Alphen, Netherlands. 24 February. It is rare to witness history as it happens. Sweden’s outstanding, people-open foreign minister Carl Bildt this weekend reminded all and sundry of just that when he tweeted about the importance of the moment after a revolution. Listening from afar to Russia’s Chekovian silence in the wake of former President Yanukovitch’s ouster it was hard not to cast one’s mind back to 1989. Then one by one Soviet satellites broke free from Moscow’s yoke and declared themselves for ‘Europe’. However, the danger of such nostalgia is that ‘freedom’ is cast in terms of Russia's humiliation.
The popular break-out culminated in November 1989 when slab by wretched concrete slab the Berlin Wall was torn down. The small door a few brave people opened offered a vision of a Europe whole and free. All but the most die-hard of die-hards simply assumed that 1989 marked the dawn of a new age of liberal democracy. 2014 is both more and less complicated.
Interim President Olexander Turchynov says he wants to set Ukraine back on the path to ‘European integration’. In response Moscow has withdrawn its ambassador to Kiev “for consultations”. In spite of an agreement between Germany’s Chancellor Merkel and President Putin that Ukraine’s territorial integrity is to be maintained with the Sochi Olympics out of the way battle-lines are being drawn.
To reinforce Merkel’s good cop bad cops US and UK (yawn) have warned Russia not to even think about the use of force. All this is eerily reminiscent of 1989. Indeed, even the nature of Janukovich’s flight from Kiev had just a hint of the desperate departure of Romania’s Caucescus from power…and eventually life itself.
And yet 1989 was also very different to 2014. The US was the dominant European power and that is clearly not the case today as Germany assumes an ever-stronger leadership role. Today, the ideal of liberal democracy back in 1989 has been eclipsed by the liberal bureaucracy the EU is inflicting on Europe; the harsh day-to-day reality of ever close political union. And, far from being the rich West versus the poor East, ‘Europe’ today is almost whole but by and large broke.
And that is the irony of 2014. If Brussels, or whomsoever is in charge of ‘Europe’ these days, does not handle this moment carefully the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution could forge an implicit partnership between Western European citizens and the Kremlin. This is because for Turchynov ‘European integration’ is actually a metaphor for access to huge amounts of taxpayer cash belonging to those relatively few Western Europeans who pay for this kind of thing and who are still reeling from the impact of successive Eurozone bail-outs.
Even the still-broke British are offering “large amounts of cash” via the IMF according to Foreign Secretary Hague. This may be to offset London’s ritual humiliation last week at the hands of the French, Germans and Poles who went to Kiev to broker a deal that collapsed almost as soon as it was signed. It may also be due to German pressure at last week’s talks between London and Berlin to provide funds precisely because the British taxpayer has been shielded from the Eurozone crisis. As an aside it was interesting to see Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski being showcased by France and Germany as the new EU ‘Foreign Minister’ when Cathy Ashton steps down in November.
And Ukraine will need to be many large buckets of cash. Ukraine is bankrupt. Or, at least it will be when Moscow later this week withdraws the c€12bn/$16.5bn it has pumped into Ukraine’s ailing finances of late to keep Kiev close, allied to a 30% drop in available gas supplies if Russia cuts the pipeline. According to the CIA GDP per capita is $7500 per annum which ranks Ukraine 140th of some 220 states in the world, with 24.1% of the population below the poverty line. Public debt has also of late spiralled. In other words Ukraine could be a very big Greece. Ukraine’s economy is totally ill-equipped for a sudden opening to Western markets, particularly in the heavy-industry sodden and Russian-speaking east of the country. Therefore, it is vital that all of Europe’s leaders enter this crisis with eyes wide open.
First, there can be no solution to Ukraine’s turmoil without the support of Russia. Of a population of 45.5 million people some 17.3% are ethnic Russian concentrated in the east of the country and most notably in Crimea, the home of the Russian Black Seas Fleet.
Second, a new constitution must be drawn up as soon as possible that clearly and openly protects the rights of the Russian minority in keeping with European law.
Third, the Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) should be given the lead to ensure that Ukraine’s future does not become a zero sum game between a German-led EU and Russia.
Fourth, the new leadership in Kiev must be disabused of any romantic notions they may have that following elections an EU-friendly Kiev could be fast-tracked into the Union. After all, European Commission President Barosso has just told secessionist Scots that any such deals would be “difficult, almost impossible”.
Fifth, offering Ukraine an EU rather than a Russian future will cost billions of euros and Europeans must recognise that. Belarus will be next.
Sixth, Moscow must be made to fully understand that there can be no military adventurism in Ukraine. Ukraine’s security is intrinsically linked to the EU and NATO members around it.
For all that Ukraine must be supported. 2014 is not 1989. However, like it or not the key to Ukraine’s future still lies in Moscow. At the very least Moscow must be invited to host a conference on the new European order and told Russia is central to Europe’s future, not simply Europe's past. Then just then Ukraine may finds its way to peace and stability.
Over to you, Carl!