The news reports all agree that the entire protests are solely about the Ukrainian leadership’s decision not to sign an agreement which would have aligned the nation to ties favoring the European Union and further from Russia. What makes this violence a possible first incidence of more troubles to come spreading across the former Soviet Republics is the background behind the results. Russian President Putin is playing hardball in forcing these former satellite nations to make a cold and hard choice of either trade with Russia, which makes out the majority of their current trade, or choose to place their nations economic health in a future with the European Union, a future that in the current state of the European Union’s financial problems is less than a promising guarantee. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich initially turned down the offer from the European Union under the duress of threats made by Russian President Putin which made the decision an all or nothing choice but the question still persists of whether this is the whole story or is there more.
Reasons for doubts that the increasing unrest is solely over trade policies is worth investigating as it is doubtful that hundreds of thousands of demonstrators would virtually control the entire central city area of the Ukrainian Capital City of Kiev over simply a trade deal. This could be more about the people’s desires to break once and for all from their Soviet past and they see this decision by President Viktor Yanukovich as a sign that their fears that he was simply a puppet of the Russians was valid. Suspicions and anger surrounded his imprisoning of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko soon after taking office as she had many supporters and was a political rival of President Yanukovich. There were also suspicions that President Yanukovich might have ties with Russia that would affect his decisions and thus making this decision to cause even greater doubts and anger than many might have expected. The main problem will be if the decision to side with retaining close ties with Russia will cause the same difficulties for other former Soviet nations resulting in a spreading wave of discontent similar to the uprisings which spread across many Arab nations in the recent past and is still causing massive unrest in the majority, if not all, of those nations. If this proves to be the case it makes the world just that much more unstable and dangerous. Any spreading of the kind of unrest ongoing now in the Ukraine will simply add to the economic woes in the world and that is something nobody needs as the entire world is only slowly working its way out of difficulties.
What cannot be argued is that the unrest in the Ukraine is a cause for concern and the decision by Russian President Putin to force former Soviet nations to choose their future as an all of nothing venture will only make for more disruptions and problems going forward. Where the reasons for President Putin making any move to increase trade and ties with the European Union are obviously his response to try to prevent the loss of any trade to the Europeans as Russia needs to retain these nations favored trade relations for their economy. President Putin may be overreacting or he may simply be grasping to hold on to the former Soviet nations and keep them directly tied to Russia in as many ways as possible and trade is simply one more tie he is making his stand upon. Putin does not ever take conciliatory positions nor does he play anything other than a hard game which often appears to be forcing an all or nothing choice. Until one of the former Soviet countries decides to test Putin’s ultimatums and signs an agreement with the European Union we will not know for sure if his threats to end trade relations is a bluff or an actual consequence these nations will need to include in their decision processes going forward. Should one rely on logic, that when push comes to shove, that President Putin would not give up on whatever trade benefits and good trade relations would still exist after one of the former satellites decide to ally closer to the European Union or that President Putin would cut off trade relations even at Russia’s own detriment just to punish those who challenged him. This cannot be an easy choice for the leadership of these nations and even more so for President Yanukovich as he was suspected of having too close of ties with Russia which was part of the campaign used against him.
Part of the problem also rests with the European Union who are also making the deal more difficult than is necessary. They are driving a bargain that favors the current European Union members over the new applicant nations which also makes the decision more complicated. Will the future with the European Union pay off sufficiently in the future to compensate for the lost trade with Russia. There are also numerous other concerns that breaking away from Russia could possibly entail which simply serves to muddy the waters further and there may exist some concerns which we in the West either are insensitive to simply completely unaware of as relations with the former Soviet Union was likely far different than the relations in the West. All in all, the situation in the Ukraine should be watched carefully and what we learn from their difficulties should temper decisions going forward. Unfortunate that this is occurring during a period when the United States has basically gone into hibernation as far as taking an up front and active role in international affairs. This leading from behind attitude has basically left American allies out on their own without the cover of her usual influence and protection. Let us hope that America returns to fulfill her role, as had been considered historically normal, in the near future as her steadying influences are sorely needed in a world quickly spinning out of control and sprouting fiery hot spots with an increasing rapidity.
Beyond the Cusp