Archive for October 8th, 2012

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After the elections – Is what happens to Ukraine that important to its neighbours?

October 8, 2012

Naturally there is a lot of interest in the forthcoming elections in Ukraine – particularly so by its immediate neighbours.  To be frank, there always has been since independence was dumped in the lap of Ukraine.

In fact the degree of meddling, both overtly, covertly, cleverly, clumsily, diplomatically and politically, either through direct channels or indirect channels, at a high level or at low, using carrot or stick, is continuous both from East and West respectively.

Both East and West would claim that both would like Ukraine to join their ranks – but neither need it to do so.

Indeed, in August I was sat with a high level diplomat from an EU nation in a hotel in Odessa, who said exactly that – and it is true – but only up to a point – for both East and West alike.

At many levels, Ukraine has little importance to the West or East, whether it plays along with them or not.  It can indeed create more headaches when it does than when it doesn’t.  Cooperation with this or that project, adherence to this or that policy – or not – whilst possibly briefly headline-making if in the public realm, or putting a smile or furrowed brow on the policy makers behind the thrones privately within the corridors of power, rarely addresses the overarching geopolitical and socioeconomic importance of Ukraine to both centres of power East and West.

Without Ukraine, the EU’s Eastern Partnership is meaningless.  That much has been declared openly by many Brussels bureaucrats and diplomats in numerous statements released and/or leaked to the media in recent years.  The failure of that EU policy would be no big deal if Ukraine remained in a grey zone between the EU and the East.  It is though a huge gamble to think that would happen.

Likewise, the Eurasia Union as championed by Moscow, also strives to include Ukraine despite the headaches Ukraine causes Moscow currently.

For those who would pooh-pooh the Eurasian Union concept, I would suggest a rethink.  In fact I have been suggesting such a rethink sporadically on this blog since the autumn of 2011.

I would not be the only one to make that suggestion either.  Both Chatham House and the Carnegie Endowment warn against such complacency.  In fact both consider the Eurasian Union not only likely to become a reality, but also a significant reality that the EU needs to prepare for.

Ergo, whichever Ukraine eventually signs up to – The EU’s DCFTA and AA (and possible membership eventually) or the Russian led Eurasian Union, the ramifications for either side are immense in the grand scheme of things – if not appearing so important in and amongst the minutiae of individual working policies in and of themselves.

Should Ukraine go east, immediately the EU’s EaP would be a nonsense, which as I have already written has been acknowledged by many in Brussels.  Any future EU plans to formally expand eastwards in the next 50 years, also scuppered to any meaningful degree.

Should Ukraine head west, then the Eurasian Union is forced to head east and south-east for meaningful members  whilst allowing a large EU geopolitical, socioeconomic beast to sit along 3000 kilometers of Eurasian Union (Russia and Belarus) borders.

I see no reason to delve into the issues of natural resources, prime agricultural land etc as reasons for the importance of Ukraine to either side, and they are important, but I am more interested in outlining the psychological gains and  losses to the grand plans of both east and west on a global level, that are dependent upon the direction Ukraine eventually takes.

Global perception of Ukraine choosing one over the other has ramifications.

So after the elections, regardless of winners and losers, regardless of them being declared free and fair or not, regardless of the aftermath undoubtedly putting further strain on relations with Ukrainian neighbours east and west one way or another, will either side really disengage with Ukraine?

No.

Despite all the rhetoric past, present, and that to come in the future, very big and very long term plans will be significantly affected by the final resting place of Ukraine within the scheming of others.

Where ever that place finally be, it will not be the end of either supra-structural economic block, but it will have a significant psychological effect on both winners and losers engaged in the tug-o-war over the Ukrainian direction and how those supra-structures will be viewed by those outside looking in just as much as those within the structures themselves.

In this battle, 2015 will be a key year.  Not only is it the year the Eurasian Union formally emerges as a supra-structure aimed at balancing EU geopolitical and socioeconomic weight on the Eurasian continent, but it is also the year that President Yanukovych is also up for reelection.

Also by 2015, the German elections will have occurred (2013) and European Parliament elections (2014), meaning any treaty changes to Lisbon, and therefore the shaping of an EU that Ukraine may – or may not – ultimately join, will have been framed no sooner than the end of 2014  at the earliest.

One has to suspect that should Yanukovych be reelected, before the end of his second and final term in 2020, a strategic choice between the EU’s DCFTA, AA (and eventual membership) and the Eurasian Union and immediate membership will have been made, signed and sealed.

From an EU perspective, the sooner something moves the better, as public opinion per recent polls is decidedly reversing and heading eastwards once again with regards to the preferred polarity of any future economic integration – no doubt a sentiment in some part fueled by the continuing farce of the Euro and Eurozone issue.

From a Eurasion Union perspective, the longer the EU fails to deal with the Eurozone issues allowing Ukrainian society to ponder the lack of leadership and consequences of its inactions in Greece, Italy, France et al, all who have seen serious and sporadic on-going civil disobedience, not to mention the current EU political ill-wind blowing towards all things Ukrainian, the better.

All in all – there is still a lot of  meddling, both overtly, covertly, cleverly, clumsily, diplomatically and politically, either through direct channels or indirect channels, at a high level or at low, using carrot or stick, to be done with respect to Ukraine and the grand plans of the EU and Eurasian Union.

What?  Oh!  No – option 3, Ukraine dealing with both equally is not an option in either grand plan – whether Ukraine likes it or not.

An interesting 5 – 7 years ahead, as that will determine the final outcome – an outcome I would not like to predict, despite the rhetoric in the public realm.

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