McCain Once Again Meddling in Eastern Europe

John McCain

Patulcius

Patulcius-sqJohn McCain is once again meddling in the affairs of Eastern Europe in the hopes of ultimately toppling the government of Vladimir Putin. This time he, along with several other Western leaders lately, is visiting Ukraine to rally pro-European Union protesters against the pro-Russian government of Viktor Yanukovich.

Senator John McCain on Sunday told thousands of Ukrainian protesters camped on Kiev’s main square that Ukraine’s destiny lay in Europe and that it would make Europe better.

“Ukraine will make Europe better and Europe will make Ukraine better,” he said to crowds protesting against President Viktor Yanukovich’s U-turn in trade policy away from Europe towards Russia.

“We are here to support your just cause, the sovereign right of Ukraine to determine its own destiny freely and independently. And the destiny you seek lies in Europe,” said McCain, a leading Republican voice on US foreign policy.

Since the end of November, when Yanukovich abruptly abandoned talks with the EU over two treaties that would establish political cooperation and a free-trade zone with Ukraine, the capital has seen large pro-Western demonstrations (oddly called “Euromaidan“) that demand new elections and/or the passage of the treaties. The government has responded by trying to contain the protests and by raiding the headquarters of the opposition Fatherland party, a pro-Western inheritor of the defunct 2004 Orange Revolution whose leader, Yulia Tymoshenko, is serving a prison sentence that pro-Westerners say was politically motivated and that pro-Russians don’t seem to say much about one way or another.

It is interesting that the opposition has welcomed foreign dignitaries like McCain to rally their side against the government. Does this not plainly spell out how much their movement is subject to manipulation from the West? Does the pro-Russian side bring in prominent Russians to campaign for them? Doesn’t anyone stand for an independent Ukraine, or is such a thing even possible?

Ukraine is now one of the the active theaters in a new sort of Cold War between the East and West. Ukraine itself is divided roughly in half between pro-Western and pro-Russian factions, largely polarized geographically. Unfortunately neither Russia nor the West cares for the best interests of the average Ukrainian; for them it is all a political chess game with geopolitical stakes, and people like the Ukrainians and Syrians are the pawns to be sacrificed.

Ukrainian-ethno-political-divide

These maps illustrate how the portions of Ukraine that the USSR took in World War II are the most vehemently pro-Western, and that the areas where the Ukrainian language overwhelmingly dominates tend to vote pro-Western as well.

Back in November, when the EU and Ukraine were negotiating their treaties, I was puzzled over why the European Union would suddenly add the release of Yulia Tymoshenko as a condition to European acceptance of the treaty. It seemed to deliberately sabotage a treaty that Yanukovich clearly didn’t want.

Now it makes sense. By forcing Yanukovich to either submit to the political dictates of the EU or drop the treaty negotiations altogether, the Western elites knew that the days of Tymoshenko’s pro-Russian government would be finished. The EU-side had a secret weapon in their pockets: the Western-backed protests.

So John McCain travels all the way to Ukraine with his elitist buddies, ostensibly to meet with the country’s foreign minister but in fact to try to inspire the people there that the United States stands behind the pro-EU side. He will smile his creepy smile for the cameras and then he will leave.

But Russia isn’t likely to passively watch while Ukraine slips from its sphere of influence. Putin will first try to make sure that the pro-Russian side remains in power. He will try to use subtle tactics to diffuse the protests, such as the attempt to renew negotiations with the EU over the treaties (which the EU has just shut down), in order to quietly diffuse the protests. Should these efforts fail and Ukraine runs new elections that restore the Orange Revolution to power and with them EU integration, Russia may use more forceful tactics like they used against Ukraine in the 2009 gas dispute. Or even worse.

Russia would do just about anything to prevent the loss of contiguity with its essential Black Sea naval bases.

If the Western factions in Ukraine triumph and bring their country to the brink of EU membership, count on Russia to sabotage the deal one way or another, including the forcible overthrow of the government and/or civil war. And count on the West, despite McCain’s blathering, to do very little about it apart from more blathering.

While Ukrainians shouldn’t live in constant fear of Russian retaliation for acting in their country’s own interests, they would be foolish to jump with both feet into the EU’s camp.

