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NBC FLASHBACK: Ukrainian Independence

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“The world has a new country tonight: Ukraine.”

Tom Brokaw opened an NBC Nightly News report on December 2, 1991 with that sentence. It came during a foreign policy crisis revolving around Ukrainian independence, Russian tensions, and American leadership -- issues that are echoed in headlines today.

Ukraine had formally voted for independence from the Soviet Union the day before the broadcast. Though the Soviet Union was on the decline, Ukraine’s action was still a controversial one at the time as tensions around the world were high and the fate of the newly independent Soviet states was unclear.

American President George H.W. Bush had drawn criticism months earlier for his infamous “Chicken Kiev” speech urging Ukraine not to provoke the Soviet Union by seeking independence. But as NBC’s John Chancellor observed on December 2nd, the previous week Bush appeared to change course when he told Ukrainian American visitors to the White House that he might recognize Ukraine if it withdrew from the Soviet Union.

Chancellor, in his regular Nightly News commentary, criticized President Bush for surprising America’s allies with the move. He implied that the president may be supporting Ukrainian independence in order to gain ground with “the right wing” ahead of a potential primary challenge in his 1992 reelection effort. Chancellor ended on a scathing note: “All politics is local, and as the Ukrainian affair demonstrates, that applies to foreign affairs.”

The same could be said today, as we have seen a varied response to the current crisis from different factions of the Republican party. You can watch the full report below, courtesy of NBC Archives.

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