A twitter chat with Jacek Saryusz-Wolski

August 26, 2013

I have written a few entries lately that have been republished by the nice people at EastBook.EU both in the original English, but also translated into Polish and Russian too.  Once again, many thanks.

Much to my surprise, yesterday evening having imbibed slightly too much red wine than is good for me owing to celebration of Ukrainian independence, I saw some of my entries being tweeted by none other than Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (@JSaryuszWolski) who happens to be the Vice President of the European People’s Party within the European Parliament – Blimey!

To be precise, this one and this one – tweeting both English and Polish versions.

Needless to say, I made a mental note that I should perhaps actually read through what I write prior pressing “Publish” without even a cursory attempt to edit my ruminations – although they don’t read too badly on reflection.

Anyway, a small twitter exchange occurred between us and it seems that what caught his eye in the second entry he was so kindly disseminating to his twitter following, was this paragraph – “Despite the Customs Union (read Russia) framing the Ukrainian future choice in purely economic terms whenever and wherever it can, Russian concern relates to its desire to keep a nation with a perceived shared history, culture and language looking toward it favourably.  The perception of Ukraine turning its back on Russia for the EU will present difficult questions for those in the Kremlin when ordinary Russians in huge numbers begin to ask whether the chosen Ukrainian direction is in fact the right direction – and shouldn’t Russia be following that route too?”

Well, all very clever and possibly quite insightful of me – but is it realistic to think that could actually turn out to be the case?

Why not? – Now matter how far back in history we want to go, events are normally regional (if not global).  Be it the Mongol Hordes, Napoleon, the Tzars, Ottomans, Austro-Hungarians, the 1917 Revolution or Axis sweeping across the European Continent in full or in part, in the rare instances where national borders became robust borders as far as direct consequences may be concerned, the indirect ripples, many of which were and remain long lasting relating to such regional occurrences, were not prevented by national borders.

During most of those events I list – and many others – the actions of neighbours are not insulated by national borders.  Direct or indirect but often profound repercussions are the reality.

As such either directly or indirectly over the centuries, what has happened to Ukraine has happen to Russia and vice versa.  Culture, religion, history and language all have considerable similarities over large periods of time that simply cannot be undone – despite any differences, the similarities and consistencies loom large and frame the Russian perception of Ukraine today, just as it has historically.

Therefore, should Ukraine and the EU manage to make even a half-decent show of the Association Agreement in its implementation and resulting outcomes – and let us not delude ourselves that even after signing a fully compliant Ukraine will emerge – but should this occur, then questions within an already grumbling Russian middle class will begin to manifest themselves into a more robust and complex political animal that may well challenge those currently sat in the Kremlin.

What would be the result on Russian middle class psyche if Ukraine and the EU not only manage to make a notable (if not perfect) go of things and Ukrainians were granted Visa-free throughout Schengen whilst those in Russia still had to go through the often degrading, very intrusive and simply annoying bureaucracy of getting Visas?

As I have written before, relying on the Ukrainian political class or civil society to get the EU message across to Ukrainian society is wasted energy.  It is necessary to go direct.  The same is certainly true of Russia.  There is nothing more individual by way of direct diplomacy than freedom of movement across borders where once intrusive and expensive bureaucracy once stood.

How long would it be before Russians started asking  “shouldn’t Russia be following that route too?” when their perceived Ukrainian kin seem to be enjoying benefits denied them?

Can Ukrainian direction affect the direction of Russia? – Given the perceived kinship felt by Russia towards Ukraine, given time I think so – if there are benefits to be seen denied to our northern neighbour that would be coveted.

As Jack Saryusz-Wolski closed our twitter chat with “Polityka jest sztuką robienia maksimum,w granicach tego co możliwe” – or in English, “Politics is the art of making maximum, within the limits of what is possible.” – I closed with “And diplomacy is the art of letting others have it your way.

Let’s see whether those two statements not only have a profound effect on Ukraine in the immediate term (on the assumption that the association agreement be signed and delivers tangible results – which is by no means assured), but also by extension over time on Russian direction too as demanded by society.

Perhaps not – but hope is a peculiarly human trait.

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