As a new unity government took over in Ukraine on Thursday, Russian flags were flying on government buildings in Crimea.
So euronews asks – is the country moving towards separatism?
Reporter Anne Devineaux met with Piotr Smolar , a reporter for French daily Le Monde, a specialist on the issue, to discuss the matter.
Anne Devineaux, euronews: “After three months of turmoil that removed pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych from power, Ukraine now has to build itself a political future. We’re joined by Piotr Smolar in Kyiv to talk about this. You’re a French journalist with the daily newspaper Le Monde, specialising in former Soviet countries. How has Moscow reacted to these events?”
Piotr Smolar, Le Monde journalist: “It’s a two-track reaction. Some of the surface reactions were fairly predictable. For example, the Kremlin checked the readiness of its troops in case there’s major trouble. There were also pretty strong statements from Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev this week saying he didn’t consider the new authorities in Kyiv as truly legitimate. But President Putin isn’t saying anything. We could say these events don’t suit them at all, but that for the moment they are exercising a sort of restraint, to see how things develop.”
euronews: “We know Ukraine is in serious economic difficulty; can the country even think of a future where it turns its back on its powerful Russian neighbour?”
Smolar: “Well, turning your back on a neighbour doesn’t make him go away. Russia will always be there on the border of Ukraine. The economic ties between the two countries are absolutely essential for Ukraine, and notably for the industrial regions of the east, notably for some of the oligarchs, who are among the country’s most influential people. The second point is to look at what’s been happening in the markets in the past few days to see some indication of the ruble and the hryvnia currencies, which have been plummeting. The Ukrainian currency has lost 18 percent of its value since the start of January. This means that the new Ukrainian authorities, originating in the opposition, have a considerable challenge to take up. On the one hand they have to satisfy Maidan in the renewal of the elites and political personnel, and on the other save an economy that is completely adrift.”
euronews: “There’s also that rising anti-Russian rhetoric in the streets of Kyiv, is that right?”
Smolar: “I haven’t got that impression at all. We mustn’t get the debates confused. We tend to stereotype Ukrainian society in a binary way, as a confrontation between a pro-European, nationalist west and the pro-Russian east. Things are much more detailed and complicated than that. As for anti-Russian feeling, the people of Maidan feel very strongly about any attempt to interfere, and that’s obvious. Notably, there is the question of the snipers who shot the most determined of the demonstrators and killed dozens. Blood flowed in the square that is just behind me, and there is a fair number of politicians and ordinary citizens who are convinced that Moscow had something to do with those mysterious snipers, who we have still not really been able to identify.”
euronews: “To conclude, Ukraine’s interim president has talked about dangerous signs of separatism, notably in Crimea. Is a pro-Russian separatist scenario realistic, do you think?”
Smolar: “Separatism is an old sea serpent, especially in the region of Crimea, which, let’s remember, only became a part of Ukraine recently, in 1954, thanks to Khrushchev. There is, effectively, considerable tension today in this region, but it mustn’t be exaggerated into a disaster scenario. It’s not certain that such a departure from Ukraine and a realisation of this threat of separation would really be in Russia’s interests. Again, things are more complicated than that on the ground.”