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Ukraine’s international role and its importance for global security

Russia’s war against Ukraine has had a tremendous global impact, which only continues to grow. Information warfare is on the rise worldwide. Today, it is vitally important to have an accurate picture of global affairs and history. This includes Ukraine as a sovereign country and international player, whose fate and decisions are likely to affect global trade, peace, and security.

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy meets with UN Secretary-General António Guterres. March 2023.
Photo: Presidential Office of Ukraine

Prior to 2022, Ukraine was often overlooked or misinterpreted due to the effect of Russian disinformation campaigns and imperialist foreign policy. However, the full-scale Russian invasion has led to increased international attention and analysis to prevent such misinformation and propaganda.

Russian information warfare campaigns have spread numerous myths that have no basis in reality:

  • Myth #1: Ukraine is a proxy for Western powers. This is untrue. Ukraine has a long history of independent international relations. It is an active member of the United Nationsand has been voted twice into the UN Security Council as a non-permanent representative (which demonstrates trust from other countries). Ukraine has treaties with 91 global organizations and more than 186 states, everywhere from Africa, to Europe, to South America.
  • Myth #2: There was a civil war in Ukraine. This statement is completely false. It has been proven by numerous researchers, governmental agencies and international organizations that the invasion of Donetsk and Luhansk regions (Donbas) in 2014 was perpetrated by Russian forces. These occupiers have been conducting war crimes for 10 years, the most well-known of which is the downing of Dutch airliner MH-17.
  • Myth #3: Ukraineis part of Russian culture and ethnicity. Ukrainian history and culture are distinct, rich and are actually older than those of Russia. Kyiv was founded more than 1500 years ago, Ukrainian and global history have been connected for thousands of years. Ukraine has its own language, folklore, art, science, all of which have contributed to worldwide civilization.
  • and many others.

Even before the full-scale invasion of 2022, Ukraine has been a vitally important and independent member of the international community. Below we highlight some of the key areas where Ukraine displays its global integration, trade, diversity, and international cooperation.

Why does Ukraine matter for global food security?

Before Russia’s invasion of 2022, Ukraine was one of the world’s key suppliers of agricultural products. Some key facts to know in this area:

  • Ukraine was the world’s #1 supplier of sunflower oil.
  • Ukraine was among the top 5 supplier of key grains in the world (barley, maize, and wheat).
  • Most of Ukraine’s wheat exports go to developing countries that require food security and affordable prices.
  • Ukraine was among the top global 10 suppliers of honey, as well as other organic products due to its vibrant natural ecosystem and unique rich black soil.
Pre-war breakdown of Ukraine’s wheat exports by country.
Source: International Grains Council, data 2016-2021 average

Russia has done extensive damage to Ukraine’s agricultural sector (and is accused of stealing more than 6 metric tons of Ukrainian wheat). Despite this, the Ukrainian government, military, and farmers have put in tremendous effort to maintain food exports, both to keep up trade and to ensure global food security.

For example, in November 2022, Ukraine launched the “Grain from Ukraine” initiative and exported about 220,000 tonnes of grain to African countries, including 90,000 tons to Ethiopia, 30,000 tons to Yemen, 25,000 tons to Kenya, and 25,000 tons to Somalia.

The “Grain from Ukraine” program was initiated by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and is implemented jointly with the UN World Food Program and donor countries. It aims to provide access to Ukrainian food to countries suffering from famine. 34 countries and international organizations joined the program in the first year of its operations.

In light of global food shortages, post-pandemic economic shocks, and other factors of instability, it is incredibly important to preserve Ukraine as one of the world’s key “bread baskets”. This remains one of the guarantees of global security.

Minorities in Ukraine, including Muslim communities

Crimean Tatars hold up their flag on the Independence Square in Kyiv, on Crimean Tatar Memorial Day.
Photo: Ukrainer.net 

Ukraine has a diverse range of ethnic and religious minorities, from Syrians and Nigerians, to Cubans and Vietnamese, to Greeks and Azerbaijanis, and many others. It has a considerable Muslim population,the most prominent of which are the indigenous people of Crimea – the Crimean Tatars. In fact, the 2016 Ukrainian winner of the Eurovision Song Contest, Jamala, is a member of the Tatar community. May 18 has been officially recognized by the Ukrainian parliament as Crimean Tatar Memorial Day, dedicated to recognizing their suffering from Soviet deportations and repressions.  Despite their incredibly difficult and tragic historical journey, Crimean Tatars feel at home in Ukraine: they actively work to preserve their culture, develop their community, and fully participate in Ukrainian society.

“First and foremost, we feel free here… Our main goal is cultural and spiritual. For those Crimean Tatars who were forced to leave their homeland, for them to preserve their identity.” –  Aydey Rustamov, Mufti of the spiritual community of Muslims of Crimea

Minorities in Ukraine are an integral part of civic processes, have full rights to freedom of religion and expression. Mosques, churches, synagogues, cultural organizations, and much more – all of this is present in Ukraine to preserve the richness of various ethnicities and religious groups.  Many of these communities are currently actively resisting Russian aggression and defending Ukraine, both on the frontlines and in the civilian sphere.

