Putin's Gambit How the EU Lost Ukraine



Part 2: Ominous Russian Threats

This is why Yanukovych needs the Putin who in recent months has made the consequences of an EU deal unmistakably clear to Ukraine. In August, Russian officials began painstakingly inspecting trucks from Ukraine bringing goods across the border into Russia. Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Pinchuck was barred from importing steel pipes to Russia, and a former cabinet minister was prevented from selling his chocolate in the country.

These measures have led to a 25 percent decline in exports since 2011. Ukraine exports a third of its goods to Russia and other former countries of the former Soviet Union, and only 25 percent to the EU. Russia also threatened that it would require Ukrainians to apply for visas to travel to the country in the future.

Three days after the secret meeting in Moscow, Ukrainian oligarchs, apparently in consultation with the Kremlin, asked Yanukovych to postpone signing the EU association treaty by a year.

Zurkov the Manipulator

The Kremlin made it clear the harassment could become permanent. Sergei Glazyev, Putin's advisor for the economic reintegration of the republics that gained their independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union, predicted that Kiev would experience an "economic disaster" if it signed the agreement with the EU. "Ukraine is sacrificing its sovereignty," he said threateningly at a conference on the Crimean Peninsula, which is former Russian territory.

Vladislav Surkov -- the Kremlin's former main ideologist, who had fallen out of favor but was brought back by Putin two months ago -- was sitting in one of the back rows. His mission was to help Moscow regain its control over the countries of the former Soviet Union.

When someone like Zurkov appears at a meeting, it means intrigues are under way. In Russia, Zurkov has founded parties and let them fade away based on Putin's needs. He could do the same thing in Ukraine, by siphoning off Yanukovych's pro-Russian voters and all but destroying Yanukovych's chances of reelection.

It is unclear whether Putin had to voice all of these threats in his meeting with Yanukovych. It was probably no longer necessary. Yanukovych had already understood that his only hope for political survival was to throw in his lot with the Russians.

The threats were also accompanied by promises. Putin held out the prospect of loans, lower gas prices and debt forgiveness with Russian energy giant Gazprom, to which Ukraine owes $1.3 billion.

Pipeline Under Threat

Another project could suffer a fate similar to that of the association agreement: a natural gas contract, negotiated under the auspices of the EU, which was supposed to be signed on Nov. 22. Once again, everything seemed to have been agreed upon, but then the Ukrainians were suddenly saying minor technical details had yet to be ironed out. "This has already been going back and forth for a year now," says one of the frustrated lead negotiators.

Everyone had expected the agreement to be signed, because it would have enabled the Ukrainians to liberate themselves, gas-wise, from the clutches of the Russians, especially as they now pay significantly more for Russian gas than major Western companies, such as German energy conglomerate RWE. Under the new agreement, pipelines in EU member-state Slovakia would be rebuilt to allow for reverse gas flows, so gas destined for Western Europe could also be transported to Ukraine in the future.

But Yanukovych is hesitating. Because of the necessary upgrading work, the gas from the West could not begin flowing to Ukraine until next September. This would make the Ukrainians vulnerable to blackmail, at least this winter. And the negotiations over the new contract already seem to have helped Yanukovych, with the Russians signaling significant price cuts for Ukraine. It appears Yanukovych has played his cards right once again.

That is, if he can contain the political anger within Ukraine. On Sunday, the largest demonstration in the country since 2004's Orange Revolution took place in Kiev. According police estimates, 23,000 people protested the withdrawal from the EU pact negotiations, including boxing champ Vitali Klitschko. Organizers place the number at over 100,000. Yulia Tymoshenko's daughter, Eugenia, personally reached out to Angela Merkel for help in an interview with Germany's Bild tabloid, saying that, if nothing was done, her mother would die.

What Now?

In Brussels, European Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Füle tried to compose himself last Friday. "Only when the summit officially begins will we know, once and for all, whether or not Ukraine intends to sign." But no one expects a quick agreement anymore. Even Füle is already thinking about possible next steps. He also seems somewhat at a loss when he says that the EU has no interest in engaging in a competition with Russia -- as if one hadn't already happened.

"It's difficult to say when the negotiations will be resumed," says middleman Kwasniewski. The European Parliament will be elected next year, there will be changes at the European Commission, and a presidential election in Ukraine in 2015. "It seems to me that the pause is going to be longer rather than shorter," Kwasniewski adds.


Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

Discuss this issue with other readers!
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ronald_thomas_west 11/25/2013
1. How the EU lost Ukraine
The article is shortsighted in the extreme. It is the opinion of some expert economists that Ukraine having to bring its heavy industries up to EU standards would cause large losses in the Ukrainian economy, also ignored is 1/2 of Ukraine is ethnically Russian and meddling here on Russia's doorstep is dangerous to Ukraine's social stability .. and insofar as quoting 'Freedom House' .. why doesn't the author just come out and say 'CIA' since rogue agent Phillip Agee fingered this front organization, among others. In fact Agee's article on 'color revolutions' (use google search) is directly relevant to Ukraine and the geo-political manipulations this article glosses over entirely.
golestan 11/25/2013
2. The EU has already huge beneficial impact...
...well beyond its borders, in terms of human rights and protection of minorities. But in order to become a truly positive force on this planet, its members must coordinate their financial systems, abandon some of their jealously regarded sovereignty, and transfer more executive powers to Brussels. That is essential to present a counter-weight to the still very undemocratic China and to replace the long decaying morality of the US.
alanr 11/25/2013
3. To think the Russians will let Ukraine go is naive
Ukraine is the cradle of the Russian civilization; Kievan Rus was the first Russian polity; Ukraine's land is soaked in Russian blood, spilled over hundreds of years of wars. To these enormously important cultural/historic issues, add the huge strategic importance of the Ukraine to Russia, unparalleled by any other country. Then there's of course the Crimea, which used to be Russian up until very recently (in historical time). To think the Russians would just walk away from Ukraine and let it slip out of their control is beyond naive. Trying to wrestle it away from Russia was a fool's errand to begin with.
spon-facebook-10000061525 11/26/2013
4. optional
Actually the soviets turned Ukraine into a russian colony, and managed to do this with a few more countries as well. With others, they've failed. Let me put it this way, if Ukraine joins the EU, then Russia is likely to join too. Or EU will join Russia. A bigger picture should be seen here, maybe the EU and the EAEC could merge too. Unlikely
spon-facebook-10000630384 11/28/2013
5. optional
What future do you people see with Russia?A country where people die of agony,poverty,whereas the Prime Minister gets treatment for looking younger.I can predict the future if Ukraine signs this deal with Russia,and what do i see?Darkness.Students are taught from early childhood that they should love their country,some of them are showing that love by raising their voices for the well-being of our country. Yanokovych shouldn't be the only one to decide.This ,this is "OUR LAND".
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