The Grand Area, Ukaine and political idealism verses reality

June 10, 2011

Well dear readers, this has the potential to be a very long and quite possibly controversial post disliked in part by almost every reader. The reason is foreign policy, and not that of Ukraine alone, but where it fits in the puzzle.

Out there in the blogosphere exists every opinion you can imagine on every subject and debate on every subject imaginable is on-going.

Recently, The Democratist blog had this piece featured by the Kyiv Post. I know because Democratist emailed me to tell me, knowing I do not read the Kyiv Post due to its biased agenda. Needless to say, this particular Democratist post fitted nicely with the Kyiv Post agenda (or it would not be featured there). Whilst good news for the Democratist when it comes to readership numbers, it of course drew the attention of those who recognise the Kyiv Post and its agenda for what it is. The Democratist piece drew the attention of The Kremlin Stooge blog and this retort.

I will not dwell on the short-comings of the Kyiv Post editorial policy and overt bias, suffice to say it is unfortunate it is the only major English language media outlet in Ukraine at the moment. I understand that competition is on the way. One suspects a bias in the other direction which is as equally as disappointing. A neutral English language, Ukraine based media outlet? – We can only live in hope, although I expect there will be a long wait.

I am not going to ruminate over the rightly identified issues relating to Freedom House by the Kremlin Stooge. Suffice to say that to grade the perceived freedom of a nation on a very small straw poll of NGO’s and academics, all of whom have a personal or organisational political view when completing surveys for Freedom House, is not necessarily representative of the average persons thoughts.

It only takes one look at the US blogosphere to see a perception amongst what appears to be a large number of people of a slip from Utopia to Orwell’s 1984 in the USA, with numerous contraventions of basic rights as guaranteed under the US Constitution trampled into the mud. Reading such things you will expect the US to slide from “free” to “partly free” in the next Freedom House rankings but I very much doubt that will happen due to “who” and “how” method the poll results are constructed from.

The Kremlin Stooge makes a very good point regarding the US support of dictatorships and one which has been well questioned in the MSM of late. It also mentions the “colour revolutions” as, historically, does The Democratist.

This is where I would like this post to concentrate. Let’s dispense with the media labeling of revolutions being coloured and look at the issue more broadly before coming back to Ukraine.

From a US policy position it is necessary to return to WWI, the creation of Woodrow Wilson’s foreign policies and the later creation of the “Grand Area” policy in the late 1940’s after WWII. Both of these policies still drive US foreign policy, probably leading to the current global situation that turned the US from the global largest creditor to the global largest debtor. As a Russian diplomat once said to a gathered few, “Everything is linked, even when it isn’t” – Wise words when it comes to international policy and diplomacy. Everything relates to cause and effect, critical mass and velocity.

Anyway, at it’s core, there are four basic principles (possibly five) to Wilsonian foreign policies by way of military intervention and they can crudely be classed as relating to the protection from self-harm in a foreign sovereign state, retribution for a criminal act (even if not directed at the US), introducing political solutions (exporting democracy at gun point), solution of “a problem” by military force, and the fifth, possibly, is joining the bandwagon on multinational actions.

These have of course been “re-framed” over the years so that (as an example) “protection from self-harm” can now read “protection of civilians” if the politics suit. The realpolitik remains the same in essence, and that is insuring an outcome that is preferred.

Almost everyone knows about the Wilsonion policies so I will not labour the point. The “Grand Area” is not discussed so much but is an official policy, now no longer restricted information, and is discussed here by Noam Chomsky.

There is of course nothing new in what Chomsky says other than confirming the existence and policy relating to the “Grand Area” and quoting from it. The “Grand Area” is in effect, a policy that was designed to control large areas of the globe through economic and military might, come what may, by the US during the period at the end of WWII and going forward. The minimum area was to be the West, Far East and Middle East. By and large it has been reasonably successful, no doubt due to the consistent traction the policy has had under every US President since WWII.

The problem now, as highlighted by The Kremlin Stooge, is that previously supported dictatorships are now falling and that loss of previously US sponsored regional stability is now somewhat unknown as to the outcome. The prospect of democracy is a distabilising factor for the “Grand Area”.