Ukraine’s nuclear weapons program and history of disarmament

Leaders of Russia, the US, Ukraine, and the UK sign the Budapest Memorandum to dismantle Ukraine’s nuclear weapons. 1994.
Photo: Marcy Nighswander (AP).

Ukraine once had the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal. Yet instead of preserving it as a deterrent or a fully-fledged weapons program, it chose peace. In 1994, Ukraine signed the Budapest Memorandum, under which it agreed to dismantle its nuclear stockpile in exchange for security guarantees from Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. As part of the Memorandum, Russia promised to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity and refrain from the use of force.

The last remaining Ukrainian Tu-160 strategic bomber (White Swan), now a museum exhibit.
Photo: Poltava Museum of Long-range Aviation.

Not only did Ukraine dismantle its nuclear missiles, but it also once had the world’s largest fleet of Tu-160 strategic bomber airplanes. These were the fastest nuclear-capable bombers in the world. Ukraine dismantled them as well, as part of its commitment under the International Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Ukraine also gave up 1068 cruise missiles with a range of up to 2,500 kilometers (1555 miles).

Ukraine kept its promises. In 34 years of independence, it did not restart its nuclear arms program, nor did it resupply with vast quantities of long-range weapons, like Russia did in its preparation for war.

Ukrainian humanitarian aid and crisis relief across the globe

Evacuees rescued by Ukrainian forces from Kabul arrive in Kyiv. August 2021.
Photo: Anadolu Agency

Ukraine is always ready to help those in need with humanitarian and crisis relief operations. Its peacekeepers, scientists, engineers, and farmers are often the ones to answer global calls for aid.

For example, in 2021, the Ukrainian military evacuated more than half a thousand civilians from Taliban-seized Kabul in Afghanistan. This included not only Ukrainians but also European citizens, and Afghanis. In fact, Ukrainian soldiers conducted a risky operation to save Afghan translators, even when it seemed like all hope was lost.

“Everybody was surprised. I tried for the last month to have someone get us. We asked the Americans, the Canadians, the Qataris, everybody – and no solution. They were scared to come out. The Ukrainian soldiers were angels for us. They did an exceptional job. They have big hearts.” – Jawed Haqmal, a 33-year-old father of four recounts his rescue by Ukrainian military forces.

Furthermore:

  • In 2023, Ukraine sent a search and rescue team consisting of 87 specialists to southern and central parts of Turkey, hit by powerful earthquakes. The team included flight crews of An-32 and An-26 airplanes with equipment and personnel for the rescue operations. 
  • In 2013, Ukraine provided food, generators, water filters and other humanitarian supplies to the Philippines to help recover from the devastating Typhoon Haiyan, which affected more than 10 million people. 
  • In 2018, Ukraine provided humanitarian relief to Indonesia as relief after the earthquake and tsunami in the Central Sulawesi region.
  • Beyond that, the “Grain from Ukraine” program continues to deliver Ukrainian wheat and agricultural products to African countries in need.

Ukraine’s commitment to global peace and stability

UN peacekeeping patch worn by a serviceperson of Ukraine’s 18th Helicopter Detachment deployed to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Photo: Mark Hunt/General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine

Ukraine has not started any wars or military operations in its entire independent history. The only notable military activities in which it took part were peacekeeping operations. In this area, Ukraine has always been one of the most active countries in the world. In fact, around 45,000 Ukrainian military personnel participated in at least 27 peacekeeping operations around the globe.

Some other key facts to note:

  • In 1995, Ukraine defended Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica, Yugoslavia.
  • In 2003, Ukrainian soldiers helped preserve stability and peace in Iraq.
  • In 2016 Ukraine joined the Kigali Principles, which establishes the protection of civilians as the main objective of UN peacekeeping operations.
  • The Ukrainian delegation to the UN initiated the establishment of May 29 as International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers.

Ukraine’s position on Palestine and the right to self-determination of nations

Ukraine has a strong belief in the right of self-determination of nations (as enshrined in the United Nations Charter), in cases where the desire of independence reflects the true will of the people. One such example is Ukraine’s position of the State of Palestine.

Ukraine was among the first countries to recognize the independence of the State of Palestine back in 1988. Palestine reciprocated by recognizing Ukraine’s sovereignty in 1992. Full diplomatic relations were established between the countries in 2001. The Embassy of Palestine in Ukraine has been working in Kyiv in ever since.

Moreover, Ukraine and Palestine have a history of grassroots relations. As far back as the Cold War era, numerous Palestinians medical students went to study in Ukrainian universities as part of academic exchange programs. This process of cultural interaction led to the establishment of a Ukrainian community in Palestine (up to 1500 people in 2020).

Overall, Ukraine supports the fight for freedom, democracy and peaceful sovereignty as a general principle of the international order. This resonates deeply with the Ukrainian mindset, as it relates to Ukraine’s own centuries-long struggle for self-determination and democracy against Russian oppression.