American Elephants


You Can’t Turn Your Back On Russia! by The Elephant's Child

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Ukraine seems to be caught once again between the West and Russia. The European Union has wanted to establish a more modern policy towards Eastern Europe through the proposed association with Ukraine. The highlight of Friday’s Eastern Partnership Summit was supposed to be the formal signing of an agreement between Ukraine and the European Union. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, instead put the deal on hold.

Ukraine is a huge country torn between a western portion that looks towards Europe and Brussels and an eastern region that remains highly influenced by Russia. Kiev erupted with massive and bloody protests as hundreds of thousands of protesters poured into the Independence Square. But it is not just about Ukraine’s relationship but with Europe’s relationship with Russia, the sensitive former world power. Ukraine was once a part of the Soviet Union, and although few remain who lived through the Holodomor, when the Soviets deliberately starved Ukraine in the 1930s, the national memory is strong.

President Yanukovych was elected promising to smooth relations with the Russians, but had intended to sign the agreement with the EU. EU member states like Poland want to direct the EU’s influence toward the east, in part as protection against Russia. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin plays power politics. The EU has its own financial crisis, as does Russia, but Russia is promising to give Ukraine billions in loans, but without guarantees.

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso rejected Russian interference, saying “What we cannot accept is a condition on a bilateral agreement to have…a possible veto of a third country.”

Russia once lorded it over the entire Eastern bloc, but for the last 25 years has had to sit back and watch as one country after another has turned its back on Russia, and looked towards the West. The Soviets gave them good reason to turn their backs on Russia, but it must be humiliating for the Russians. Putin wants to stop what he sees as the West’s advance all the way to Russia’s borders. Lots of sticky problems here. Russia is  well-provided with natural gas, and has threatened to blackmail a Europe that is flush with expensive alternative energy that is far more costly than anticipated. Yanukovych is widely regarded as corrupt, and has complained about the International Monetary Fund’s refusal to simply give him billions in loans without conditions.

Police responded violently, leaving many of the 500,000 protesters bloody and beaten, but officials from both Russia and the West were taken aback by the scale of the protests. The battle is now between the street and Yanukovych.

In some ways this is just the continuation of an old story. For the background, I highly recommend Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder.  A new kind of European history, presenting the mass murders committed by the Nazi and Stalinist regimes as two aspects of a single history. Required reading for anyone seeking to understand the central tragedy of modern history.

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