European Movement UK

Britain's future is with Europe! Join the debate and put your opinion forward!

by Dr Carol Weaver///

The European Union has been confronted with a Cold War style situation long expected by Russia’s neighbours in the Black Sea region. Understanding exactly what is happening can be very challenging due to the massive worldwide propaganda campaign. Also, the main player, President Putin, has many contingency plans and is considering his options.

One of these options could be to try to further destabilise eastern and southern regions in Ukraine and hope that the local population, terrified by Russian TV stories of nazis and fascists rampaging in the western part of the country, will welcome Russian troops with open arms.

However, despite the fact that Ukraine is to some extent split between east and west, the vast majority of people want to be part of an independent, sovereign and unified Ukraine, not the federalised Ukraine now envisaged by Russia.

But they also want an end to the appalling corruption, especially amongst the elite. They hope that an Association Agreement with the EU and the resulting need to adopt European values will help to put an end to kleptocratic governments and the corrupt system in place since Ukraine’s independence. Many would like Ukraine to become a member of the European Union (but until recently, at least, have thought that Nato membership was a step too far due to the need to keep good relations with their Russian neighbours).

With regard to EU-Ukraine relations, President Yanukovych initialled the Association Agreement in 2012 and was expected to sign it at Vilnius in late 2013. So the announcement that he would not sign, and was moving closer to Russia instead, meant that the people had to act urgently or accept greater Russian domination. Both the east and west of Ukraine feared Russia’s actions (although some in Crimea might have thought they would prosper more under Russia). The crowds at the Maidan, and indeed some of those shot, included eastern Ukrainians and Crimeans, Russians, Armenians and Belarusians who all believed that President Putin desired to recreate a kind of Russian Empire, possibly via the so-called Eurasian Union.

During these dramatic events, it was obvious that President Yanukovych would not resign easily as he not only wanted to keep his ill-gotten gains, but feared that he would be imprisoned, or worse, if he did. He managed to thwart a vote of no confidence by the elected Rada (parliament), dismissed the hated PM Azarov and offered the job to the parliamentary leader of Tymoshenko’s party, Yatseniuk who initially declined but later accepted the position after Yanukovych had fled.

Under Yatseniuk the Rada was able to vote through laws fairly quickly and they reverted to the 2004 more parliamentary constitution rather than the more presidential one used by Yanukovych. This means that the new president in May should have less power. (At this point in time it seems that the most likely winner will be Poroshenko, although Tymoschenko has also announced she is running and out of the favourites she could be Putin’s choice).

With regards to the possibility of armed conflict, it seems likely that Ukraine will fight back if there is any more Russian incursion into the country, a development that could have disastrous consequences. It is also possible that President Putin could use more destabilising tactics to try to justify interference in other countries that were once part of the Russian dominated USSR.

The fact though, remains, that most of the citizens of the region, including liberal minded Russians, feel that their identity is European. They believe in democracy and European values. Some of them even died whilst protesting underneath the flag of Europe.

The EU has been quick in addressing the demands of the Maidan uprising. The political part of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU has now been signed and the EU has promised a significant package of financial assistance. President Putin may well see this as some kind of annexation by the EU but this is not the case. The EU is not an empire but a voluntary agreement between 28 countries. Many in Ukraine would love to be in the EU but what’s on the table at the moment is not a membership perspective.

Nevertheless it is time for all of the countries of Europe, including Russia, to genuinely embrace the values to which they have subscribed via the Council of Europe and other international organisations. There is a strong impetus towards these values in Ukraine, where the European Movement is now being established in order to provide a platform to support and bring together civil society groups across the country.

The people of Ukraine have lived through very hard times. The vast majority are peace-loving people who wish for and deserve a brighter European future. They should be given the opportunity to pursue it.

Dr Carol Weaver is the author of ‘The Politics of the Black Sea Region: EU neighbourhood, conflict zone or future security community?’ (Ashgate Publishing, 2013). She represents the European Movement UK in the European Movement International (EMI) International Committee and is a founder member of EMI’s Tbilisi Process for peace building between the people of Armenia and Azerbaijan. In early March she was a member of the EMI delegation to Kyiv.


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