Ukraine’s turning tide

July 08, 2014 - 1:02:05 am

Under Petro Poroshenko’s stewardship, Ukraine is trying to assert its sovereignty amid Russian hostility.

After a sustained showdown with Russia-backed separatist militia for weeks, the embattled and wobbly forces of Ukraine have something to cheer about. But celebrate they should mildly, as the situation has not wholly turned to their favour and the Kremlin-supported forces are still strong in the east of the country. The Ukrainian insurgency has been the worst East-West standoff since the end of the Cold War. Russia’s sphere of influence has been dwindling after the break-up of the Soviet Union and Moscow’s recent actions have been desperate measures to keep its control on the former republics and satellite states undiminished. 

With ‘chocolate king’ Petro Poroshenko elected as president in a vote rejected by Moscow as illegitimate, the tide seems to be turning in Kiev’s favour. Soon after the stately-looking Poroshenko was sworn in, Ukrainian troops, which were at the receiving end of insurgents’ attacks, got a much-needed boost. They were able to eliminate a number of Russian separatists and bring some cheer to the demoralised troops. 

About two days ago, a bolstered Ukrainian force retook the city of Slavyansk from Russia-backed forces who had brought the city fully under their control by occupying government buildings and other strategic locations. 

The eastern city’s takeover by separatists had created a quirky situation with Russia-backed forces exercising de facto control, even as officially it remained Ukrainian territory. Another rebel stronghold — Kramatorsk was also snatched from insurgents.

Yesterday, three bridges on roads leading to the city of Donetsk were blown up before an expected offensive by government forces. One railroad bridge presented a scary site with a freight train perched atop the dangling structure. 

Experienced as he is, the new leader—also a successful businessman—has infused a momentum in the fledgling armed forces of Ukraine. Poroshenko epitomises a leader who has buttressed a flailing government machinery of the former Soviet Republic. For weeks after the fall of Viktor Yanukovych, the administration of the country was in a flux, passing from the cronies of the befallen leader to the public, and back to insurgents in some regions. Till Poroshenko took over, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk was running the administration as part of a stop-gap arrangement and the void was for everyone to see. 

Russia’s attack on Poroshenko’s legitimacy notwithstanding, he has been able to solve the leadership conundrum by strongly taking up Ukraine’s cause with the West, and signing a key agreement with the European Union, much to the chagrin of Moscow.  With Vladimir Putin to the east trying to do his best to destabilise the country and European leaders to the west trying to pull it away from Russia’s sphere of influence, Poroshenko has a tough balancing act to do. History will judge him as a man who took on the powerful Putin’s designs and one who was tasked with the welfare of a troubled people.