Freeland: Mood in Ukraine determined, optimistic
June 1st, 2014
12:08 AM ET

Freeland: Mood in Ukraine determined, optimistic

GPS Digital Producer Jason Miks speaks with Chrystia Freeland, a member of the Canadian parliament and former top editor at the Financial Times and Reuters, about recent developments in Ukraine.Watch Freeland on “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.

You’ve just returned from Ukraine. Did you get a sense that people there feel the likelihood of outright conflict with Russia has receded and that the country can move forward?

Yes and no. The election on Sunday was a very significant and very positive step. It was significant because you had very strong turnout, and the country decisively choosing a president who for the first time since Ukraine became an independent state had support from across the country. People really understood that this effort to build a democracy was imperiled, so they needed to have a new president with a strong mandate.

So that’s the good news. And I think you already see the positive consequence of that with the Ukrainian state acting more decisively. Having said that, I was also in the Donbass region, where the fighting is going on now. And I was astonished by the extent to which state authority had just melted away.

There wasn’t a lot of fighting while I was there, but it’s a very contested area, and it’s not clear what is going to happen there. It’s not clear if the government is going to be able to restore Ukrainian political order, partly because I think the Ukrainian government will hold back from doing anything that would lead to high civilian casualties – the morality of their new state is very important to them.

But I think we’ll see fighting there. And then the big question mark is what will Russia do? Russia is arming and supporting troops in Donbass. One of the commanders was sending bodies back to Russia – so there’s no question a lot of them are Russians. And certainly if Russia stopped supporting separatists, and particularly if Russia were to announce that it was stopping supporting them and did so at the same time, the conflict would be over tomorrow.

So we have to be clear that Russia is still playing a very negative role. Having said that, the threat that animated the separatists was that they were the advance guard of a full blow Russian invasion, and that threat seems to have faded.

What was the mood like there?

On the border, in all of Ukraine right up to the border of the contested area, the mood was determined and really optimistic – I was surprised by both. The people felt, I think correctly, that war with Russia was still a real possibility, and they were prepared to fight. And I was surprised at the extent of that feeling – regular friends of mine for 20 years would have a gun in their office. So what surprised me was how that mood was so widespread, all the way up to the Donetsk Oblast border.

In the Donbass, where I also was, it was a totally different mood – a mood of real fear and uncertainty. It’s really scary to be in a country where the government has melted away. It’s terrifying actually. And that was the situation. And what that means is that just a few guys with guns can make you do anything. So say you call the cops – people say the police would show up and not do anything.

So, very scared, and very uncertain. I wouldn’t say there is a lot of support for the separatists at all, and support for them is declining as time goes on, particularly as the prospect of this somehow being connected with Russia recedes. And what many are really thinking is “oh my god – these ragtag irregular military guys, is this who we want?” They’re kind of scum of the earth people – people that would do this just aren’t very nice. So not a lot of support for them, but lukewarm support for Ukraine. And a real sense of being lost.

In the rest of Ukraine there’s a feeling of I’m personally responsible for my family, my community and my country. And people really feel a duty even to risk their lives. In the Donbass…Look, I met some very brave people on that side of Ukraine working hard and even risking their lives. Even to organize voting was to put yourself at risk of death. But the general mood was much more afraid, lost and passive.

What would you like to see the central government doing moving forward?

I think they need to do four things.

First, they are right to be stepping up the military pressure there. And this could really turn things around quite quickly. And they have a duty of care for people – it’s horrible not to have the protection of your state. So where they can, without killing civilians, I think that’s really important to do. Second, they should – and they are starting to do this – is to talk with civil society leaders that they can find there. Maybe with the separatists, but more important with people in the communities. Third, reform the Ukrainian government and the economy. That’s the most important. But fourth, they should continue dialogue with the world, the West – and also with Russia.

So are you more or less optimistic about Ukraine’s future after visiting there?

More optimistic. I’m less optimistic about the Donbass and the ongoing security danger. But for 90 percent of Ukraine, I’m much more optimistic. People were much more united, very broadly throughout the society there was a real understanding of being at a turning point and a commitment to get it right. It was really moving.


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Topics: Elections • Ukraine

soundoff (69 Responses)
  1. Peter mabas

    When politicians make the right decisions and tell thier citizens the truth, there will be less conflicts and the senseless bloodshed, by playing d blame game.

    June 1, 2014 at 2:05 am |
    • j. von hettlingen

      Indeed, Putin might have to tell the pro-Russian militants the truth that he can't bring them back into the fold for the time being, because his plate his full.