Looking back at Ukrainian history since independence, as Kremlin Stooge reasonably points out, FDI in Ukraine was very high under ex-President Kuchma. More than President Yushenko who followed and currently more than under Yanukovych (although he inherited a global recession to be fair). Kuchma was of course very much a vital pawn in the expansion and firming of the “Grand Area”. That was until he blotted his copy book with the US via deals with Iran amongst other issues.

For the conspiracy theorists, who may or may not be right, the next election which turned out to be the catalyst for the “Orange Revolution” would be a key opportunity to destabilise and then re-stabilise Ukraine in a far more friendly (and subservient) mode. Who better than ex-President Yushenko who was fortunately married to a woman who had worked for the US Government and was born a US citizen?

Leaving conspiracy theories behind, there is very little doubt that various NGO’s were very active during this particular election. Anyone living here at the time couldn’t fail to miss it. The issue with NGO’s is who is behind them. Some are government (like the UK behind the British Council), others are private people. It is no secret that George Soros finances certain NGO’s here. All exist for a reason and some of those reasons are not as transparent as they claim to be. Such are the games of politics and diplomacy.

Regardless of whether the 2004/5 election was fixed or not, the fact that NGO’s and non domestic State actors were exceptionally busy at this time in Ukraine is something that must be recognised.

Whether the “Orange Revolution” was about heading “West” and away from Russia as some commentators would say is also debatable. It is possible it was based on the perception (rightly or wrongly) that the Ukrainian population held that the vote was rigged and they were therefore not protesting to “head West” but protesting that they wanted their votes to count and not be a window dressing for perceived “democracy”. Even today the general population would vote overwhelmingly not to join NATO which is hardly an attitude of a population wanting to move “West” at any costs since 2004.

The end result was that President Yushenko was sworn in after much behind the scenes negotiations and Constitutional Amendments that subsequently made Ukraine “ungovernable” to quote Yulia Tymoshenko when she was Prime Minister. It is enough to say that the Yushenko/Tymoshenko era was something of a let down both within and to those external of Ukraine. In fighting and political stagnation for 5 years followed.

In fact, I remember in 2007 Ukraine was without a government for 6 months during one of President Yushenko’s “dissolving moments” relating to the RADA. In most countries the public would think the sky was falling in. Here nothing changed. Nobody was bothered. A reflection of the inability of the then leadership that they weren’t even missed by society?

Such political stagnation and in-fighting is not a good thing for the “Grand Area”. It is destabilising and frustrating. It led to Ukraine fatigue across Europe and also in the USA. It also led to now President Yanukovych being elected last year and installing a fairly linear line of power having reverted back to the original Constitution (legally or not is a matter of debate).

Unfortunately that is also not quite as effective as some commentators would have us believe. If it was true, Yanukovych would not have vetoed on several occasions, major laws leaving the RADA. He would also not be struggling to get the RADA to pass laws that are necessary relating to reforms promised. It should be a rubber stamping exercise if he had the linear power that he is credited with and yet the Tax Code, Pension reform and numerous other critical issues are lagging in the RADA whilst the turkeys refuse to willingly vote for Christmas and reform as he wants. If he was the omnipresent and repressive character he is made out to be, there would be no delays in the RADA over reform, particularly in the face of no unity within the opposition.

Diplomacy and negotiation with the EU has never been so forthright, consistent and with such momentum from both sides before. Surprising that this is the case with a president that is portrayed at “pro-Kremlin”. That said, you have to believe that Yanukovych is pro-Kremlin to be surprised. Thus far, the Kremlin has little to be grateful for from the Yanukovych administration.

The lack of opposition is yet another issue. Whilst the media decries the “political persecution” of Tymoshenko despite PACE stating there is nothing illegal about her being investigated, the lack of opposition unity relates to the differing positions of the opposition and not repression.

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend” seems to be the idealism that Ms Tymoshenko expects all to unite under. That is incredibly simplistic. Ms Tymoshenko (and her EEP allies within the EU) are all left of centre on the political spectrum. She is a member of the socialist collective in general terms when it comes to policy (or the lack of). Much of the other opposition parties are central or right of centre in their ideology. Her last coalition government had a RADA majority of just 1. It is not surprising that a central or right of centre opposition party would not want her as a figurehead.

