While it might be largely forgotten now, March 1990 – 30 years ago – was a milestone on Ukraine’s path toward independence. It was a pivotal month in Ukraine’s transition from a captive nation to an independent state, an important testament to the dramatic changes that were taking place in the Soviet Union. It was also a month during which the U.S. Congress accelerated its engagement with Ukraine. Nonetheless, it also showed the limits of that engagement and of Soviet liberalization. Let me explain.
Three decades ago this month, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic held elections to its legislature that starkly differed from the fictional elections that had been held throughout the preceding 70 years of Soviet rule. While far from perfect, they were competitive; they were real. These elections helped to break the monopoly of the Communist Party. They were a genuine expression of the Ukrainian population’s quest for democracy and self-determination – a critical step towards independence.