For one thing, EU membership would not establish “the sovereign right of Ukraine to determine its own destiny freely and independently”, as John McCain has asserted. Ukraine would have to comply with the myriad rules, conditions, and the bureaucratic intrusions that the organization brings. Already the EU has demanded the release of Yulia Tymoshenko from prison as well as the Ukrainian government’s “clear commitment to sign” the treaties before negotiations can continue. Such demands will only grow worse.  And once Ukraine joins, there are no means to ever withdraw from EU membership.

Economically, Ukraine depends on Russia for at least a third of its overall trade and for its supply of natural gas, and Russia would be foolish to allow unrestricted commerce with a Ukraine that belongs to the EU. How long would it take for EU trade to replace any lost Russian trade, and would it ever be greater than Russia’s trade now?

Politically, Ukraine is almost evenly divided into those who support the West and those who support Russia. While many of the Russian supporters exist because of the imperialist policies of the Russian Empire and the USSR, most of them have nonetheless lived in Ukraine long enough to have as much a legitimate voice as ethnic Ukrainians, at least within a democratic system. Ukraine’s adoption of the pending EU treaties threatens to antagonize the pro-Russian side to the same extent that the pro-Western side is now infuriated at Russian dominance of the Ukraine.

Strategically, Ukraine is nearly surrounded by Russia and its allies, and Russian Black Sea bases line its shores. In the event of conflict, Russia could easily supply Ukraine’s Russian factions while Western access is limited to the western border. Certainly Ukrainians should not let this perhaps remote threat determine their internal activities, but added to other factors—political and economic—it shows that Ukraine has a greater natural bond to Russia than to Western Europe.

At the very least Ukraine should maintain its status quo.

Clusivius

Clusivius-sqWhile the EU offers no path for Ukraine to “determine its own destiny freely and independently”, as John McCain says, EU integration might at least offer some material improvement in the everyday lives of its people.

Romania or Bulgaria are good examples of what Ukraine could expect from EU membership. Both former Communist countries joined the EU in 2007. From 2007 to 2012, Ukraine’s economy gained 3%, Romania gained 8.4%, and Bulgaria grew 16%.

gdp-ukraine-romania-bulgaria

Could Ukraine do better economically in the EU? Probably a little bit, but nothing dramatic.

Would Russia retaliate against Ukraine economically? Almost certainly, but Russia would face the loss of the large volume of trade goods it receives from Ukraine as well as a major source of non-Muslim migrant labor. Russia would not likely sabotage Ukraine’s economy for very long; the Russian economy can ill afford it.

Politically, the country is already divided and already under the thumb of another power. Would the polarization be worse if the government sought EU dominance instead of Russia’s? Would domination by the EU be any worse? Also, the core of the EU is much farther away than that of Russia, so it is entirely possible that Ukraine might have more independence than it would under Russia merely because of geographical and psychological separation.

Strategically, in any war between Russia and the West, a pro-Western Ukraine faces a threat from Russia. But right now it faces a threat from the West in such a scenario. It’s a border country and would bleed no matter what. This fact should play little part in determining the fate of the country, as there is little that the Ukraine can do about it.

The government of Ukraine is reportedly very corrupt. This would be the case whether Yanukovich or Tymoshenko is in power. But there is at least some hope that the EU would put a stop to at least a large portion of these abuses, as they are trying to do in Romania and Bulgaria.

This Ukrainian woman on the pro-Western side, presumably named Viktoria Taranenko, makes some interesting remarks about the current regime:

When I read articles in the foreign press, listening to statements such as “why do you Ukrainians need this EU???? We have problems here… “, I came to the conclusion that you do not understand what is happening in Ukraine.

Let me try to explain. It is not about the EU. It’s not about your Schengen zone, not about your values, standards of living, culture and so on.

Our “president” was twice imprisoned for robbery in his youth. Our “prime-minister” does not speak Ukrainian. None of them speaks English. All our courts are corrupted and work for the interests of the Mafia family of Yanukovych. The raiding in our country thrives.

Her attacks are one-sided against Yanukovich, her complaints are often petty and superficial, and she seems to think that the Ukrainian economy will benefit greatly from the EU, but she does make an interesting point that Ukraine would improve within the European Union.

No, my dear ones. We are well aware of all the difficulties in your countries. We know very well how hard it will be on a way of European integration. But for us, the agreement with the EU, it is not a visa-free regime, not high wages, not good medicine and education. For us, the agreement with the EU would be a sign that the criminal system is destroyed. And first of all – that the gang power will be under the control of European politicians. This is what our president is so afraid of. And that’s exactly what we want so much.

