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Ukraine: Now What?

Posted on the 02 December 2013 by Charlescrawford @charlescrawford

My latest piece for Telegraph Blogs looks in (very) broad terms at Ukraine:

In 1994 the EU Ambassadors had a meeting in Moscow at which they opined on the then reforms under President Yeltsin. The Belgian Ambassador grumbled that Russia was just too big, too communist and too "Asian" to change its ways and adopt modern pluralism: “Russia will always be on the edge of Europe”. The wily German ambassador replied that this was the wrong way to look at it: “Europe will always be on the edge of Russia”.

They were both right. And once again Ukraine finds itself unhappily divided on that tense civilisational borderline.

Ukraine is part of the vast geographic flatness that stretches from the North Sea over to the Urals. For centuries Ukrainian-speakers have found themselves squeezed between Russian power to the East, and Polish or German power to the West. Ukraine had no independent existence as a state until the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991. So whereas in Poland a national memory of independence between the World Wars helped drive resistance to Soviet communism, until 1991 no one in Ukraine had experienced anything other than rule from Moscow. [Note: as a commenter at Tel Blogs fairly points out, this last claim is not 100% true]

When the USSR dissolved, Ukraine struggled to get moving as a new state. The fact that up to 30 per cent of Ukrainians spoke Russian gave Moscow considerable weight in Ukrainian politics. Many of the smartest Ukrainians stayed in Moscow and took on Russian citizenship. At one negotiation in the early 1990s between Russia and Ukraine over the decaying Black Sea Fleet, there were more Ukrainian-speakers on the Russian side of the table than on Ukraine’s.

In the two decades since communism ended the Ukrainians have seen Poland and other former communist Slavic countries start to move ahead fast and join first Nato than the European Union.

This has given Ukrainians a new existential choice. Are they first and foremost Europeans and part of the democratic tradition to their West? Or are they rather part of a Russia-led Slav community of peoples that shares some features of European pluralism but takes its lead dutifully from Moscow? Above all, who decides?

That last question is of course the key one. Kto kogo?

Interesting generational issues are now emerging. Any Ukrainian under the age of 30 has only at best hazy youthful recollections of the Soviet Union - those under 25 have none at all. So these web-savvy young people are a lot less interested in Soviet-era iconography and adoring V Putin, wanting instead some of the hope and obvious prosperity they can detect across the border in Poland. Just as Poles are moving to the UK to find better jobs, plenty of young Ukrainians are popping over into Poland to do the same. 

The problem they face is that the EU in current mode can offer Ukraine nothing but a long shopping-list of dull if not painful reforms, and not much money to support them. That said, the Association Agreement package on offer with the associated changes in many aspects of the law to help harmonise the Ukrainian economy with EU standards gives Ukraine a chance to do far better. This fine piece by the always insightful Anders Aslund over at Foreign Policy gives a lot of gritty detail about the scale of the corruption now dragging Ukraine downwards.

Prospects? Poor.

There is no reason to think that the feisty demonstrators command a clear majority of support across Ukraine as a whole. If the current elite falls (as they richly deserve to do), a new set of oligarch-friendly leaders may well replace them with no real change. The Aslund piece warns that the Ukrainian economy and its foreign exchnage reserves are now badly depleted, so if there is no serious confidence-building reform package in sight it is unclear how long the whole sorry mess can stagger on without much more radical disruptions and upheavals.

Above all, there is not much we in the EU all can do, even if we were minded to do something which we mainly aren't.

Ukraine is just too big to be helped if it does not massively help itself. Perhaps if Russia sees the prospect of instability across Ukraine it will decide to throw its weight behind something more sensible? But for this purpose what or who is 'Russia'? The situation there is no less grim according to many economic and social indicators. The decadent KGB-oligarchocracy may just prefer to plunder the whole space into the ground?

Check out my Telegraph Blogs piece and the many deranged comments from and deranged UKiPpers it has prompted:

Charles Crawford - another Eton chump whose own diplomatic career was a resounding failure

Let's burn an effigy of Charles Crawford - the neocon numpty keen to dismantle democratic government in Ukraine, in favour of erecting a huge statue of Herman Van Rompouy in the center of Kreschatik

Comrade Charles Crawford - a mindless simpleton - told to think the way his masters in Brussels tell him

What utter foolish gutless GARBAGE you prattle, Crawford. You are a spineless sack of neocon SCUM, paid to talk-up Mr Barrosso and Mr Rompouy. In better days, the heads of TRAITORS like you were chopped off and displayed on London Bridge.

Plus some rather more helpful ones about the whole business, including from some people who actually know something about Ukraine and the wider drama it represents.

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