Helsinki Times, 27 February 2014 **** Front Page
By Johannes Hautaviita
n November 2013, following the decision by the Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych to reject the Association Agreement with the EU, widespread popular protests erupted in the country. Faced with a difficult and volatile situation, as Ukrainian public opinion is deeply divided between pro-Western and pro-Russia sentiments, Yanukovych decided to abort the signing of an agreement with the EU choosing instead a bargain made by Russia. The proposal by Russian president Vladimir Putin was, simply put, a better deal for the collapsing Ukrainian economy. The continuation of the policy of geopolitical "neutrality" was out of reach for Ukraine because of increasing pressure from both the EU and Russia.
Stephen Cohen, Professor Emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University asserts that the trigger for the current crisis was "EU's reckless ultimatum, in November, that the democratically elected president of a profoundly divided country choose between Europe and Russia. Putin's proposal for a tripartite arrangement, rarely if ever reported, was flatly rejected by US and EU officials."
Although the protests were sparked by the issue of EU integration, it quickly turned into an uprising directed mainly against Yanukovych's corrupt and authoritarian rule. This eventually lead to the overthrow of the democratically elected president. It's difficult to predict what kind of a balance of power there will emerge within the opposition. The ultra-nationalists, although a minority, have considerable leverage over current developments, but their role may diminish if the violence is contained. There is a risk, however, that the opposition won't be able to control the ultra-nationalists, which have served as the vanguard of the protests.
While the developments in Ukraine have primarily internal motives and dynamics, it's worth sketching out some of the broader international dimensions looming in the background. The US, the EU and Russia would, not surprisingly, all want to see an outcome favourable to their interests. The EU's provocative "Eastern Partnership" policy is aimed at both pulling the post-Soviet states out of Moscow's orbit and establishing free trade areas between them and the EU. Closely linked to EU's efforts in Ukraine is the continuing eastward expansion of NATO, which also has a long-standing interest in the country. "An association pact with Ukraine would have been a major boost to Euro-Atlantic security, I truly regret that it could not be done", commented Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO's Secretary General. "We have real differences and real issues", he continued, "it's obvious that Russia's attitude is clearly hostile to the (NATO) alliance opening to the east."
In 1990, the Kremlin agreed to allow a reunified Germany to join NATO in return for the Bush administration's explicit assurances that NATO would not expand "one inch to the East". Mikhail Gorbachev was naive to take the US administration at its word. Under the presidencies of Clinton and Bush, NATO proceeded to expand all the way to the borders of the Russian Federation.
NATO is now moving to install a "missile defense system" in Europe aimed at Iran and Russia. One can only imagine what the reaction would be if Mexico joined the Russian-led military alliance and installed similar systems aimed at Texas and California.
The developments in Ukraine have prompted grim warnings. Cohen cautions that a "new Cold War divide between West and East may now be unfolding, not in Berlin but in the heart of Russia's historical civilization."
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