Saturday, November 29, 2014

Europe’s Crisis in Ukraine

STOCKHOLM – How Ukraine’s profound crisis will end is impossible to predict. We in the European Union and the United States are doing what we can to secure a peaceful transition to a more stable democracy, and the implementation, at long last, of urgently needed reforms. And the agreement now concluded between President Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition should create a new possibility for this.

If the agreement is not honored, Ukraine could well continue its descent into chaos and conflict, which would be in no one’s interest. That is why Ukraine’s crisis is a European crisis. And, though we cannot know how the crisis will end, we should be very clear about how it started.

For years, Ukraine sought a closer relationship with the EU. Its leaders warmly endorsed the promise of enhanced ties under the EU’s Eastern Partnership, and pushed for an EU Association Agreement, together with a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area. When those talks, which began under the previous Ukrainian government, were concluded, the agreement was endorsed by all four presidents and all 14 prime ministers to hold office since Ukraine achieved independence in 1991.

But, as the EU and Ukraine were addressing remaining issues ahead of the November 2013 Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius, where Ukraine was to sign its Association Agreement, something suddenly changed. From August onward, Russian policymakers embraced the openly declared aim of knocking Ukraine off the course that it had chosen. A political campaign against the agreement was launched, and the Kremlin mixed targeted sanctions with threats of harsher measures against the already-weak Ukrainian economy.

Russian leaders publicly stated that if Ukraine signed a free-trade agreement with the EU, it would lose its free-trade deal with Russia, and high tariffs would be imposed on all goods and services. Severe economic pressure, it was made clear, would become open economic warfare.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych gave way. In explaining to EU leaders that he was not ready to sign the Association Agreement, he was very clear that Russian pressure was responsible for his decision.

This set in motion the chain of events that has now resulted in carnage and death in the streets of Kyiv. For many Ukrainians, Europe was the symbol of hope of a better life; suddenly, they felt betrayed by a political elite that they had long perceived as being incorrigibly corrupt. So, to be clear, it was the Kremlin’s pressure, and the Yanukovych administration’s vacillation, that produced the current crisis.

Had Yanukovych decided to stand up to Russian pressure, there is no doubt that Ukraine would have faced difficulties. But, with an EU Association Agreement and the possibility of solid financial aid and reform assistance from the International Monetary Fund, the Russian measures would not have been sustainable.

Of course, the reforms asked of Ukraine would have been difficult, but no more difficult than what had been asked of other ex-communist countries that saw their future in and with Europe. There would have been light at the end of the tunnel, and, as Ukraine embraced the reform process, it would have been seen as a determined and democratic European country.

Instead, Yanukovych opted for a short-term strategy narrowly focused on his own political survival – a strategy that the protesters increasingly came to view as a game of deceit and betrayal. As the regime started to use violence to repress its opponents, violent opposition groups gained credibility.

Free trade with both Russia and the EU would obviously have been good for Ukraine’s economy, thus providing a boost to the Russian economy as well, notwithstanding the oft-used but fundamentally bogus argument that EU goods would flow into Russia via Ukraine. (Has anyone heard Americans complaining that the free-trade agreement between Mexico and the EU is undermining the US economy?)

Russia is intent on building a new strategic bastion in the form of its proposed Eurasia Union, and it seems determined to force Ukraine to join. While publicly grumbling about supposed EU pressure on Ukraine, the reality is that Russia brutally extorted the country into abandoning its EU course. That is the source of this crisis; the facts speak for themselves.

Even under the best of circumstances, the road back for Ukraine will be difficult. Russian pressure and destabilization, and the crisis to which they have led, have created new fissures in Ukraine’s society and have caused further damage to its fragile economy.

And that damage could, one day, spill over into Russia. The Kremlin should have an interest in a stable and reforming neighbor that, like other countries, is also seeking a close relationship with the EU.

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    1. Commentedj. von Hettlingen

      Minister Bildt writes in "Europe's crisis in Ukraine" that "Ukraine’s crisis is a European crisis". Ukraine is in a political crisis and the EU had had an economic crisis. Mr. Bildt has no doubt overrated the impact the Ukrainian crisis has on Europe.
      Pro-European protesters in Ukraine seek "a closer relationship with the EU". They want to live in a law-based country, not governed by a bunch of oligarchic grifters, who enrich themselves through corruption.
      The EU had had an eurocrisis. For a while doomsayers had predicted the end of the single currency. In recent months it has been quiet in countries, that needed a bailout. Recently there are signs of an economic recovery.
      No doubt Ukraine is now a battleground for the EU and Russia, vying for influence. Should an agreement not be reached between Moscow and Brussels, the country might see a partition. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin had spoken by telephone. They both agreed on preserving Ukraine's territorial integrity.
      The newly appointed interim president, Olexander Turchynov, said the country would move closer to Europe. Many young people in the Russian-speaking Ukraine also support the grassroots movement in Kiev. The problem there is not the East/West divide, but the generation gap. Indeed it is not easy to resolve the crisis in Ukraine without division. It can be avoided and much depends on Putin. He has a chance to display statesmanship instead of playing brinkmaship.

