Can Europe Make It?

Ukrainians are in the EU, even if Ukraine isn’t

If Brussels doesn’t learn its lesson from a tactical defeat by Russia and prepare a plan for secure economic integration with Ukraine, tens of millions of Europeans will remain outside of the EU’s borders.

Slawomir Sierakowski
30 November 2013

Demotix/Zoya Shu. Some rights reserved.

The European Union has let itself be outplayed by Russia in the struggle over Ukrainian integration. The EU Partnership Summit in Vilnius did not result in the signing of the Association Agreement with Ukraine. It is hard to believe that all it took was so open and primitive a ploy as the embargo imposed by Russia on certain Ukrainian goods several days ago.

Moldova, placed in a similar situation, is bravely hanging on. Ukraine’s trade with Russia is of a similar volume to its trade with the EU, and EU investments in Ukraine are ten times larger than Russia’s. Of course the EU has nothing to be afraid of, which is why it lost. It also lost because it failed to take Ukraine seriously and offer assistance at an adequate level. EU politicians’ stories to the effect that ‘integration is not a trade fair’, contain about as much truth as Yanukovich’s pronouncements that he is upholding human rights. Everyone knows that the greatest marketplace in Europe is not Kapalıçarşı in Istanbul, but the headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels.

Proposing Ukrainian integration with the EU at the cost of ruining hundreds of companies and a sudden drop in competitiveness, with a concurrent loss of Russian markets (and, at the same time, fulfilling IMF loan conditions, that involve freezing wage growth, implementing significant budget cuts, and increasing consumer gas prices by 40 percent), is like inviting a poor man for dinner at the most expensive restaurant in town and informing him that he will be responsible for his own bill.

This time around Poland was defeated, but not alone. Putin also thumbed his nose at Berlin and Brussels. And this might be the “positive minus” of the Vilnius summit. There were declarations – strong ones, coming from Jose-Manuel Barroso - such as, “We know how much ordinary Ukrainians feel themselves to be Europeans! We will not abandon them,” or Herman van Rompuy’s words: “We must not submit to Russian pressure.”

We will see. After the Vilnius summit, the ball is definitely in Brussels’ court. If the EU wants to take its own intentions seriously, it should prepare a plan for secure economic integration with Ukraine. This is a basic precondition for fulfilling the EU’s fundamental mission, that is, ensuring lasting peace in Europe.

A Russia swallowing Ukraine is fodder for imperialism and an obliteration of realistic prospects for democratizing the Kremlin. A Russia without Ukraine is a farewell to empire and an end to the Russian authorities’ disregard for their own citizens, who must be distinguished from Putin and his Putinoids. This also represents the only chance for good EU-Russian relations, contrary to the hopes of some European politicians, who believed that they could reach a direct agreement with Russia over the heads of smaller nations.

Integration with Moldova and Georgia without Ukraine is geopolitical nonsense. Nevertheless, Rompuy and Barroso have announced that the just-initialed agreements should be signed as quickly as possible. This is a source of constant friction in relations between Moscow and Brussels, and so represents hope that the EU can avoid embracing Putin at the cost of Ukraine, although assuming anything other than cynicism confronted by today’s politics is self-delusion.

Putin has outplayed the politicians, but he has lost with the Ukrainians themselves. All of a sudden, about 20 per cent of the population wants integration with Russia, far fewer than those who want integration with the EU. And this is the greatest achievement of the recent negotiations. Ukraine has not yet signed the Association Agreement with the EU. But it has been signed by the country’s active citizens, without Yanukovich.

Translated by Maria Blackwood

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