ties will depend on how Moscow treats them in the future.
On June 19, 229 out of 331 deputies present voted for that resolution which took note of the fact that Moscow’s treatment of ethnic Ukrainians has become “systemically” worse in recent years and that that “the cultural, linguistic, educational, informational, and religious needs of the Ukrainian community in Russia” are not being met.
This resolution does three important things. First, by taking this action, Kyiv has shown that two can play the game the Kremlin has been pursuing. Vladimir Putin justifies his actions in Crimea and other parts of southeastern Ukraine by suggesting that Ukraine has failed to protect the rights of ethnic Russians there and elsewhere.
The reality is that in Ukraine, the Russian language is widely and freely used, there are Russian language schools and other institutions, and there is a lively Russian-language media and unimpeded access to Moscow outlets as well. But in Russia, the Ukrainian language is restricted, there are few if any government-supported Ukrainian language schools and institutions, and the Russian authorities restrict the introduction of Ukrainian media.
By raising this issue in this way, Kyiv not only highlights the fundamental dishonesty and hypocrisy of the Russian government’s claims but also puts itself on record in support of Ukrainians as a nation wherever they live, a case in which Moscow has unintentionally promoted Ukrainian nationalism in ways that will have blow-back into the Russian Federation.
Second, with this resolution, Kyiv is calling the attention of the world to the sad fate of Ukrainians in Russia, to the fact that Moscow has viewed them as proto-Russians who should forget their native language and become Russians because they are part of Moscow’s self-proclaimed “Russian world.”
Few outside experts or observers have focused on the ethnic Ukrainians inside the Russian Federation although many, following Moscow’s lead have directed their attention to the ethnic Russians inside Ukraine. The Verkhovna Rada declaration should help redress that balance. (For more information on the Ukrainians in Russia, see ukrainistika.ru/.)
Among other things, it will attract attention to the various Ukrainian communities across the Russian Federation, including in the Far East, and to the fact that there are more ethnic Ukrainians in that country than the 1.9 million counted in the 2010 census. Moscow complains routinely that Kyiv has “forcibly” re-identified ethnic Russians as Ukrainians, projecting on Ukraine what it has done even more “forcefully” inside the Russian Federation.
And third and most important, the Verhovna Rada declaration adds an important element to the future of Ukrainian-Russian relations. Kyiv will now have to insist that Russia will have to respect the rights of ethnic Ukrainians to the degree that it wants Kyiv to respect the rights of ethnic Russians.
Ukraine, which has a good — even impressive — track record in that regard, despite Russian complaints, won’t have any trouble meeting international standards on the treatment of ethnic minorities. But Moscow certainly will. Demands that it do so will generate both new expectations among ethnic Ukrainians and other minorities in the Russian Federation and new anger among Russian nationalists that their country should have to meet them.