Ukraine – East Or West?
Geopolitics of Kiev, Brussels & Moscow
The European Union Summit of Vilnius the last week of November is over, but the geopolitics of one country in particular remains headline grabbing news in Europe, - Ukraine. From mid-November to mid-December the question has always been, 'what will Ukraine do'?
Along with five other Eastern European countries who's political actions were basically known, Ukraine was the only UN-decided country present in Vilnius – and left with the uncertainty and the attitude of 'what will the EU do for me' as a Ukrainian pre-resequet of initialing its Association Agreements with the European Union.
Since Vilnius, it has been a back and forth, on again – off again, attitude of which way Ukraine will lead in the geopolitical game of Ukraine between Brussels and Moscow - and possible future Customs Union membership. In the immediate future, Ukraine is looking for short term economic relieve. Thus a chess match on a very large playing board effecting the lives of millions of people, and not just Ukrainians but other Central and Eastern European countries alike.
No sooner did Ukraine's president leave Vilnius, anti-government protests in Kiev began in earnest the first week of December, and the last three weeks, the streets of the city central have seen reports from ''a few thousands to 300,000 demonstrators'' depending on the mood, weather, and speaker/s that were present. Mostly young, and millennium types – these protesters and their older friends were around for the Orange revolution in 2004 and are now back again. Today, its all about ''western direction'' and ''government change'' from the old soviet style guard represented in the parliamentary controlled government of President Viktor Yanukovych, a soviet style autocratic himself.
In the Beginning, someone created the European Union
Since its inception in 1957 and becoming a singe institution in 1967, the European Union has concentrated its existence on western Europe, for purely economic / political reason with hopes of ending European hostilities in the form of war. Some 55,000,000 people have lost there life between 1915 and 1945 due to European conflicts – thus the central goal of the EU is common borders and free trade.
From then till now, the EU has grown to include some 28 countries. The Soviet Union self-destructed in 1991 and the EU has had an eye on Eastern Europe ever since. The three Baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were quick to get on the anti-Soviet approach to future progress of each country, and came in the EU fold in 2004
In 2009, the Eastern European Partnership was formed with Ukraine being the biggest member of former Soviet Satellite states along with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, and Moldova. Belarus eventually allied itself politically with Russia and Armenia did likewise in September.
The EU, the biggest trading block Awaits Ukraine
But old memories die hard, for Russia. As a former home of the Soviet Union, Ukraine is seen as part of there sphere of influence that is still under the domination of Moscow. For the last year, Moscow has initiated limited trade disruption, political pressure, and out right corrosion in order to forestall any signing of Ukraine with the EU.
Likewise, Ukraine sees things from their perspective and has been playing one against the other, before, during and after Vilnius.
Ukraine is a divided country with ethnic Ukrainians speaking Russian as there native language – some 40% - mostly in the eastern part of the country. Kiev in the middle and territorial Ukraine to the west sees them self’s as 'more western' and include to aline themselves with the belief and hope that they too may become part of western Europe.
Today, Kiev has become the epic center of political protest, with President Vikor Yaukovych first negotiating with the EU for years, then prior the EU summit in mid November, signaling his intentions not to sign any Association Agreements with the EU.
The mood, and the political tone of the protesters has changed from simply telling Yaukovych to sign with the EU to now a belief that the government of Ukraine should resign and new elections should be called.
For years, each member state of the Eastern Partnership have believed to negotiated in good faith with the EU and in turn, the EU has invested some 964,100,000 euros into Ukraine since 2007 according to http://www.easternpartnership.org/programmes/country-allocation A thank you is still yet to be received from Kiev.
A course of critics continue – beginning with Mikheil Saakashvili
Georgia has always been the biggest anti-Russian player, and a brief war with Russia in 2008 is a testament to the bitterness between the two. But today, relations are improving and Georgia initialed there Association Agreement documents in Vilnius last month – Moscow snubbed.
Since the conclusion of the Eastern European Summit in Vilnius on the 29th of November, Ukraine has experience protests and demonstration not seen since the Orange Revulsion of 2004 when protests were able to topple the government and install new electrons.