    2. CommentedZsolt Hermann

      The problem we observe through the Ukrainian example is a global problem, as anything else that happens today.
      Although we keep talking about an interconnected and interdependent human system, we mention "global village", when it comes to calculations, decision making we still base everything on the previous, isolated, fragmented paradigm, pushing everything through self-centered and subjective calculations, always putting our own individual or national interest as priority.
      On this same website today we can read about how China ignores its neighbors, but there is not one nation, in fact individual that would not operate the same way.
      We can follow the clear devastation the US foreign policy causes world-wide, the desperate deadlock in Europe as nations cannot move out of their own black boxes, the whole global world is on its knees because we are incapable understanding or implementing the principles necessary in a globally interdependent network.
      In a living, natural, integral system each and every individual, nation has to put the well-being, prosperity, sustainability of the whole as priority.
      Only when this primary goal is fulfilled can individual parts make individual calculations, although in an optimally working integral system that happens automatically, each and every part receiving 100% of what they need in order to give their 100% contribution for the whole.
      Of course for this to happen we have to learn first of all and put into practice how integral systems operate, we need to adapt.
      The present cancer cells have to learn to to mesh together forming a healthy and sustainable global body, otherwise we will not be able to build even our short term future.
      Our common boat is sinking as all of us are busy drilling holes underneath the others not understanding that the whole boat will sink regardless.

    3. Commentedhari naidu

      Source: Wikepedia
      #Khrushchev was born in the Russian village of Kalinovka in 1894, close to the present-day border between Russia and Ukraine.

      #Gorbachev was born in Stavropol Krai into a peasant Ukrainian–Russian family.

      Note: I don't use Wikipedia, at my age. But I looked it up now. I know the Russian Revolution and Stalinist period.... and what Pravda and Isvestia wrote, at the time, about the above two members of Standing Committee of CPSU.

      Today some 15 Million Russian-speaking Ukrainians live next to Russia in the East. For them western Ukrainians are like the Arabs call the *infidels* - i.e. pro-westerners.

    4. CommentedSarah Blair

      The blame that Bildt seems to put on Russia seems to avoid the reality that the US and the EU were also pressuring Ukraine to align with them. The fault lies in each of them dealing with Ukraine in the context of their own strategic interests. If the US really wanted to leave Ukraine to the will of its own people it should not have been discussing how the future government of the nation should be made up. If the West also seriously looked at the situation they should have condemned the violent protesters that were provoking violence.

      Yanukovich is a disgusting autocrat. That is a clear and plain fact, but it is also a fact that he has a significant amount of support and the events that have unfolded recently seem to reflect power existing in the streets from a group of protesters that are not representative of the whole nation. If peace is to be preserve reconciliation is needed. Ukraine does not need to a "European" nation or part of the Russian sphere it can, and I believe should, be independent of both. The problem is neither Russia or the west seems willing to accept this. Despite what the protesters say Ukrainians are not overwhelmingly united in a desire to move closer to Europe. In fact many of the violent protesters are just as disgusted with Europe as they are with Russia.

    5. Commentedhari naidu

      There is a credibility problem with EU principally because it didn't, at first, provide a more transparent path way to EU membership to Ukraine. And not until Polish, German and French FMs descended on Kiev did any crisis resolution process take place. So it took national politicians to deal with the crisis, to begin with, and find an interim resolution.

      What does that tell us about EU Commission and its mammoth bureaucracy dealing with national security and foreign policy?

      Now, it seems, Eastern Ukraine will attempt more or less go its own way...and may be link up with Russian Federation. Yanukovich disappeared early after signing the agreement...and who know he might eventually end up in Moscow - if not already there.

      It might be useful to remember that both Grobachev and Khrushchev came originally from Ukraine. Kiev was always a citadel of old Czarist Russia and Soviet time. So EU and USA must be not be totally oblivious of historical links and Russian reaction to events in Ukraine.

      Carl Bildt knows a lot more than what he's prepared to put into print right now.

        CommentedMax Samadov

        Neither Gorbachev, nor Khrushchev were from Ukraine: the former is from Stavropol in Southern Russia, the latter is from Kursk (but spent his formative years in Yuzovka, now Donetsk).
        Brezhnev, on the other hand, was born in Ukraine. Ironically, Russification of Ukraine reached its acme when he was in power.

        Cultural and historical ties are present. However, very few people in the East support the idea of breaking away/joining Russia.

    6. CommentedVal Samonis

      That is indeed Europe's crisis, Carl.

      But is Europe in a position to start the search for solutions. For example, can Europe help sponsor the transitional, technocratic government of Ukraine so the collapse can be stopped and reforms begin?

      Val Samonis
      Vilnius University, LT, and INET, USA