      June 3, 2014 at 9:22 am |
      • j. von hettlingen

        Perhaps they realise it, therefore they step up the violence in recent days, hoping this would create a momentum and persuade Putin to change his mind.

        June 3, 2014 at 9:24 am |
  2. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    The loss of the great culture that flourished in Czarist Russia is a fine example of the destructive nature of communism.
    My concept of the fluctuating line that limits desirable socialist projects still includes roads and municipal water supply, but is evolving toward the exclusion of public high schools in places like the USA.

    June 1, 2014 at 3:30 am |
    • Keith

      Blah, blah, blah...what?

      June 2, 2014 at 11:02 pm |
  3. derss

    Totally biased, propagandistic slant view.

    June 1, 2014 at 3:34 am |
    • pappyvanwinkle

      What view wouldn't be a propagandist slant view?

      June 1, 2014 at 10:08 am |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini

      Thank you, derss. How true that is! Just more right-wing propaganda on why we should set up yet another useless, U.S. backed pseudo-democracy in Eastern Europe. Let's just hope that this "optimism" about Ukraine becoming anther U.S. satellite state turns out not to be true, but one has to be realistic.

      June 1, 2014 at 4:45 pm |
    • creativemadam

      Of course it is. This person, Freeland, our Canadian politician always present herself as an "expert" on Ukrainian affairs, just simply because she is Ukrainian decent. Surprisingly all Ukrainians who used to live in Ukraine and those who had Ukrainian roots, but live full time in Canada have strikingly different views and opinions on Ukrainian situation, However Canadians of Ukrainian decent, many of which never stepped foot on Ukrainian soil , press so hard our government to promote their version of democracy and future they think is good for Ukrainians. Tragic.

      June 1, 2014 at 6:34 pm |
      • Keith

        Slick one, no it is because she was there and spoke with people. YOU are the one that brought up her lineage. It is your way of deflecting someone else's educated point of view for your own biased uneducated one. Those who cannot answer these charges attack the writer.

        June 2, 2014 at 11:05 pm |
    • Keith

      You mean, one that disagrees with your world view right? Because YOU are always right aren't you? Wow, such arrogance.

      June 2, 2014 at 11:03 pm |
      • creativemadam

        Hello Christia, calm down, we are here to write freely what we think of this piece.

        June 3, 2014 at 1:36 pm |
  4. Danro

    The situation in Ukraine is not over won't be over for a long time. Lets remember the Orange Revolution in 2004 when Yunakovich was first kicked out of government and his rival was mysteriously poisoned. Then when Yuschenko was elected president, Russia cut off the gas. What I'm saying is that Putin has had his eyes on Ukraine for a long time and this years revolution and recent election will not change that. A couple of weeks ago, Putin signed a major gas deal with China in order the prepare for an European rejection of Russian gas. Of course until that deal goes into effect it will be maybe 4 years. So Putin is just preparing himself for another round of trying to bring the Ukriane into his Eurasian Union. I believe we will see a couple of years of peace and then another crisis. This will not end until either Putin is out of power, Ukraine is joins his Eurasian Union or is divided.
    Now is the time for the US and Europe to support Ukraine.

    June 1, 2014 at 1:32 pm |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini

      Gee Danro, did you ever go to High School? If you did, then you should know better. It's the EU that's endeavoring to take control of Ukraine rather than Russia. Besides, the people in eastern Ukraine have already spoken through a plebiscite on May 10, last.

      June 1, 2014 at 5:47 pm |
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

        Flattered again, troll. Stop, or I'll begin to be egotistical.

        June 1, 2014 at 7:11 pm |
      • dazzle

        To the real JIF, your response is priceless. If I don't stop laughing now, I will wake up the sleeping people in my house.

        June 2, 2014 at 12:38 am |
      • Steve

        Joey Isotta-Fraschini you're a joke, brain-washed by the pro-Putin media.

        June 2, 2014 at 5:18 am |
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

        @ dazzle:
        Thank you.. and good morning.

        June 2, 2014 at 6:20 am |
    • Peter Kranz

      "This will not end till Putin is out of power."

      Another way of stating that would be that the end of this will see Putin out of power. Putin has overreached here. He started to believe his own propaganda, which, BTW, if you had been in Russia in recent months, to experience the full blast – not just the internet, but on every medium, especially TV, you would... well, words fail me; just a full reversion to primitive, psychotic, Soviet style, xenophonic hysteria... Anyway, this is not Orange Revolution 2. Provided that the new government in Kiev is resolutely committed to reform, but with an eye to inclusiveness in regard to those marginalized either economically or ethnically, and if they have committed support from the West, this will be the beginning of a real transformation for Ukraine; and perhaps for Russia when it boots out Putin and his ilk.

