Commentators have been prompt to lay blame for events in Ukraine at President Viktor Yanukovych's door.
His refusal, since apparently overturned, to sign an Association Agreement with the EU was viewed as ignoring the will of the people, while maintaining a hugely corrupt regime. Russia has also been charged with running a calculated campaign of political pressure, trade restrictions and financial enticements.
Meanwhile, the EU is cast as the blameless party in these developments. The EU, after all, was apparently ready to help and support an economically weak Ukraine, only to be thwarted by a resurgent Russia keen to reassert its authority both at home and in its own backyard.
It is appropriate to criticise both the Russian and the Ukrainian authorities for their actions. The Yanukovych regime in particular has shown far more interest in its own wealth creation than in the good of its people. Nevertheless, this does not mean Brussels is without fault. Draft agreements proposed and negotiated by the EU largely ignored Russian interests, an odd decision given that Russia borders Ukraine, that it has its Black Sea Fleet stationed in Ukrainian waters and that a significant proportion of Ukraine's population are ethnically Russian.
Neither was there any meaningful acknowledgement that Ukraine (particularly the more industrialised east of the country) relies heavily on Russian markets. Instead Ukraine was seen as a winner-takes-all prize that needed to be wrestled away from Russian influence.
This has meant that geo-strategic concerns appear to have taken precedence over any notions of EU values such as democracy and economic stability. If Ukraine was not bordered by an increasingly confident Russia it is unlikely that the EU would have countenanced an Association Agreement any time soon. Persistent fear of Russia has therefore precluded the possibility of three-way negotiations between Ukraine, the EU and Russia. Such negotiations could have sought deeper economic, social, and political ties between the EU and Ukraine. Simultaneously this could have prevented alienating President Putin's administration, for whom Ukraine is of central importance symbolically, economically, and strategically.
The Ukrainian economy is in dire need of investment and financial support. Ukraine's Prime Minister, Mykola Azarov, has been telling anyone who will listen that an EU agreement was not feasible because Ukraine cannot survive without maintaining economic ties with Russia. These economic realities have largely been ignored by an EU that has severely underestimated Russia's mechanisms of influence in Ukraine.
Of course, there is hope that the Ukrainian people will have the final say. For the protesters who brave Kiev's sub-zero temperatures, an EU agreement promises long-term economic growth, political stability, and democratic reform. Symbolically, but no less importantly, it also heralds a decisive "return to Europe" for a country still in the shadow of its Soviet past. Even pro-Europeans will be aware, however, that in the short term such an agreement could be disastrous for an already fragile economy. An enraged Russia would potentially be able to continue its policies of trade disruption and "gas diplomacy", cutting off gas supplies or demanding high energy prices.
The biggest villains of this piece are undoubtedly the Ukrainian authorities and their corrupt, self-interested regime. Nevertheless, the EU should take a long, hard look at its own policies, especially the lack of consideration it gives to Russian interests. We may hope that in the future Ukraine will be able to integrate further into European structures and economies as the current protesters are demanding. Ignoring Russia, however, is not an option where this region is concerned and historical experience shows us that it is more productive to engage Russia as an equal partner rather than shunning it completely.
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