Can anyone blame Ukrainian citizens for trying to close Russian-owned banks and other companies doing business in Ukraine and for trying to disrupt trade between the two nations? We can’t. The persistence of Russia as the leading investment and trade partner to Ukraine is abhorrent as the Kremlin keeps prosecuting a war that has killed 10,000 Ukrainians and taken over Crimea and parts of the eastern Donbas.
It’s unfortunate that it has sunk to vigilantism, however, but also not unexpected since this is not a rule of law nation. It would be much better if political leaders would have realized the absurdity of doing business with the enemy long ago.
The government is belatedly catching up again to its citizens by temporarily banning trade with Russian-occupied areas in the Donbas until Kremlin-backed separatists return 43 Ukrainian companies they recently seized. The action also comes after a unilateral trade blockade announced by the Kremlin side.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko even lashed out on March 15 at activists, saying that they are to blame for the disruption and destablization. The destabilization, however, is a direct result of poor leadership.
Poroshenko and the oligarchs have refused to call this a war or respond to it as a war and have continued to do business with Russia.
Poroshenko kept his confectionery plant going until he was finally forced out last year.
Billionaire Rinat Akhmetov kept doing business until the separatists took over his companies – or made him a deal he couldn’t refuse. We’re not sure what is happening because the opaque oligarch sees no responsibility to explain himself publicly.
To its credit, the government moved away from Russian natural gas imports, but this has not been difficult to do given the global gas glut and drop in world prices. It has also moved ahead in enacting trade agreements with the European Union and Canada. But Ukraine-Canada trade and investment are a pittance compared to trade totals with Russia. The EU trade deal gives Ukraine duty-free quotas that are too small.
Two neighbors bound together by history and geography – should be natural trade partners. But values matter. Russia not only doesn’t share Ukraine’s values of democracy, free markets and Western integration, it is trying to destroy Ukraine as a nation for pursuing these values.
In a dictatorship, it’s impossible to separate the Russian regime from the people. Besides, even oppressed Russian political opposition figures have condescending views of Ukraine. Russians, passively or not, support Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine.
It’s very difficult for Ukraine to persuade the West to toughen sanctions against Russia when the nation is not willing to do the same. Russian banks doing business in Ukraine showed whose side they are on by recognizing “passports” given to residents in separatist-held areas.
It’s hard but essential to pull away from centuries of entanglements with Russia. Many European nations have done so. Ukraine has even more incentive because its future as a nation depends on it.