UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, at the NATO Summit in Madrid, July 1997
The turn of the twenty-first century was a time of great geopolitical change all over the world. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, a newly independent Ukrainian State was born. The UK was among the very first countries to pay tribute to this remarkable event, recognising Ukraine’s independence on 31 December 1991.
Diplomatic relations between Ukraine and Great Britain were established on 10 January 1992, with the Ukrainian Embassy in London and the British Embassy in Ukraine opening later that year. Accordingly, we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of Ukrainian-British diplomatic relations in January 2012.
Perhaps 20 years is not considered a particularly long time in centuries-old British Diplomacy, but in fact, bilateral relations between the two countries go back over a millennium! Tenth century Anglo-Saxon sources contain references to a faraway land called ‘Rus’, which is the ancient name of Ukrainian territory today. The following century, Ukrainian history reveals that Nestor the Chronicler, the author of the well-known Tale of Bygone Years, referred to whirlpool events in the ‘land of English’.
In 1047 the English Princess Gytha of Wessex, daughter of the last Anglo-Saxon King Harold II, married Volodymyr Monomakh, becoming the Grand Princess of Kyivan Rus. But bilateral relationships were not limited to monarchical marital diplomacy. Historians acknowledge the existence of a Scottish monastery and church in twelfth century Kiev, and in the late Middle Ages, a series of prominent Ukrainian scholars also studied at Cambridge and Oxford Universities.
By the seventeenth century, Ukrainian Cossack troops were considered eventual allies by the British in the war against the European Catholic states, and in 1656, Oliver Cromwell – who overthrew the monarchy and temporarily turned England into a republican Commonwealth – tried to establish diplomatic relations with the young democratic republic of Ukraine, by sending letters to his Ukrainian counterpart, Hetman Bohdan Khmelnitsky. During the Great Northern War in the eighteenth century, British diplomats kept an eye on the military alliance between Ukrainian Hetman Ivan Mazepa and Charles XII of Sweden, and maintained contacts with Mazepa’s successor, Pylyp Orlyk. The Crimean War of 1853–56 in which up to 25,000 British soldiers died is another shared page in the history books between the two countries that will not be forgotten.
However, during the nineteenth century, the British started to launch large-scale investment projects in Ukrainian industry, such as mining, oil extraction and agriculture. One prominent figure was Welsh businessman John Hughes who founded one of Ukraine’s most important industrial centres, Donetsk in 1869 (the town of Hughesovka, known as Donetsk since 1961). A number of British Consulates were also opened in Kyiv, Odessa and Sebastopol.
Bilateral relations intensified after the First World War. The diplomatic mission of the independent Ukrainian People’s Republic worked in London between 1919 and 1924. Unfortunately, during the Soviet rule and the Cold War, Ukraine could not develop fully-fledged bilateral relations with foreign states.
Since 1991, Ukraine has been through some challenging times. In spite of the difficulties of this transitional period, we have managed to lay the necessary foundations for our sovereignty, territorial integrity, foreign policy and national security.
Today, the UK and Ukraine have succeeded in developing a range of bilateral agreements in various spheres, including the political, military, economic, humanitarian and cultural arenas. In May 2008, Kyiv and London signed a joint statement in which both parties highlighted the strategic character of our partnership and close cooperation between Ukraine and Great Britain.
The UK also supports Ukraine on its path to eventual membership of the European Union, and confirms its readiness to assist in implementing comprehensive reforms in our country. The next crucial step in this context is the signing of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU (including the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area) by the end of 2011.
The UK has traditionally been a key economic partner for Ukraine, especially in areas such as investment cooperation, banking, oil and gas extraction and the aerospace industry. In this regard, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg stated at the EU Eastern Partnership Summit: ‘Energy, agriculture, access to major markets, enviable human resources. Ukraine has what it takes to become a European giant’.
Great Britain steadily ranks among the top 10 foreign investors in the Ukrainian economy. As of July 2011, the UK had invested US$2.3 billion in Ukraine’s economy, about five per cent of total foreign direct investment in Ukraine. In the first half of 2011 the volume of bilateral trade in goods and services between Ukraine and Great Britain had increased by 16 per cent, amounting to $1.35 billion.
To conclude this brief overview of Ukrainian-British bilateral relations, I would like to quote the first British Ambassador to Ukraine, Simon Hemans. His words not only reflect the essence of these relations but also serve as the guiding star for their future development: ‘in both countries’ history there isn’t a single page that overshadows their relations. We must not only preserve this tradition, but develop it and fill it with good deeds’.