Ghost of the not-so-recent past

12.12.2011 | kyivweekly.com.ua

With Russia stalling, Ukraine wants new talks on soviet assets

Outdated empires take note! Ukraine wants bilateral talks on redistributing old soviet property -so says the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry. While half of Ukrainians are struggling to forget the USSR and the other half were not even born, the countrys leaders still think they got a raw deal. Back in the 1990s, Russia was hoping to get its hands on the billions in foreign properties and bank accounts, promising to assume all soviet debt. The drive to recoup Ukraines significant contributions to the USSR was attempted in the early days of independence for more noble reasons by more noble governments. Back then, the principle of independence was on the line. Moreover, it was sales of Ukraines sunflower, wheat and coal that funded the USSRs foreign activities. Today idealism has been usurped. The treasury is spent and these desperate measures for talks suggest that the government is out of economic ideas, resorting to squeezing the coffers of history. First, it is dredging up 15-year old cases against top officials for unpaid taxes, then it is allowing illegal casinos to operate only to fine them later all this on top of the usual cutting of social benefits to seniors and pensions to demonstrating Chornobyl cleanup workers. Back in February the Ukrainian ambassador to Russia, Volodymyr Yelchenko, confirmed the lack of progress. Talks have stalled. The parties have reached their extreme positions and no common language was found, he stressed, adding that, we need to take a break. Ukraine needs to keep badgering Russia with its sense of entitlement for soviet assets, if only as a matter of principle. However, many Ukrainians want to forget the past and move on. While it is chasing down bad debts, the government might consider collecting for other issues. If Russia is assuming debt, there is still much more the soviets have to pay for. Russia should have paid for the entire cost of the Chornobyl nuclear accidents clean up as well as for the thousands still sick from the radioactive fallout. In the past 20 years, Ukraine has spent billions on these problems. Environmental contamination from toxic industrial waste dumped in soviet times is only now bubbling to the surface. And then there is the issue of recycling ordinance, rocket fuel and weapons that are rusting away but still pose a threat. Ukraine is paying for this. Official Ukraine is likely to get more international support in recouping these costs rather than for some pretty buildings in Paris. If that does not work, it should take a leaf out of the book of our neighbors and use the issue as a bargaining chip on other matters.

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