Monday, December 30, 2013

An odd take on Ukrainian events

The Ukrainian situation at present is both complex and somewhat opaque, the latter meaning that it is not clear where any of it is going. The general opinion seems to be that Putin has won against the EU and the West in general though that requires some qualification.

In the first place, it is not entirely clear what an EU would have consisted of. Presumably, the initialling of the trade and closer co-operation agreement, which would have given very little to either side. Contrary to what many people seem to believe, membership of the EU was not and is not on offer.

Secondly, winning "hearts and minds" by a combination of a huge bribe that the EU could not possibly top and blackmail over energy supplies works in the short term but trouble is not simply brewing, it is there already. Those demonstrators in Kiyiv may not know exactly what they want or how they are going to achieve what they might think they want but they do know what they don't want and that is closer relations with Russia. The fact that there is a very large minority in Ukraine that makes up almost half the population who do want closer relations with Russia and are suspicious of the EU makes that country an unreliable ally for all, including Russia.

Thirdly, Ukraine is largely dysfunctional and the EU already has dysfunctional members. No more are needed. The problems need to be sorted out by the Ukrainians themselves with possible help from the West but that help would be limited. Of course, moving more definitely into Russia's orbit means that the country will remain dysfunctional but signing that agreement with the EU would not have made any difference from that point of view.

In other words, the whole situation is a mess and Putin's victory is Pyrrhic at best. Indeed, some people might say that it is time he started paying attention to what is going on in his own country, especially after the horrific double explosions of Volgograd that follow on a number of other explosions and terrorist acts throughout the year. (Whoever is responsible for what happened yesterday and today, they were still terrorist acts.)

Having said all that, I do find it slightly odd that a school of thought is developing that calls all this something of a diplomatic success for the EU. Andrew Rettman outlines the sequence of events, which ended in Yanukovich and the EU mutually discarding and reviling each other but, curiously, he also says:
The EU this year lost a battle for Ukraine, but nobody is laughing at its soft power any more.
More like sneering, I'd say. The one thing we can say for certain: neither in Ukraine nor anywhere else has EU soft power achieved anything in the last year (or any other year). That Ukrainians do not want to be in the orbit of President Putin's dysfunctional, lawless and bullying country is not much of an achievement for the EU as nothing very much seems to come out of that.

Meanwhile, Leonid Bershidsky speculates on the Bloomberg site as to why President Putin has been so laggardly in his response to the terrorist outrages in Volgograd when other heads of state and government managed to make statements of condolence and condemnation almost immediately. One imagines that when his statement is made it will be tough and full of nasty language. Also, if past experience is to go by, any suspects will be killed by the security services before they can get anywhere near a trial.

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