The Ukrainian protests against government’s decision to not sign an EU agreement melted in just few days, but was it really only an internal matter or was just another episode of the saga Putin vs West?
It is now clear that was never at stake the interest of the Ukrainian people but political gains and economic benefits behind the interests of such powers. Ukraine, as Georgia in the past, is a fertile ground to gauge the pressure of the tensions between Russia and the West, and once again, to the dismay of the latter, Putin won.
Ukraine economy is a mess, near to collapse, needed a bail out regardless on whoever will grant it, so why there was this attention to pull Ukraine on either sides? The answer is simply European hypocrisy and Russia’s vital space paranoia.
The EU jumped on the protests claiming that Ukrainian people were behind a popular protest to join the EU, that their will was betrayed and Yanukovich change mind after Russia’s blackmailing. All this may be true, and it is no surprise for a poor country to see people cherishing the idea of free travel to countries better off, as also it is no surprise that Russia used all its weight to sink the agreement. However, what is wrong is that not all Ukraine was behind the protest and that all the country supports an EU access. While the western regions, rich in agriculture in what was the granary of Soviet Union, support strong links with the West, on the other the Eastern areas and the Donbass, the powerhouse of heavy industry always had strong ties with Russia. Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions has its stronghold in eastern Ukraine and it is no surprise that he also had to put an ear on that side.
The problem for Ukraine and the EU is that Russia will never allow in such proximity to lose its control either politically and economically. Russia at the end triumphed, with Kiev’s government accepting a $15 billion bailout, with cheaper gas prices and the promise to accelerate the accession to the Russian version of the EEA, a custom union with Belarus and Kazakhstan. Has Ukraine therefore lost? Not really, as said either ways Ukraine was going to receive a bailout, but the problem connected with this is that nothing comes for free and whether EU or Russia, Kiev has now linked itself to a strong dependence, by chosing to do not irritate the strongest side.
Nevertheless, if Ukraine calculations were based on purely economic data and immediate needs, what moved EU, Russia and even US was totally different: balance of power.
The EU jumped into this dispute denouncing Russia’s interference and “acting” with its fake paternalism in a time where the Union has its lowest approval index by the population of state members and where crescent nationalism is advancing in many countries requests for an exit referendum. Nevertheless, the EU cannot be trusted, it uses bail outs to control governments’ policies, it is the most undemocratic organisation and what benefits really could have from Ukraine’s accession? The benefit was to bail out another government and impose IMF/BCE controlling policies to gain the most from a no competitive market which would have been a “colony” for western economies in crisis. Cheap labor would have offered the chance to struggling companies to cut workforce in their home countries to reopen across the borders, and while they present Bruxelles in such pan-European dream on the other we can see Cameron’s UK trying to introduce changes to migrants from Romania and Bulgaria in an attempt to please nationalists of the UK Independence Party. Another reason that would have well suited Bruxelles was to introduce another bigger country which would have altered balance in the EU Parliament, a message to the fellow British partners.
But while on one side the EU showed its hypocrisy, on the other the US got involved only to pinpoint Russia’s rediscovered power and any plan that undermine or limit Putin’s influence it is always welcomed in Washington. Plan for a missile shield are back on the table, Russia’s involvement in Middle East has irritated many governments and after the Snowden affair, US-Russia relations are getting sour quickly enough to foresee a 2014 rich in similar tit for tat actions. Russia, for history, ethnic-religious ties and economic reasons pursued and will always pursue a politic of self-defence and retake control of its vital space. Russia, and the USSR before, always lived in the paranoia of the constant threat of an invasion or isolation to starve the country, and today this is still visible in Putin relentless new strategy to keep at bay any intruder in the eastern side. Whether blackmailing the fragile Ukrainian government, or supporting eastern region ties (basically threatening a dangerous rift), by placing missiles in Kaliningrad, by intervening in Syria and Iran issues turning the table against western plans, Putin is achieving slowly the task of rebuilding a stronger Russia and defend its autonomy of action. But is it all roses for Russia in bailing out such an economy in crisis? Obviously not, but Russia’s strategy has always been to achieve the task with whatever methods and at the end by extending control over economy in Ukraine, Putin reasserted its political control over the area, demonstrating once again the weightless spirit of the EU as international power. Russia nevertheless, by taking on its side Kiev’s fragile economy and offering to cover debts may be pushed into a finance black hole, and Moscow’s economy will have to be strong enough in the next years to make sure that this agreement will not backfire.
The reality is that Ukraine is one of those countries that will always struggle to balance itself, but until you will have a Russia this powerful, inevitably it will fall under a particular sphere of influence. The Russian achievement in Ukraine is the defeat of EU hypocrisy, but it is not a total victory as Western powers will find another way to limit Putin’s attempts to a system restore to Yalta’s configuration. Nevertheless, there is enough in Moscow to cheer and Putin can celebrate by even allowing himself to show total control and confidence in his absolute power by freeing Mikhail Kodorkovsly and granting amnesty to the Pussy Riot members. A lesson to learn, another missed opportunity for the West to understand Russia’s new path with an old map.