A majority of 1 and consistent in-fighting is not the stability expected by the EU or the US in the “Grand Area” plan. as democracy, by default, is not stability but instability in many respects within the “Grand Area” in which Ukraine falls. It is why the US supported or installed dictators for decades over and above democracy across the globe.

It is why, now, despite numerous criticisms (some justified and others not), President Yanukovych will continue to have the support of the leadership of the EU and USA. What is allegedly or seemingly lost in non-tangibles such as democracy (and the instability it brings) is a substantial gain when it comes to stability. We should recall how quickly “the West” recognised the last presidential vote regardless of the accusations of foul play by Yulia Tymoshenko.

Kuchma was correct when he said that the choice for the Ukrainian voter was between bad and very bad at the last presidential elections. He was also right that Tymoshenko would have been a far worse President than Yanukovych. That is true not only for Ukraine but the neighbourhood as well.

Undoubtedly there will be general back-slapping all round the “Grand Area” of a job eventually done when the EU and Ukraine sign and ratify the DCFTA and AA agreements to the probable angst of Russia. In a way it comes at a difficult time when anti-Russian rhetoric is at a low and would have been far more easily accommodated between 2006 and 2008 when then President Yushenko was acting in a far more anti-Russian manner, as was parts of the “West” after the spat with Georgia.

As the timing is now not as good as it could have been, one would expect some form of olive branch to be offered to Russia, be it WTO membership, EU Visa liberalisation or some such overt act (with US support) in response to keep the “Grand Area” fairly stable after the EU and Ukraine sign on the respective dotted lines.

Whilst the “Grand Area” policy benefited very little under the Yushenko/Tymoshenko era, it seems to be benefiting much more from the Yanukovych term thus far. The difference of course is the instability of idealism verses the reality of stability.

Until the Ukrainian colours are tied firmly to the EU AA mast (with the guaranteed carrot of meeting the Copenhagen Criteria and membership in the distant future), we can expect very little realpolitik relating to anything to undermine the current Ukrainian path. It suits the EU and the “Grand Area” policy.

The Democratist is right that it will take Ukraine a very long time to get EU membership. Firstly, even if Ukraine met all the Copenhagen Criteria today, the EU would not rush to welcome it. Quite simply taking on another net receiver when it comes to EU finances does not thrill the net financial givers at this time. The EU has given clear signals that it will not be expanding for at least the next decade with regards to EU membership. Ukraine is a very large nation with massive infrastructure needs. It is a bigger geographical area than France. That takes a lot of FDI from the EU and would exceed anything that was, and currently still is, being thrown at Poland. Just not a viable political option when the austerity belt is being tightened around the EU member states.

Secondly, thus far, Ukraine has not even formally requested to be considered for EU Membership and is yet to even sign the DCFTA and AA with the EU. Both sides expect the negotiations to be complete by the end of the year though. Looking back historically, on average it takes about a decade from formal request to membership even when the Copenhagen Criteria is there or there abouts. Ukraine is some distance from reaching the Copenhagen Criteria.

Within a decade much can and will change. The EU will not be the entity it is today. It faces stark choices over the Eurozone that, whichever path taken, will lead to serious internal changes. There are major policy issues that would affect Ukraine happening now and within a few years, such as integrated transport policies and in 2013 a major shake up of the agricultural policy. Will Ukraine even want to join what the EU will morph into by the time it can realistically make a formal request and have a fair chance of acceptance?

A decade from now, even if Yanukovych won a second term, he would no longer be President and cannot stand for a third term. Would then next President see whatever the EU looks like then, as having any benefits for Ukraine from full membership? Would the currently negotiated DCFTA and AA be enough when completed?

Will Ukraine stand any chance of EU membership without the normal unwritten prerequisite of NATO membership? If not then there is a lot of hard work to do to change the opinion of the public upon whose referendum result any NATO membership would ultimately fall.

Does it not suit both Russia and the EU to allow limited progress towards the EU for Ukraine whilst both geographical areas are also happy with a large buffer zone in between? Whilst the USA is reliant upon Russia for transportation of logistics to Afghanistan, an accommodating Russia not using its veto at the UN, political necessities for START treaties etc, the Grand Area plan would not wish to back Russia and China into a forced alliance against its general principle. In effect it would make influence in Eurasia and the Far East almost impossible without horrendous consequences.

