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Coffee House

Ukraine: It’s not about Europe vs Russia

19 February 2014

7:00 PM

19 February 2014

7:00 PM

To discuss the Ukrainian crisis in terms of a choice between Europe and Russia is misleading for several reasons.

First, the European issue has been ruthlessly exploited by the Ukrainian opposition and its Western backers as an excuse for overthrowing the government illegally and by force. Opposition leaders have never distanced themselves from the most radical elements on the streets of Kiev, even though these include neo-Nazis. On the contrary, they have done everything to use their violence as a bargaining chip in their battle with the government. Let us never forget that the majority of the 25 deaths on the night of 18 – 19 February were murders committed by the protesters:  9 policemen were shot dead or stabbed to death, while 3 members of the governing party and a journalist were also killed.

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Second, the choice Ukraine faced between the EU and Russia was not an equal one.  The EU association accord was a comprehensive political straitjacket designed to lock Ukraine into the orbit of Brussels and Washington by installing, as all over the EU itself, a pro-EU (and ultimately pro-NATO) elite whose policies would remain unchanged whichever team was in power. By contrast, Ukraine’s agreements with Russia are confined to a free trade zone and, lately, loans.  They carry no internal political implications at all.  Even the Customs Union of Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Armenia, which Ukraine will probably not now join, takes decisions by consensus: it has none of the heavy-handed supranational and technocratic control of Brussels.

Third, Ukraine did not really have a choice. Thanks to decades of corrupt politics, the Ukrainian state is bankrupt.  So is the EU. In spite of stringing Kiev along with pretty words about a European future, the EU could offer only $800 million , via the IMF, and that came at the price of exceptionally painfully economic reforms.  Ukraine would have been subjected to the same devastation of its agriculture, on which it depends, as Romania and Bulgaria were in their pre-accession period.  Its industry would have collapsed as well.  Russia, by contrast, has been able to offer nearly 20 times this sum in loans to prevent Ukraine from becoming insolvent, and it is the biggest market for Ukrainian exports – bigger than the whole of the EU put together. Moreover, Europe’s coffers are empty for good reason:  her member states are drowning in their own debt, while the economic vice turned on its own member states – Greece, Spain and others – has plunged those countries into misery. Russia, by contrast, has tended to run balanced budgets while her growth ticks along at 4% or so, against Europe’s anaemic 1%.  Trade in the Customs Union has grown by 40% in 5 years. Ukraine’s signature on the EU association agreement (the one Georgia signed runs to 400 pages) would have been the longest suicide note in history.

To avoid facing up to its own inexorable decline, the post-modern EU, like the United States, has plunged ahead with a radically anti-Russian geopolitical and ideological agenda based on left-wing fantasies about resurgent nationalism in Moscow. We used to laugh at Cold Warriors but the absurd anti-Russian ravings of Dr Strangelove and Jack D. Ripper have now become the standard fare served up in Washington and Brussels. What a shame most of the Western media swallows this rubbish.

John Laughland is Director of Studies at the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation in Paris, www.idc-europe.org

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