      June 2, 2014 at 1:55 am |
      • Steve

        Putin is a backward looking dinosaur of the oppressive soviet era, sooner this murdering thug is gone the better.

        June 2, 2014 at 5:20 am |
    • Keith

      Agreed Canto.

      June 2, 2014 at 11:06 pm |
      • Keith

        Meant Danro.

        June 2, 2014 at 11:07 pm |
    • Frank Anderson

      Well good news Danro. Today Obama asked that Europe take a turn and start militarily building up NATO for soon, he said, he'll be militarily fortifying our the allies, the Georgian Republic, Moldavia, and the Ukraine. Of course the European people, except bankers et cetera, will have to make large sacrifices, after all from 1945 until the fall of the USSR, the Europeans spend scant funds on their military. Now is the time for Europe to rearm and turn things around like in the good old days.

      June 3, 2014 at 10:59 am |
  5. fairleft

    There was massive turnout, and 90+% voted in favor of self-rule in the recent referendum in the Donbas. And support for the anti-Kiev governments likely has only increased after Kiev forces (mainly the recently formed (from Right Sector and Svoboda thugs) and poorly trained National Guard) last week started indiscriminately shelling housing, hospitals and schools.

    And yet Freeland says: "I wouldn’t say there is a lot of support for the separatists at all." End of story. She's lying.

    June 1, 2014 at 2:28 pm |
    • Forward Thinker

      You say there was a 90% turn out but there was nowhere near that many who voted. There was widespread fraud, stuffed ballot boxes, children voting and many voting several times at different polls. The count was not monitored . The Question was not clear and after the vote the interpretation of what yes meant changed from wanting more autonomy to wanting to join Russia.
      Support? In an honest referendum they would be lucky to garner 10% for joining Russia.

      June 1, 2014 at 9:06 pm |
      • Tanya

        Forward Thinker I am just wondering where did you get all your facts about referendum? I am guessing not straight from Ukrainian people living in the eastern regions of Ukraine. This article is biased.

        June 2, 2014 at 2:20 pm |
    • Steve

      Anything run by the pro-Russian, is totally biased and corrupted.

      June 2, 2014 at 5:23 am |
    • Keith

      And the Vostok battalion made up of Russian thugs are humanitarians? They are Russians, all Russians. Just admit it! They already have.

      June 2, 2014 at 11:09 pm |
  6. Susan

    I have noticed that nobody is buying into the west's propaganda to the point where many news sites are omitting the comments sections these days. People see right through it and comments have been overwhelmingly anti- US and anti-Kiev.

    June 1, 2014 at 5:01 pm |
    • ElliotJKlein

      Thank you, Susan. I noticed the same thing. This means that the right-wingers are running scared these days and don't want to see the writing on the wall.

      June 1, 2014 at 6:32 pm |
      • Keith

        Another paid Russian girl...or boy. What do you guys get, a nickel a post? Meanwhile I sit in my 3000 sq foot house writing this because I can and I don't get paid for it. I can trash my govt...can you? Nope, Putin will throw you in the gulag just for thinking bad of him. It kills me you people cannot see what this jerk Putin is really doing to all of you. No different than Stalin.

        June 2, 2014 at 11:12 pm |
    • Keith

      That could be because Russia has State runned media and PAYS people like you to flood the comment sections on all US media sites. Espionage goes both ways, we know what you are doing Natasha, oh I mean Susan. We are on to you and your kind. Everyone do a search for Paid Russian propaganda and check it out. If you have to be paid then how strong is your position. If you have to ban "Voice of America" media in Russia how strong is your position? If you have to answer every criticism of Russia or Putin with attacks on America, how strong is your position?

      June 2, 2014 at 10:54 pm |
      • creativemadam

        This is exactly why your "opinion" is so irrelevant , as you do not know people of Ukraine and obviously can not relate being obviously a "Trust Fund Baby". Enjoy your 3000sq foot house and spread your uneducated and ignorant views for free.

        June 3, 2014 at 7:24 pm |
  7. creativemadam

    This person, Freeland, our Canadian politician always present herself as an "expert" on Ukrainian affairs, just simply because she is Ukrainian decent. Surprisingly all Canadian Ukrainians who actually used to live in Ukraine and those who had Ukrainian roots, but live full time in Canada have strikingly different views and opinions on Ukrainian situation, However Canadians of Ukrainian decent, many of which never stepped foot on Ukrainian soil , press so hard our government to promote their version of democracy and future they think is good for Ukrainians. Tragic.

