Saturday, July 26, 2008

The New James Bond Girl is Ukrainian

Olga Kurylenko, a Ukrainian model and actress, is going to be the lead girl in the next James Bond flick "Quantum of Solace."

This 28-year old Black Sea beauty from the town of Berdyansk on the Southern Coast of Ukraine, already seems to have become more famous for her world-class beauty than James Bond himself.

The film will be released in November 2008.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Beauty of Ukraine

Kyiv - St. Sophia Square
Click on image to enlarge

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Ukrainians increasingly supportive of NATO membership

According to this Radio Liberty article:
"The Ukrainian government still has much to do to convince its people of the advantages of joining NATO. But the percentage of Ukrainians favoring membership has doubled over the last three years, reaching 36 percent. However, 28 percent remain opposed to membership and the other third are undecided."

If even half of this 36% of undecided Ukrainians can be convinced by the pro-NATO side, then Ukraine will be in NATO, sooner rather than later. All that's necessary is for another 15% of Ukrainians to go from undecided to supportive.

Ukraine a Mecca for foreign students

According to an article in Washington Post:
"Since 2002, the number of foreign students in Ukraine has doubled to nearly 40,000. Most come from China, Russia, Syria, India, Iran and Malaysia, according to the Education Ministry."

Whether the Orange Revolution made Ukraine popular, or Ukraine's education system greatly increased in quality, or for some other reason, Ukraine has become an increasingly important destination for foreign students.

The interesting thing is that the second-greatest number of foreign students in Ukraine actually come from Russia. I wonder who these students are. Are they ethnic Ukrainians coming to Ukraine to get education or is there something else going on here? Anyone know anything about this?

The Beauty of Ukraine

Downtown Kyiv - Independence Square
Click on image to enlarge

Merkel is strongly supportive of Ukraine's NATO drive

"[German Chancellor Angela] Merkel stressed that the issue of Ukraine's membership does not concern anyone else. "It cannot be that other countries that don't belong to the alliance are discussing this issue," Merkel said. "It is a question for Ukraine and NATO." Merkel also said that Ukraine has made strong progress toward further integration with the European Union."

It's great to see European nations starting to coalesce in support of Ukraine's integration into European institutions. I have also read a recent article in Ukrainian press that the Czech Republic is opening an office in Dnipropetrovsk with the goal of increasing support for NATO in that part of Ukraine and "sharing with Ukrainians which mistakes to avoid in the integration process".

So, Angela Merkel telling the Russians it is none of the business whether Ukraine joins NATO, is welcome news indeed.

Germany is Ukraine's second-largest trading partner after Russia.

As Ukraine is becoming more integrated in Europe, an interesting pattern is taking place. The weight of Ukraine's trade with Russia continues to decrease and the weight of trade with Germany and other EU nations continues to grow.

The EU block is Ukraine's number one trading partner already. And if nations are taken separately, Russia is still number one, though falling, and Germany is a growing number two trading partner of Ukraine.

Even without being a member of the EU or NATO, Ukraine is increasingly a European nation, closely integrated as it is economically with the rest of Europe.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Is Ukraine the "Bread-Baskett of Europe"?

There is an old stereotype that Ukraine is the bread-basket of Europe and some people think that a revival of Ukraine's agriculture is the key to national greatness.

Unfortunately, this stereotype is no longer true. Ukraine's agricultural output today is about the same as Poland's and only about 60% of Russia's, Germany's, France's, Italy's or Spain's agricultural output, and about 66% of Great Britain's output. And that's considering the fact that all of these countries, except for Russia, are smaller than Ukraine in land area they occupy.

Although I must admit that Ukrainian farming is still fairly outdated and definitely could benefit from the infusion of new technology and significant capital. Perhaps Ukrainian farming output could be doubled from current levels. If that would happen, it would become the biggest farm producer in Europe. Would that be enough to call it a "breadbasket of Europe" though?

In any case, the real wealth is in the brains and in the freedom to use them, as well as in the social capital - families, churches, education, civil society (especially the non-profit sector).

In that respect, Ukraine is looking promising. Negative family trends seems to have slowed down. Churches are booming. The civil society is much more vibrant than in most of the rest of Soviet Union. The percentage of college-educated people in Ukraine is roughly equal to that of Western European countries today, although the quality of education is uneven. That number should continue to increase if Ukraine is to become very successful and college standards should continue to be increased, as they are now. The societies of the Asian nations that have become major success stories have a much higher percentage of college-educated youth. Technology in Ukraine is booming, and in several areas, such as rocketry, tank technology, stem cells research, and others, Ukraine is in leading positions in the world. But investment in basic research needs to increase significantly if this edge is to be maintained and increased in the future.

Even more importantly, another condition that is highly important to economic and cultural success is the rule of law, and it is still quite weak in Ukraine. It's important to have simple laws that are respected by everyone. Ukraine's laws are complicated and contradictory, and there are simply too many of them. By simplifying and correcting its laws, Ukraine will strengthen property rights protection, significantly decrease bureaucratic redtape, and cut out most of the corruption that continues to plague Ukrainian society.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Russian aggressiveness is radicalizing Ukrainians

Most Ukrainians still have latent friendly feelings toward Russians. But I think the more aggressive Russia and Russians become toward Ukraine, the less complexes of any kind Ukraine and Ukrainians will have left over. Anti-Ukrainian propaganda is the norm in Russian media, and Russian government officials are making increasingly more aggressive comments about Ukraine.

