While EU envoys to Kiev were patting themselves on the back for twisting the arm of Ukraine’s beleaguered leader, President Viktor Yanukovych had made a hasty exit. ‘Peaceful’ demonstrators in Independence Square were still baying for his blood even after he signed an agreement to early elections, a reversion to the 2004 constitution clawing back presidential powers - as well as the formation of a unity government!
The deal is now off. Parliament has voted to impeach the President, a move that has been welcomed by the White House, notwithstanding that its constitutionality is questionable. Yanukovych, who was democratically-elected, says he’s the victim of a parliamentary ‘coup’. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has blasted opposition leaders for reneging on their agreed obligations, accusing them of “following the lead of armed extremists and pogromists, whose actions pose direct threat to Ukraine’s sovereignty and constitutional order”.
Former prime minister and icon of the 2004 Orange Revolution Yulia Tymoshenko was hastily released from prison, cutting short her seven-year sentence for abuse of powers. Hours later, she made an emotional speech to the crowds in the Maidan that pressed all the right buttons but was met with a lukewarm reaction. Some analysts believe the country is ripe for splitting into two with western Ukraine falling into the EU’s geopolitical orbit and the Russian-speaking east/southeast becoming closer to Moscow. Any move in that direction has its dangers. Russia isn’t going to fade away quietly.
On Saturday, thousands of Yanukovych loyalists gathered in the southeastern city of Kharkov where local deputies vowed to reject the authority of Kiev in favour of their own alternative government. The Moscow Times quotes a Russian foreign policy official as saying, “We will not allow Europe and the US to take Ukraine from us…” The Financial Times spoke to a “senior government official’ who warned that Crimea that hosts Russia’s Black Sea fleet is a red line. “If Ukraine breaks apart, it will trigger a war,” he said. For the sake of argument, let’s imagine that an interim government delivers hope, the anger on the street dissipates and all sides kiss and make up. Then what? There remains a small problem that is largely skirted over by media, whose cameras have focused on starry-eyed idealists huddled in the Maidan braving icy temperatures for ‘freedom’, largely overlooking the masked neo-Nazis, ultra-nationalists and rent-a-mobs turning paving stones into missiles. France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius spelled it out, admitting the Ukrainian economy is ‘appalling’. If it’s bad now it’s likely to get worse, unless Brussels puts its money where its mouth is. The EU in partnership with the US, broke it, and should, therefore, be up to fixing it. That, of course is a tall order at a time when EU countries have been forced to tighten their belts.
Major gateway to Russia
It’s doubtful that further disbursements of Russia’s $15 billion (Dh55 billion) largesse will remain on the table under current circumstances and, indeed, Kiev owes Russian companies $2.7 billion in unpaid gas bills. Russia could pull the plug on Ukrainian exports, currently worth over $18 billion annually and rescind its offer of cheap gas.
Without hefty financial assistance from abroad, Ukraine will default on its debts and will struggle to borrow now that Standard and Poor’s has downgraded its credit rating. Severance from Moscow could also adversely impact Ukrainian industries bound up with Russian investment in the east and southeast, such as coalfields and steel plants.
Last week, President Barack Obama said US disagreement with Russia on Ukraine (and Syria) does not signal a new “Cold War chessboard” but that’s exactly what it looks like. The EU does not stand to benefit greatly from a closer relationship with Kiev, whereas Ukraine is not only historically, culturally, militarily and economically tied to its giant neighbour, as a major gateway to Russia it is set to be an integral player in the Russian Customs Union.
Ukraine is caught in a tug of war primarily because western capitals have been unable to shirk-off their Cold War mentality and are holding out false hope to 46 million Ukrainians. If Ukrainians believe they will now bask in the warmth of an EU embrace, they may be in for a disappointment. Full EU membership could take years, if not decades and Brussels won’t be in a hurry to permit Ukrainians visa-free travel around Europe. Furthermore if there is an EU aid package in the offing that would likely be contingent on an IMF loan attached to unpalatable strings.
Who can doubt that the US has been the puppet-master all along. The foul-mouthed US Assistant Secretary-of-State, Victoria Nuland was heard drawing up Ukraine’s future during a tapped phone call to the US Ambassador to Kiev. And during a speech at the US National Press Club she proudly revealed that Washington had forked-out $5 billion over the years to encourage pro-western sentiment in Ukraine, which translates to fomenting revolution. Bravo! Her job in Ukraine almost done, she’ll leave the Ukrainian people to pick up the pieces. Never mind there’s plenty of scope for provocateurs in Venezuela!–Gulf News