    June 1, 2014 at 6:39 pm |
  8. Goresh

    "It was significant because you had very strong turnout, and the country decisively choosing a president who for the first time since Ukraine became an independent state had support from across the country. "

    Nobody in the east voted. Is he now acknowledging the independence of eastern Ukraine as a separate country?

    Not that they had a candidate they could vote for anyway. Any candidate sympathetic to their cause was beaten up and forced to withdraw in the face of death threats to their families.

    June 1, 2014 at 6:49 pm |
    • Peter Kranz

      "Nobody in the east voted."

      Only in Donetsk, where your Moscovite mercenaries made it too dangerous, was voting massively down. Even in heavily disrupted Luhansk, there was around 38% turnout, which, with a non-compulsory elecoral system, indicates a drop of maybe a third. Everywhere else, it was between 46 and seventy something percent. .. Of course, that's leaving aside Crimea under the anschluss.

      June 2, 2014 at 2:08 am |
      • Keith

        Exactly Peter and they know that. They just don't get paid to tell the RT Russian media...the more lies the more Rubles.

        June 2, 2014 at 11:14 pm |
  9. Socialist Pig

    So optimistic is the mood that President-elect Poroshenko announced plans to divest from Ukraine as soon as he takes office;).

    June 1, 2014 at 7:08 pm |
    • ElliotJKlein

      Is this true, Socialist Pig? Then again, Poroshenko is only a stooge for the British and the right-wingers in Washington. so what can one expect?

      June 1, 2014 at 9:39 pm |
      • Socialist Pig

        June 1, 2014 at 9:42 pm |
      • Keith

        Spoken like a true paid Russian troll. Congratulations comrade, you did well.

        June 2, 2014 at 10:58 pm |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

      Bravo screen name, @ Socualist Pig!

      June 2, 2014 at 7:14 am |
  10. SteveB

    Wow even the comments section here has been infiltrated by these pro-russkie imperialist trolls. Can't wait for the UPA to step its game up and cleanse Donbass of the chechen and russian terrorists once and for all.

    June 1, 2014 at 7:42 pm |
    • SteveB

      ATO* not UPA, my bad.

      June 1, 2014 at 7:43 pm |
    • Susan

      Pro-Russkie imperialist troll? I am of Western Ukrainian descent, taught all my life that Russia is my enemy. What has been happening in Ukraine has opened my eyes and has changed my loyalties. West Ukraine has always been ultra-nationalistic and the rest of Ukraine has always felt differently. The US has deliberately exploited this divide for it's own agenda (which is really the agenda of the super rich). Those Ukrainians who have loved Russia for centuries are being cruelly ripped away. The violence is happening on their territory. The "pro-Kiev forces" need to leave those people in peace. We are beginning to see that Russia has become unofficially involved in the conflict and that's been an improvement in the defense of the region IMO. They may yet be able to repel western aggression.

      June 2, 2014 at 6:08 am |
    • Keith

      Agreed SteveB, They have to pay them or else no one there would give a damn. Funny thing is, if the US govt paid me to do it I would not. That is the difference of true freedom, these people are all paid shills.

      June 2, 2014 at 11:01 pm |
  11. chri§§y

    Lol @ Joey you really must stop feeding the animals...or else before you know it they will be moving it lmao!

    June 2, 2014 at 1:03 am |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

      Good morning, @ chrissy.
      I don't feed the animals: I feed my Self. It's like Parsifal; the question is, "whom does the Grail serve?"

      June 2, 2014 at 6:28 am |
  12. chri§§y

    Oops meant moving "in" not it.

    June 2, 2014 at 1:04 am |
  13. chri§§y

    Lol @ Joey you are feeding the "troll animal" my dear.

    June 2, 2014 at 9:37 pm |
  14. chri§§y

    Wow @ Keith you make a damn good case! Certainly one i hadnt thought of for sure! Kudos to you!

    June 3, 2014 at 12:36 am |
  15. Frank Anderson

    As long as the U.S. and it's rubber-stamp NATO allies continue to interfere in Ukraine's internal affairs. Ukraine will be in a constant state of war with it's economy deteriorating ever further. The insurgents in eastern Ukraine have already spoken and made it clear that they no longer wish to be part of Ukraine with a puppet pro-Western regime in Kiev.

    June 3, 2014 at 2:07 pm |

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