The wrong place to poke the Russian Bear
In Russia’s immediate backyard, Ukraine, a country larger than France, and the location of Russia’s primary warm water port and Black Sea naval base, the Ukrainian president made a strategic decision NOT to ally with the EU at this time, without a TRI-LATERAL agreement including its natural geographic ally and sponsor, Russia.
Demonstrations against EU’s misguided “either-or” choice in Kiev, the capital, largely by young people who did not personally experience the consequences of the Holomodor Famine-Holocaust in 1932-33, nor the Nazi-Stalinist occupation and purges of the 1940s-50s, the combination of which decimated the Ukrainian population by almost 30%, have gained worldwide headlines. Ukraine must avoid being again trapped in the middle between two ideologies. The country is already reeling economically and societally in a post-genocidal culture shock.
Many Western advocates, particularly anti-Putinists (ie: John McCain), argue that Ukraine sold out its national heritage, blackmailed by Russia. In reality, the EU offer on the table was economically a BAD DEAL for Ukraine. So bad, in fact, that one wonders it was considered at all, and arouses suspicions as to true Western motives. The overriding political reality is that Russia is NOT about to allow its southern flank to be exposed militarily or economically. Period. On the other hand, the EU (ie: the US-led Western Alliance) is continuing its antagonistic strategic goal of isolating Russia by attempting to gradually peel off its former Soviet vassal States into the EU fold, one by one.
Much of the willingness of Ukrainians to substitute one hegemon for the other, is the rampant corruption of the current government, not entirely free of former Soviet hardliners and privileged oligarchs. They look to an idealized Europe for respite, and see prospects for betterment along East German and Polish examples. Unfortunately, they do not anticipate the two decades it took those countries to achieve their improved status. Nor do they understand that the corruption of European Central Banks is as insidious as their current condition, in creating vassals. EU and IMF “loans” come with strings and consequences, such as the “austerity” regulations currently experienced by Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Ireland. The EU carrot comes with a stick. Without accession, “sanctions” against the duly elected government are being contemplated.
As much as I think Yanukovych is a typical heavy-handed Soviet style thug, he may actually be adeptly walking the tightrope in a no-win situation. While the EU courtship seems benign, it also includes a strategic component of separating Ukraine from Russia, in terms of politics and petrodollars, part of a long term strategy to isolate Russia by the West.
Just as the USA would react suspiciously to Soviet/Russian/Chinese incursions into Mexico, Putin is not about to expose his southern flank, economically or otherwise. Without stating it, Ukraine is Putin’s “red line”. With the Soviet fleet in the Black Sea, Ukraine is in the Russian sphere, regardless whether all 100% Ukrainians wish it were otherwise.
On the surface, it may seem to be about economic self-determination. In reality, it is a continuation (or new creation) of the Cold War between US and Russia. The Kissinger-Brzezinski containment strategy is being proxied here, as much as it is in Iraq, Iran, Egypt, and Syria. Yanukovych’s fence-sitting may prove to be an adept avoidance of significant national upheaval, particularly along linguistic loyalties, and potential civil war. The perpetual unsolvable chaos of Egypt may occur here also, perhaps as an integral part of the Western strategy.
A middle path of negotiations must be found to avoid Ukraine’s becoming an unfortunate geographic pawn in a superpower game it cannot win, yet cannot avoid without consummate dexterity. The EU opportunity is part Trojan horse, and Putin knows it, including progressive ingratiating into the Western sphere. Insisting on choosing between EU or Russia will result badly for Ukraine. In this case Yanukovych’s crude sense of survival may coincide with Ukrainian national interests. Between Stalin’s enforced collectivization, the genocidal Holodomor Famine, and WW2, Ukraine lost almost 15 million of its population over two consecutive generations. Another 6 million decline has occurred since 1980.
Russia must be first to integrate into Europe, before it will allow itself to be further isolated by losing more influence in former Soviet States to the West. If the West wants peace, stability and security, Stalin’s legacy of national paranoia must be acknowledged, not challenged. Only when it becomes comfortable, will it allow Ukraine to tag along. They have actually floated the concept of a tri-partite agreement for coordinated participation in Europe, but so far (at US instigation?) THAT solution doesn’t advance US geopolitical and petrodollar interests, indicating the intent all along is to chip away at the former military-economic bloc until there is no alternative. You can not securitize Europe by isolating and antagonizing Russia. Security results from mutual cooperation, not perpetual confrontation against vital national interests.
The stakes are as high here as they are in the Middle East, for EITHER defining 21st Century superpower hegemony, or structuring a durable economic and military peace. The stakes for Ukraine may be even greater.