How the Idea of Ukraine’s Sovereignty Led It to the Status of “America’s Doormat”

On July 16th Ukraine celebrated the anniversary of its founding document — the 30th anniversary of the Declaration on State Sovereignty. It was solemnly noted, even having gathered for this purpose a special session of the Verkhovna Rada with the participation of dozens of deputies who voted for this historic act back in 1990.

There were many pathetic words about the “centuries-old fight for independence” embodied in this document. In the ceremonial chatter they modestly keep silent about the fact that Ukraine, including via the hands of the Rada itself, has long trampled on this declaration and still continues to trample on it. This means that the historical legal foundation of the state has simply been destroyed.

Recall that Ukraine was not the first Republic of the Soviet Union to take part in the “parade of sovereignty”. The Baltic and Caucasian republics were pioneers back in 1988-1989. But even after them, Kiev would not have moved in this direction if it were not for Russia. The first Congress of People’s Deputies of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic under the leadership of Boris Yeltsin adopted a similar Russian Declaration on June 12th, 1990. After this, it would be strange if some other republics, even if they did not want the disintegration of a single state, would stay away from the general process.

Following in the footsteps of “big brother”, Ukraine repeated in its declaration the theses about the supremacy of local legislation over the Union and went even further, claiming a share of Union-wide property and the right of Ukrainian citizens to serve in the army on the territory of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. One of the basic principles of this document was the Declaration of National and Linguistic Human Rights. They stated that Ukraine guarantees all nationalities “the right to their free national and cultural development”.

In addition, they declared a very important point, which was later recalled more than once during the heated debate about national security: “The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic solemnly declares its intention to become a permanently neutral state in the future, which does not participate in military blocs and adheres to three non-nuclear principles: not to accept, produce, or acquire nuclear weapons.”

Everyone knows what the promises to protect the national and cultural identity of the peoples living on the territory of Ukraine turned into. The language rights of the Russian-speaking population, which was the majority at the time of Ukraine’s independence in August 1991, were immediately violated. Russian schools were massively closed, the Russian language was banned in universities, then they were squeezed out of official circulation, advertising, public spheres of life, and sharply restricted in the media. And the current session of the Verkhovna Rada, timed with the 30th anniversary of the Declaration, is held under the slogan of discussing the controversial law on education, signed recently by Vladimir Zelensky and completely banning Russian schools. For the first time since the Ukraine project was launched, Russian children in September will even theoretically lose the right to study in their native language. Some deputies of the ruling “Servants of the People” party have now tried to delay hour “X” for at least a few more years, but judging by the reaction of many of their colleagues in the party, these attempts are doomed to failure.

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As for the non-aligned status, Kiev in the 90s attempted to move closer to NATO. In 2008, the then leaders of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko, Yuliya Tymoshenko, and Arseny Yatsenyuk, signed a collective letter providing an Action Plan for NATO membership (map). And they did it in secret from the people — the Ukrainian media learned about the existence of this letter from US Senator Richard Lugar. Then it was repeated by President Petro Poroshenko, who eventually in 2019 pushed through amendments to the constitution that cemented the Euro-Atlantic course of the state. Thus, the Declaration of Sovereignty was definitively trampled on.

Many Ukrainian experts who support the course of joining NATO justified this abuse of the document by the fact that it is allegedly “voluntary”, “outdated”. But we must not forget that this Declaration became the legal basis for an independent Ukraine. Moreover, it was approved by a referendum on December 1st 1991. After all, the short Act of Declaration of Independence, which was put to the national vote, was a direct reference to the 1990 Declaration of Sovereignty. Many have somehow forgotten that two of these documents – the Act and the Declaration – were hung at polling stations. Thus, both of them are approved by the people and they can also be revised only by referendum, which, of course, wasn’t done.

Having actually crossed out the Declaration of its sovereignty, Ukraine as a state has deprived itself of its historical and legal foundation. References to this document now do not make sense. But there we are talking about territorial integrity, inviolability of borders, and generally about the statehood of the Ukrainian people. All of this, thanks to the efforts of several generations of local politicians, has turned into nothing. This is probably why the recently released audio recordings of conversations between Petro Poroshenko and Joe Biden did not cause a particularly violent response, although this is a clear confirmation of the complete surrender of this very sovereignty and statehood to overseas “partners”. If the President of Ukraine personally asks the Vice President of the United States to approve the candidacy of the Ukrainian Prosecutor General and even “looking” for such a figure from among American citizens, then what kind of sovereignty can we talk about!

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There is no declaration, no sovereignty, no independence. What is the basis of Ukrainian statehood after Kiev’s rejection of basic principles? Just an idea that was expressed at the time by Vladimir Yavorivsky, one of the politicians who adopted this document 30 years ago. He said: “We have been the doormat of Russia for 350 years, and of America – not a single day. It would be worth a try.” Back then he called it a “bitter joke”. However, the events of recent years and the “Biden tapes” mentioned above indicate that Ukraine has long since moved on from such jokes to the direct implementation of this idea. Completely renouncing the sovereignty proclaimed 30 years ago.

Vladimir Kornilov

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