Would a Ukraine dominated by the Eurocrats be better than one dominated by Russia? I don’t think it would be any worse.

Concorditas

ConcorditasThe best solution for the people in Ukraine is the division of the country in two.

The north and western portions of the country where the Ukrainian language overwhelmingly dominates might be called Ruthenia and could seek its association with the West. The south and eastern portions of the country, including the entire Baltic coast, could retain its association with Russia, and Russia would retain the land connection to its Baltic Sea naval bases. Ukrainians who sympathized more with the other side could freely migrate within a set period of time.

Divided-Ukraine

A partition of Ukraine might be the best solution, but it’s not likely to gain support from anyone, not Ukrainians, Russians, or Westerners.

Partition can be a nasty business, as the case with India and Pakistan, or with Greece and Turkey, have shown. But the divisions of Ukraine are less dramatic than those examples, and in any event the long-term stability would be worth it.

That may be the best solution for the Ukrainians, but neither the country’s political elites, nor those of Russia or the West, would likely accept such a scenario.

Since the country most likely can’t be divided, Ukrainians would do well to play both sides against one another while refraining from a commitment to either side. Neutrality serves a border state well, but the presence of those Russian naval bases (and Russian people) make that course a difficult one.

It seems that there are no easy answers for Ukraine.

(And John McCain should retire.)

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13 Comments

  1. Very interesting and honest, especially the conclusion about creating two different states. After Polish EU accession people started to divide on those who have benefitted and those who haven’t had even a hint of chance. Now we start to name this and understand it. Two Polands.

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    • Thank you, stonka, for your thoughts on this. It is always especially useful and interesting to hear the thoughts of someone who actually lives with or near situations that can seem very abstract to someone far removed from them (like myself).

      While division in two might be best in Ukraine (or not), I’d really hate to see Poland split. Could the two pieces stand on their own separately?

      I hadn’t known very much about this political division before you mentioned it, but (as you mentioned) the historical context does seem similar to Ukraine’s divide:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poland_A_and_B

      There also seems to be a movement for more regional autonomy, like with the Silesians. Do you think that more regional or provincial autonomy would help or hurt the situation in Poland? Or is the division too great for decentralization to work?

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      • Exactly, causes of division lie in our history. We are just border countries since ages. Buffer zone between two powers. I think that neither Poland nor Ukraine are likely to split – at least before Britain 😉
        I just wonder, why a recent request of The Union of People of Silesian Nationality (or somehow) has been rejected, with explanation that they are not a nation. For me, having Silesian nation would be reason to be proud. They really differ ! But after visiting Union’s page (polish only) I notice they’re very radical and quite frustrated, may be I wouldn’t like to meet their activists in one train…
        There are also kaszebe, and may be also mountainers, with very different views and ways – usually, people are happy if allowed to rule themselves, therefore I think decentralization is good, but I don’t know, may be there are also some risks. Under comunists everything was unified and centralized, in such conditions I have grown, our differences are still waiting to be discovered and balanced in the frames of a country. May be it is now we are getting conscious. May be we don’t know to compromise and cooperate. Ukrainians the same.

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  2. Reblogged this on Brittius.com.

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  3. Division. Small is beautiful.

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    • I agree with you, though unfortunately small is often weaker, too.

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      • Switzerland is small and they manage.

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      • Good point. Israel, too.

        I guess if you’re small, go with a national military service.

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      • I’ve been thinking about mandatory military service for a while, now. It seems that’s the key to the Swiss staying out of all the wars. Nobody votes to go to war when its their ass on the line, as opposed to the US where senators and their kids are safe at home.

        Imagine if the US had mandatory service, we’d have the largest military in the world by a long shot and a populace trained in military tactics available to call up if needed.

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      • It’s not a coincidence that military veterans are more conservative than those who never served, and less likely to be warmongers (John McCain excepted). I’m not even opposed to making the right to vote conditional on fulfilling a set amount of military service.

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      • I don’t know about tying voting to military service. I think it needs to be tied to a person’s investment in society. If it were up to me, I would only allow married (or widowed), Christian fathers who are out of debt and employed or retired to vote. Christian because it brings some level of agreement to questions of morals and law (and its right), married men with families because they should be less selfish and kids inherit the fututre parents leave them, the reason for mandating a voter be out of debt and self supporting is obvious.

        But, of course, I’m a “racist”, “misogynistic,” “heteronormative,” “islamophobic”, homophobic,” “fascist,” so what do I know.

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