[FOUNTAIN]East meets West, with new frictionUkraine is located where Russia and Europe meet. About three times the size of the Korean Peninsula, Ukraine sprawls from east to west with the Dnieper River in the middle. Generally, the west of the river is considered European, and the east of the river is Russian.
With the endless granary of black fertile soil, Ukraine had to endure a complicated history because of its geopolitical importance. In the 9th century, Slavs established the Kievan Rus. In the late 10th century, Vladimir I accepted Christianity and the Byzantine civilization, and the state prospered until it was ruined by the 13th-century Mongolian invasion.
After the Mongols left, the east of the Dnieper River stayed under Russia’s rule while the west was a part of Eastern Europe, ruled by Poland, Austria and then Poland again until it came under Russia’s control in 1922. The western Ukrainians use the Ukrainian language while the easterners mainly speak Russian.
Under harsh Soviet rule, Ukrainians had no luxury to discuss their differences. But when Ukraine became an independent state in 1991 during the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the difference between the two regions surfaced. Last week’s presidential election is a result of those differences. The opposition candidate, Victor A. Yushchenko, comes from the western region and is a pro-West politician. The governing party candidate, Viktor F. Yanukovich, is a pro-Russian politician from the east. The Yanukovich camp, according to the opposition, stole the election. According to exit polls conducted by Western observers, the opposition candidate was ahead of the ruling party candidate by 11 percent. But the election committee announced that the governing party candidate had won by 3 percent. On these freezing winter days in Ukraine, citizens are gathering in the capital of Kiev.
The West and Russia are openly involved, and the election has become a proxy war between the Eastern and Western camps. The United States and European Union say they cannot accept the result as legitimate; Russia urges the opposition candidate to acknowledge defeat. Facing the possibility of being enveloped by Europe, Russia stubbornly stands by Ukraine. While the capitalist-communist split has ended, the Cold War between the East and the West might not be over yet.
by Oh Byung-sang
The writer is the JoongAng Ilbo’s London correspondent.