Russia won’t let Ukraine drift westwards in one piece

Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the EC, went to Kyiv where she met with representatives of the Ukrainian opposition. The Vice-President then met with Viktor Yanukovych, President of Ukraine. (EU Audiovisual Services, 5/2/2014).

Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the EC, went to Kyev where she met with representatives of the Ukrainian opposition. The Vice-President then met with Viktor Yanukovych, President of Ukraine (on the left). (EU Audiovisual Services, 5/2/2014).

Somebody must stop this person heading Europe’s diplomacy in the External Action service. Yesterday Catherine Ashton broke all limits in two successive statements, one for Libya and another for Ukraine. Even if she doesn’t mind her own credibility and political correctness, her bosses in, London, Berlin and Paris have to think again if she adds or subtracts to the European cause. Her announcement, on the results of the Libyan Sunday 20 February elections for a Constitutional Committee, doesn’t contain the slightest reference to reality. Out of a population of 6.4 million people only 1.1 million registered to vote and finally just 497,663 of them did so.

On the other occasion she told the world that the three European foreign ministers, (German, French and Polish) who helped broker the agreement between Yanukovych and the Ukrainian political opposition, “work on my behalf”. It was the EU Council that mandated the three ministers and not the head of the External Action service. This is not a minor gaffe because the delicate situation in Kiev may produce more violence with the slightest misunderstanding between the various sides. No question that Ashton is there to protect the interests of London, Berlin and Paris but there is always a good and bad way in doing it. Let’s take one thing at a time.

Starting from the most important issue, the situation in Ukraine, there are many people who believe that President Yanukovych signed that deal with the opposition to gain time. If the protestor camps in the center of Kiev are abandoned and life in the Ukrainian capital returns to normal, it’s very possible that Yanukovych may forget about his signature. He has done that many times in the past. Not to forget that everything started when he left the EU out in the cold after two years of negotiations and threw in the dustbin a ready to be signed Association Agreement, for which Brussels had spent a lot of money. After that nobody trusts him.

The problem is also that the details of this agreement have not become known. The German ministry of Foreign Affairs published the body of the text but there are addendums. The fact that during the negotiations to draft it, there was a personal envoy of the Russian President Putin present, confuses things a bit, raising questions if Moscow is in agreement or not. Western diplomats signed as witness but the Russian envoy didn’t.

Implementing a difficult agreement

Of course the implementation of the agreement is a completely different thing. For one thing, the implementation timetable spans until December this year for calling an early election. Nine to ten months is a very long political time. In the between a lot may change and alter the picture. No doubt Yanukovych will challenge the agreement with the slightest opportunity. Then comes the money.

No doubt that any government of Ukraine will be faced with very difficult options. The truth is though that no government can restore the economy without outside help. Russia has already put a number on the table, it’s a $15 billion rescue package plus a generous reduction in gas supplies from state monopoly Gasprom. However, twice so far Moscow has withheld the programme, any time Yanukovych made serious concessions to the opposition. Understandably, the Russian aid pack is now up in the air and it’s the turn of the European Union and the West in general, to make an offer. Brussels sources say that there won’t be a drastically new proposal and the Association Agreement is always on the table, providing for a lot of things and money.

In any case, the truth is that Moscow is not out of the game. The fact that Barack Obama had to talk to Putin yesterday night about Ukraine, is an infallible witness of that. The blood that now divides the two Ukrainian sides cannot be bought with money and the West and Moscow will protect their sides with everything they got. It was like that in Syria where the Russians quite effectively challenged the US even militarily. When the Americans talked about missiles the Russians said ‘we have the cure for that too’. Moscow has managed to keep the Assad regime alive and kicking and actually gaining the ground battle on many occasions.

Moscow won’t let Ukraine to drift westwards

As things now stand in Ukraine, the tens of dead and the hundreds of wounded have created a no turning back situation. No side is willing to let its own people to be hassled by the other part. Protestors were freely showing their guns to TV footages, not hindding the fact they were armed too. The agreement contains a term saying that illegally held weapons should be returned to the state authorities. This means the opposition accepts that protestors are armed with firearms.

All in all, this is the third time that Russia and the West are coming to an open conflict. In the first case it was Libya where the Kremlin actually didn’t engage actively in military conflict with the West, leaving the ground open for Europe and the US to win the game. The result is that today Ashton felt free to speak about a successful referendum held in Libya knowing very well that only 497,663 people voted in a country of 6.5 million.

The picture changed completely in Syria. There, the Russians had a very strong military presence and challenged the West in every way. It seems that their strategy is winning and Damascus and Assad will be the central reference of a solution or rather a partition, of a once well governed country. This fact has established Moscow as a considerable player in the Middle East, with influence now in Egypt and even in Israel. All these facts mean that Moscow will not let Ukraine to drift westwards that easily. Given that Crimea has already contemplated to join Russia, it’s easy to understand what Moscow will ask for, in bargaining with the West over Ukraine. Not to forget that in the eastern provinces of the country people speak Russian and feel nearer to Moscow than to Berlin or Brussels. Moscow won’t pull out from Ukraine, just because Yanukovych signed a deal with the opposition.

 

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