Neither the EU, NATO, the USA or any other individual western power raised much of an eyebrow when the Russian Black Sea Fleet lease was extended. The cynical amongst us would suspect there was something of a sigh of relief, as in effect, if NATO membership does become a hurdle prior to full Ukrainian EU membership, there are no decisions to be made until 2042. It is not as though the RBSF is the major naval force in the region. That honour falls to the Turkish navy which would dominate anything Russia or Ukraine, even jointly, could put out in the Black Sea.

It is important to note what happens on the slopes and in the valleys of foreign policy of course, but the metaphorical mountain tops of foreign policy such as the Grand Area plan, remain unchanged and unconcerned by such minor occurrences as the extension of the RBSF. Quite simply they are not a “game changer” as far as the Grand Area plan is concerned or in the scheme of things for anybody in relation to the timing of Ukraine joining, or not, the EU.

The current speed and trajectory of Ukraine towards the EU, pretty much suits all neighbours in the grand scheme of things, so whilst Ukrainian internal shenanigans may occasionally draw a necessary comment, they will never be so forceful as to knock Ukraine off course as far as the Grand Area plan is concerned, or stability associated with it, even at the cost of a little democracy or freedom of speech. Far better that, than the current situation in North Africa and the Middle East where the Grand Plan is under some serious pressure. Let’s not even mention China!

Unfortunately to do this subject justice, you would have to write a book or doctorate thesis and go into all the nuances of the foreign policy web. Commentators are therefore left to mull over either the smaller specifics from the slopes and valleys of policy on an individual basis or the metaphorical mountains tops of core foreign policy principle. Commentary therefore normally falls into either vision/mission statements or project managed and individual strategic parts if you will. Those issues are always made far more tricky when considering how many parties are involved and their differing positions, interests and needs that are on the table in any negotiation.

Wonderfully complex stuff and my thanks to The Democratist and The Kremlin Stooge for the necessary nudge to write about something I have been meaning to write for quite some time. Tomorrow back to the slopes and valleys though!


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  4. A very interesting and thought-provoking post. While I’d love to take credit for the “very good point regarding the US support of dictatorships”, that point was in fact made by the reference I quoted rather than I. Still, I agree with it and believe it supports the direction I wanted to go, or I wouldn’t have cited it.

    You have an insider’s knowledge of Ukrainian politics that I have not, and your speculation on what will happen in terms of presidential succession is interesting. However, while I agree Ukraine is moving toward EU membership, if it does not satisfy Russian security and economic concerns Russia is likely to veto it.

    • Greetings Kremlin Stooge. Very noble indeed for you to correct me and place credit where credit belongs regarding your reference.

      You are of course quite correct that there will have to be a very public concession to Russia should it take real umbridge at the Ukrainian DCFTA and AA agreements with the EU.

      I was last in Moscow on 1st June (which explains the appauling post of 31st May as written in various airports.)

      There seems to be a quiet resignation that barring a problem on the EU side when it comes to signing and ratification, the DCFTA and AA will happen amongst those I met.

      I do not expect any concession to make good any umbridge taken to necessarily come from Ukraine. Russia has many global interests which would benefit from EU (or US) political and vocal public support.

      We will see what happens, but one would suspect Russia will not lose out by quietly letting this happen. No doubt the diplomatic negotiations have already begun as to where and when it will benefit.

      • It’s my belief that the customs union will fail without Ukraine’s participation, and Russia very probably set it in motion out of frustration with the west’s continued stalling of Russian acceptance into the WTO despite the membership of the world’s poorest countries and worst pariah states. If Ukraine declines to participate, it would be a laughingstock with just the smaller states. Doubtless the west will pressure Ukraine and entice it with sweeteners so it can go on using the WTO to humiliate Russia.

        However, if the west expedited (ha, ha, what a laugh, it’s been dragging on for years and years) Russia’s acceptance into the WTO the customs union initiative would probably fall apart, because it was likely proposed as an alternative to the WTO and to force the west’s hand.

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