24 February, 2014


Stupidity, I fear: blinkered stupidity seems to be the cause of the Realpolitik game being played out in this benighted country.

The Ukraine did not make a success of its independence from the Soviet Union. By 1993 it had the world record inflation and whilst things have got better it is still a lot poorer than it should be. It has an aircraft plant, some light industry, incredibly a space programme and the rental income from a pipeline which supplies Russian gas to Europe. It is also heavily dependent on this pipeline for its own energy needs.

Because of its own incompetence and poor governance, Ukraine needs money.

The country is bordered by Moldova, Roumania, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Belarus and Russia. Money could come either from the EU or from Russia.

Money has strings attached.

Now we come to internal Ukrainian politics. Because of the country's history, the west of the country, formerly part of the Habsburgs' Austria-Hungary, tends to be more European whilst the east, much of which is Russian speaking, tends to be more Russian. Underneath it all they are as corrupt and incompetent as each other.

In 2004 the presidential Election run-off was between two Viktors: Yushchenko (European) and Yanukovych (Russian). The result was declared in favour of the Russian but no one believed it and thus started the Orange Revolution which eventually got Yushchenko into power. Five years later he
was ousted (fairly, they say) by Yanukovych who managed to get Prime Minister and Abba lookalike Yulia Timoschenko thrown in prison for corruption.

The second Orange Revolution which unlike the first has not been bloodless has seen off Yanukovych again and what is tantamount to a mob has taken over. A peace deal had been brokered by Europe but the pro-Europe mob has gone miles further than what was agreed. One gets the strong impression that the European negotiators got taken for a ride. Most of the people killed have been police and legitimate government officials. Naturally Russia is fairly peeved.

Back to the money. The Russians over the years have kept Ukraine afloat (if poor) with billions in loans and subsidised energy. The EU hasn't offered much (less than €1 billion). The Russians insist on having a Russia-friendly administration and Ukraine belonging to a customs union with other former-Soviet satellites.

Europe insists on Ukraine joining the whole panoply of regulation, political integration and currency union, but not yet: Ukraine would have to go through a candidate phase.

When I say Europe has offered this: we haven't been consulted. This new status for Ukraine has been offered by unaccountable bureaucrats who, unlike President Putin have not been elected and would recoil with horror at having to be. In the end Ukraine cannot join the EU unless the 29 member countries agree and they would be wise not to agree. It is a bottomless pit for our money for very little in return except putting one over on Russia.

What will happen? Likely as not Putin will draw off the Eastern parts into new satellites while the western parts cosy up to Brussels. They will find it curiously similar to their previous masters the Austro-Hungarian Empire: inefficient, corrupt, undemocratic and bearing an inflated sense of its own importance.

You may think that a country has to be truly desperate to see its future in the EU. Ukraine is. Poor people.

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