EU Referendum

Ukraine: no support from the West


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To date, we have not really made it clear on this blog that we have every sympathy with the peoples of Ukraine, and their quest for freedom. Eloquent testimony to the status of that country is given by Timothy Snyder in his piece in the Evening Standard and no one could help but be moved by it.

However, that said, no one could reasonably assert that the situation has been handled at all well over the years. There is fault and mismanagement on all sides. Thus, only someone with an almost total lack of grasp of the issues could think of writing of Putin's "unprovoked aggression".

In particular, to focus the entire blame for current developments is to neglect what appears to be a quite deliberate attempt by the interim Ukrainian government to stoke up tension in the region, with a view to pulling in external support from the West.

And that again could be some of the motivation behind current events, where armed men have been reported storming the Ukrainian-held base in Simferopol, firing automatic weapons. A Ukrainian officer is said to have been killed and other injured, while a third serviceman had leg and head injuries after being beaten with iron bars.

This attack came shortly after Putin and the leaders of Crimea signed a bill to permit the peninsula to join the Russian Federation, a move condemned by "western powers". With a G7 and EU crisis meeting called for next week in The Hague, this development is going to be high on the agenda.

Alongside that, we are seeing bellicose talk from the governor of Donetsk city, with mobilisation of the Ukrainian Army and Oleksandr Turchnynov, the country’s interim president, talking glibly of the conflict shifting to a "military stage".

Turchnynov, however, seems to be exhibiting a degree of naïvety that got Ukraine into trouble in the first place, relying on the support of the west which has yet to materialise. That naivety is evident in the recent statement from Viktor Yushchenko, co-leader of the 2004 Orange revolution. He says that Europe's long-term security depends on Ukraine's full integration into the EU and NATO, otherwise Russia would continue to destabilise the continent indefinitely.

There seems less naivety on the streets of Kiev, where a crowd of thousands of Ukrainians protested about the presence of pro-Russian soldiers in Crimea. But, where once EU flags were prominent, now only Ukrainian flags are waved. The revolutionaries have started to view the EU with disappointment after Brussels failed to do more than verbally back the revolution.

Joining the EU, it seems, is still a long-term goal of many protestors in Maidan. However, the successful efforts of Ukrainians in toppling their own corrupt leadership without outside assistance has inspired a general feeling of indifference toward Brussels, mirroring the indifference Ukrainians feel Brussels showed them.

The emphasis, we are now told, is on protecting the accomplishments of the revolution internally and bracing for Russia's fracturing of country. Spiegel sees this as a "ticking timebomb", as Moscow moves to destabilize eastern Ukraine. But if Turchnynov and his colleagues in the interim government believe the west is going to step in with material assistance, they are going to be let down once again.

An immediate settlement could keep the rest of Ukraine intact, but continued tension can only further damage the country. Spiegel states the obvious, that the conflict could ultimately split Ukraine - with the east turning to Moscow and the west to the European Union.

If that were to happen, the paper says, it's possible the new government in Kiev would lose the part of the country that is most important economically because the coal mines and the steelmaking plants of the east comprise Ukraine's economic heart.

The large firms, we are informed, are highly dependent on Russian orders. Ninety percent of Russian nuclear power plants, for example, are equipped with turbines from the Kharkiv-based high-tech firm Turboatom. When it comes to the geo-political power-play for Ukraine, Spiegel says, the ace up Putin's sleeve is the east, not Crimea. It would be easy for him to light the fuse there, even without a military operation.

Such signs as can be adduced, therefore, suggest that the interim government is playing a dangerous game if it thinks it can keep stoking up the tension and then rely on the West to back it up. The West, and especially the EU, will do nothing.

It is all very well for William Hague to puff outrageous that that Putin has made a "big miscalculation", and that Russia will face "costs and consequences" for its intervention. But, apart from suspending the Harrods cards of a few oligarchs, the EU and its members states have very little ability to influence events. The more bellicose the statements, the the weaker they end up looking.

Even the Open Europe Muppets are admitting that, although this is "a conflict driven by Moscow", it illustrates the EU's "all or nothing" approach to its neighbourhood "is no longer viable in the 21st Century".

Just over the border to the west, there lies Poland, another country that thought it could rely on assurances from western allies. But, last century, when the chips were down, it found it was on its own, with the Russian Bear as its "liberator" that took half a century to remove.

It looks as if history might be repeating itself in the 21st Century, as the EU's vainglorious pretensions to be the guarantor of peace and stability in Europe have finally been exposed, while the idea that the UK, as part of the EU somehow increases its power an influence, is shown to be the empty rhetoric that it has always been.