And Ukrainians are expressing their frustration in the chat rooms and message boards on Ukrainian websites. Ukrainians are increasingly upset by these serious developments, including Russian-speaking Ukrainians.

In the recent mayoral election in Kyiv, the candidate of the nationalist party "Svoboda" had gotten more votes than the NU-NSU (Nasha Ukraina, Viktor Yushchenko's Party) block candidate. While neither of them was even close to winning, this is a new development for Ukraine. The Russians (along with Ukraine's communists) are calling center-right Orange Ukrainians fascists and are acting as if they were. What these stupid actions do is radicalize Ukrainians and drive them further away from Russia. That may not be a bad development for Ukraine internally, as it does need a bit more self-respect in general in standing up to bullying. And the Russian government also seems to have internal goals in mind in doing this. They are spreading anti-Ukrainian propaganda as far and wide in the Russian society as they can, because they want to avoid any Russian attraction to the democratic ideals of the Orange Revolution. However, in a mid-term perspective, while the Russian government officials are threatening to split Ukraine, they are uniting it instead.

Even Crimea is seeing a resurgence of Ukrainian nationalism today, typically non-existent there, as it is heavily ethnically Russian. The Ukrainians of Crimea are uniting and have called for the end of anti-Ukrainian propaganda by various Crimean officials and their removal by the central government and for stripping Crimea of an autonomous republic status. I think both actions would be desirable if Ukraine is to quell the Russian irredentism and maintain full control of its territory. The united Crimean Ukrainian organization has also conducted a number of recent pro-NATO demonstration in Crimea, which resulted in fights with the pro-Russian forces who refuse to allow them to demonstrate freely.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Russian racism coming to Ukraine

As this popular article notes, there have been a number of recent incidents of racist violence in Ukraine. "Ukraine grapples with alarming rise in hate crimes as it pursues EU dreams"

The people perpetrating them are copycats of the Russian racist groups, which have been doing the same thing in Russia for years. Their racist messages in Ukraine and the graffitti they leave behind are even written in Russian, and even in Central and Western Ukraine, which are Ukrainian-speaking regions. For example, in this racist graffitti from Vynnytsia, the message ("Kill the Negro") is written in Russian, even though this area is actually West-Center of Ukraine. If this was really the work of Ukrainian nationalists, you can bet they would have used Ukrainian language.

As the article correctly notes:
"Ukrainian hate groups are believed to be inspired by their counterparts in Russia, where minorities are assaulted almost every day. Russian skinheads help the local groups, sharing tips and video clips on how to attack and torture their victims and how to safely leave the crime scene, rights groups say."

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Russia is planning to shut off Ukraine's gas on New Year's eve again

The traditional Russian New Year's gift to Ukraine is going to be the same this year. A shut off of natural gas supplies because of a demand of even higher gas prices, at $400 per cubic meter to be exact - more than double of the current $180 Ukraine is paying. Given that 2/3rds of Ukraine's gas comes from Russia, that's a huge hit and an enormous transfer of wealth out of Ukraine into Russia. Yulia Tymoshenko has offered a reasonable idea of a 5-year price transition period to avoid the annual ultimatums and shutoffs.

'"It's not that it's unreasonable by European standards, it's just that they can't pay it. Ukraine is a gas-based economy, and they'd have to take the most enormous hit," Stern said.'

Europe faces fresh New Year Russian gas crisis
July 8, 2008

Henry Kissinger is Moscow's "useful fool"

Henry Kissinger recently wrote an opinion article in Washington Post, entitled "Finding Common Ground With Russia," in which he advises United States to appease Russia and not "humiliate it" and agree to many current Russian demands, such as stopping the push for Ukraine's NATO membership.

My personal opinion is that Kissinger is a "useful fool" of the Putinist Russia. He seems so concerned about a decade of perceived Russian humiliation and is absolutely unconcerned about hundreds of years of actual and extreme Ukrainian humiliation and national destruction. Just one example here:\E\M\EmsUkase.htm Kissinger is basically repeating the talking points of the Kremlin - if Ukraine wants to be in the EU, that's great, but NATO - that's not necessary.

To the Russians, brotherly behavior has always meant sucking resources and creativity out of Ukraine, but claiming credit exclusively for Russia. For goodness sake, many Russians still consider the Klitschko brothers to be "their boxers" and list them on Russian sports sites as Russian boxers, along with some other Ukrainian athletes. Basically, if an athlete is primarily Russian-speaking, then he is claimed as "Russian".

And don't even start me on where the name of their nation comes from. Peter the First renamed his fiefdom of Muscovy into the Russian Empire after taking over Ukraine-Rus.

In any case, one thing is clear - Kissinger is not a friend of Ukraine or its European aspirations.