Saturday, March 22, 2014

Ukraine Developments: US/ EU Attempt to Stretch Europe’s Frontiers?

Kanwal Sibal, 
Dean, Centre for International Relations and Diplomacy, VIF

Developments in Ukraine should be understood as part of US/EU's project of stretching the frontiers of "Europe" eastwards as far as possible in order either to eventually topple the present Russian political and economic order from within and make Russia a "European" country, or isolate it as a political and economic backwater beyond a "European" buffer extending into the former Soviet Union's heartland.

"Europe" for the protagonists of this strategy is a geography of shared values of democracy, market economy, freedom of expression, rule of law and respect for human rights.

The first attempt nine years ago through the Orange Revolution to incorporate Ukraine into "Europe" proved abortive. But the objective was not abandoned and has been pursued by leveraging internal Ukrainian divisions, especially the strong pro-western sentiments of the Catholic, non-Russian speaking population of western Ukraine to draw the country towards "Europe".

The US has provided political encouragement to internal Ukrainian forces to split with Russia by frequently affirming that as an independent country Ukraine had the right to choose its partners; in other words join the EU and NATO irrespective of Russian concerns.

Its democracy-promoting NGOs have been active on the ground for years. Ukraine's leadership has proved unequal to the task of governing a fractured country, and faced with competing pulls has played politics with both sides - the West and Russia.


The Russians actually view Yanukovich as a bungling and corrupt politician; politically docketing him as "pro-Russian" is an analytical short-hand that distorts reality. The rejection of the Association Agreement with the EU at the last minute provided "pro-democracy" elements as well as Ukrainian ultra-nationalists just the pretext they needed to stage violent protests leading eventually to the overthrow of Yanukovich's legitimately elected government.
The West's support for this unconstitutional act in a territory of great sensitivity for Russia, without weighing the likely repercussions on Russia-Western ties, shows either acute diplomatic clumsiness or misplaced self-confidence in handling any challenge from a weakened Russia.


The US abetment of this political coup in Ukraine has been exposed by the conduct of its politicians and diplomats. Apart from making expletives the currency of diplomacy, the US Assistant Secretary in charge of the region has been filmed handing over food packets to anti-government street demonstrators in Kiev.

No self-respecting country would normally allow such blatant interference in its internal affairs. That this was tolerated reveals the insecure foundations of the Ukrainian state, the disarray of country's political class and the penetration of foreign interests into its political system.

The West's attitude towards Russia puzzles. Russia's "great power" status, on the one hand, is no longer recognised and dire predictions are made about its future because of its demographic decline, obsolete industrial infrastructure, over-dependence on raw material exports, heavily state controlled economy that stifles enterprise, a weak justice system etc.

Europe, in fact, wants Russia to accept its diminished status and instead of seeking equality with Europe as a whole, it is called to see itself simply as another major European power.

Uneasy diplomatic relationships with Western Europe have given Ukrainian ultra-nationalists just the pretext they needed to stage violent protests leading eventually to the overthrow of a legitimately elected government
Beyond that, for Europe's Russophobia to end, Russia must accept European political, economic and social values, becoming, in fact, a clone of western European powers.
On the other hand, Russia is still treated as the West's principal geo-political rival and cold war rooted efforts to contain it have not been abandoned, with employment of military, economic and ideological tools to that end, represented by the eastward expansion of NATO, EU and western values.
China, despite its 1.3 billion population, its emergence as the world's second largest economy as well as its largest exporter, its expanding military power and strategic ambitions of challenging US hegemony in the western Pacific, is treated as less menacing.

Perceived threat

The persistent Euro-centric view that the West has of the world, the belief that Russia has the potential to threaten the centre of gravity of western power represented by NATO, might explain this in part.

US interests are of course served if the Russian threat is not allowed to fade away in public mind, as that then enables the US to continue dominating European defence and security policies through NATO.

Germany, as Russia's strongest European partner, could have played a bridging role between US/EU and Russia, but it is constrained to work within the limits imposed on its foreign policy by its EU/NATO membership.

Germany was at the centre of the Cold War; it should be at the centre of burying it permanently. It is best positioned to scotch the resurfacing Cold War type tensions with Russia that US and select EU countries on the immediate periphery of Russia cultivate.

Repercussions

America's domineering instincts, the language of threats, intimidation, and sanctions by its leadership, the assumption that it speaks for the "international community" as a whole, have once again manifested themselves during the Ukrainian crisis.

This time it is not small and relatively defenceless countries like Iraq, Libya, Iran or Syria, but a permanent UN Security Council member that is being hectored by the US.

US has threatened to expel Russia from the G-8, has imposed visa restrictions on some category of officials and is examining economic sanctions, ignoring that the reasons being given to punish Russia could have amply justified similar penalisation of the US for forcing regime changes in several countries in violation of international law.

Such US conduct has international repercussions, diminishing support for the existing international system and reinforcing the need for re-balancing global power equations still skewed heavily in favour of the West.


Ironically, the US is undermining the very international system that it wants others to assume their share of the burden to support. 

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