Many today are calling for a repeat of 2004 for the failure of Yanukovych to side with the European Union, after years of negotiations. But that is only the beginning. Most want a government corruption free and responsive to the will of the people, but for now political power remains in the hands of Yanukovych and his Party of Regions that control the Parliament
An expert on street lead peaceful revolution is no other than former President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili in Kiev the first week of December sounding a tone of defiance and resolve against the Yanukovych administrations.
Saakashvili said to the assembled in Independence Square ''I am Ukrainian, I am Georgian, and I am European. I knew that one day Ukraine would become an example of success and example of an Eastern European nation integrated into the European family of free, democratic, prospering countries. Today, I see that I was right. Ukraine will be able to do this; we will do this together'', according to Radio Free Europe on Saakashvili's speech. He added, ''nothing can prevent our common aspirations of freedom.''
This never tiring critic of Moscow, western educated and credited with bringing Georgia from a Soviet puppet state into a modern day democratic and parliamentary democracy has relinquished his terms in office in Tbilisi, and now has time to encourage other like mined street leaders in the ways of peaceful protest.
Saakashvili was not the only Georgian in Kiev this week. The distinctive red-and-white five cross flag of Georgia was on display along side the Ukrainian flag.
Fellow Georgian Giorgi Zhvania has been camped out since the start of the street protests, working as an organizer by handing out food and offering other logistical support to fellow protesters.
Said Giorgi, ''there are ten of us Georgians here. I've personally been here more than two weeks, almost from the day of the resistance. I want to work with the Ukrainian people and my Ukrainian brother shoulder to shoulder to get rid of the corrupt government and to secure a better future in the European family. It's a desire we all share'' he was quoted as saying by Radio Liberty.
The Geopolitics Plays Itself Out
The intrigue of Kiev, Brussels and Moscow came to a head last week when Ukraine sided with its long time historic partner and accepted a Moscow deal that involves some 15 billion in economic assistance and reduce energy rates from its number one energy supplier.
''The European Union and Russia have long fought for influence over Ukraine, but with this deal Moscow proved its willingness to pay a steep price to keep Ukraine in its orbit. While Ukraine is a matter of interest for the European Union's neighborhood policy, it is vital to Russia's geopolitical existence. Therefore, Moscow was willing to put up billions of dollars if that is what it took to guarantee Kiev's orientation away from the West.'' Writes Stratfor, a US based global intelligence firm.
''This is not to say that the European Union has completely lost out in the ongoing geopolitical tug of war over Ukraine. Yanukovich's moves have created dismay among EU officials and led to the eruption of protests in Kiev. The Europeans have supported these protests, and emerging opposition leaders such as Vitali Klitschko (a political opposition leader) have backing from the likes of Germany. It is not clear whether Yanukovich will be able to manage the political opposition indefinitely, as he will face a significant challenge in the upcoming presidential election in 2015, if not sooner.'' Statfor concluded.
European Parliament members Vira Ratsiborynska and Justina Vitkauskaite Bernard write, ''the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius became an event that increased the pressure of this dilemma by exposing the decision process more to the public in Ukraine and Armenia, resulting in heated discussions and confrontation. For Moldova and Georgia this Summit was the starting point in determining and finalizing their pro=European choice. It was a time of abstention for Belarus and Azerbaijan.
Different geopolitical interests of Russia and the EU became visible in the regions. Various integration and disintegration forces, being respectively pro- or anti- with regard to the integration models, had become active and had begun confronting each other in these countries at the time.'' Conclude two MEP Members
Russia has a very keen interest in Ukraine for many reason. Today Russian gas pipes run through the country. But this short term tension between Russia and the Ukraine is not a new one, rather is goes back centuries.
Russia and Ukraine's histories are so intertwined that it is sometimes hard to tell them apart. In fact, modern day Russia was born out of Kiev Rus a loosely defined federation of East Slavic tribes. The Kievan Rus as formed in what is modern day Kiev, and the capital of the Ukraine. So without the Ukraine there would never have been a Russia.
These facts did not fall on death ears in the private discussion between President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych the second week of December.
Those discussions and eventual outcome of the decision reached will have far reaching consequences as the two historical nations decided eventually to see eye to eye and played the geopolitical chess game to its fullest here in the early part of the 21st century.
Score a political victory for Vladimir Putin and his desire to maintain his sphere of influence with Ukraine (and Armenia). However, the European Union will get a political rematch in the future with The Balkans and eventually Turkey - poised to make their move one way or another – East or West in the years to come.