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Monday, March 17, 2014

Could a different type of EU have avoided the Crimean crisis?

Over on Conservative Home Open Europe's Christopher Howarth wrote the following article:

Firstly, a disclaimer: Russia is 100 per cent responsible for its invasion of the Crimea, just as Germany a hundred years ago was for responsible for invading Belgium. Nothing dilutes these facts. However, just as historians disagree as to whether the First World War could have been avoided, it is legitimate to look at whether a better handling of the Ukraine crisis by the “West” generally – and the EU specifically – could have led to a different conclusion.
We need to understand what Russia wants. It has two aims – safeguarding its Black Sea Fleet base in Sevastopol (for emotional as well as strategic reasons) and maintaining a friendly compliant government in Ukraine willing to keep the border open to Russian trade and people. Under both Timoshenko and Yanukovych, this is exactly what Russia had.
So what has caused the current crisis? Russia’s naval base is on a lease, so for now it is protected, but Russia fears that a pro-western Ukrainian Government, joining NATO and the EU, could jeopardise its operation. These fears maybe overdone, but a more potentially serious threat comes to Russia’s trade in the form of Ukraine’s potential EU membership.
The EU is a customs union, which means that its external trade is decided collectively around an external customs wall – the crucial difference between it and a Free Trade area. But as well as being a customs union, the EU has become a political construction with a defence element including a mutual defence guarantee mirroring that of NATO – inserted via the Lisbon Treaty. So from a Russian point of view the EU no longer an economic club, but more a political and defence power block synonymous with NATO. Indeed, Russia is so impressed by the EU as a power block it has sought to imitate it in its own Eurasian Customs Union – which it had hoped Ukraine would join.
EU and candidates and Eurasia and its candidates
Looked at from the inside, the EU eliminates borders, creating an area free of customs, visas and – within Schengen – all border controls. This however comes at a price, and the price is often paid by the EU’s neighbours. We have seen this before in Moldova. Prior to Romanian EU accession, Moldovans could freely travel to Romania but after Romania joined this came to an end – Moldova was on the wrong side of the EU’s external frontier. Unsurprisingly, Russia would not wish for the same on its border with Ukraine.
Ukraine is therefore caught between two opposing power blocks. For many years, Ukraine managed to balance the competing interests and different aspirations of both its Russian and Ukrainian speakers. From Moscow’s point of view, it was working: Ukraine had leaders who accepted Russian largess in exchange for influence, renewed their lease on Sevastopol, kept trade moving and allowed Russians and Ukrainians to travel visa free – something that Ukrainian EU membership could put in danger.
It should therefore have been possible to predict that Russia would react badly to further moves by Ukraine towards the EU. Despite this, no effort seems to have been made either to dampen Russian influence by shoring up Ukraine’s finances, thus enabling them to make the jump, or alternatively to mollify and reassure Russia. We were left to watch as an EU deal with no immediate cash offering was outbid by hard Russian cash with a bankrupt Ukrainian President taking his country swerving to the east. The reaction in western Ukraine was predictable, as was the Russian reaction when protesters hostile to the Russia seemed to take control.
Even at that point, not all was lost for Russia. Ruslan Pukov, a graduate of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, points out in the New York Times that Tymoshenko was originally Russia’s favoured candidate, that her re-election in an early poll would for Russia have been a reasonable outcome – and for that pro-Russian electors from Crimea within a united Ukraine would help. Speeding up the signing of the EU’s Ukrainian Association Agreement and the pronouncements of some EU foreign ministers about Ukraine’s EU membership potential (however genuine or not) have, however, fanned the fears of those in Russia who feel that Ukraine is on route to being “lost” into an opposing and not necessarily friendly power block. Russia’s preferred option would be a pro-Russian Ukraine. If Russia annexes Crimea, it may look like a Russian victory but in reality would be an admittance of a wider failure.
It is for Ukraine to decide whether it should join the EU. If that is their settled wish, we should not shut the door just to appease Russian sensibilities. Nor should we confuse justifiable anger at corruption (often linked to Russia) with a genuine love of EU integration shared by all Ukrainians. For now, we should help Ukraine improve its standard of government, help it strengthen its economic independence (one way could be through shale gas development) and do what we can, through sanctions, to dissuade Russian aggression. But we should be aware that the makeup of the EU, the nature of its integration and enlargement, combined with ‘all or nothing’ decisions being forced on the Ukraine by both the EU and Russia, have polarised Ukrainian politics and are having consequences.
In the longer term, it is time for the EU to rethink how it deals with its neighbouring states. Those that have chosen not to join the EU or border the EU but will never join deserve better than the imposition of a hard frontier dividing them from historic partners. If the price of EU integration within is division without, someone will pay the price. If the EU was not so rigid, did not require conformity with everything and offered a genuine partnership status that could work for Ukraine without antagonising its other neighbours, it might be a form of membership that others could take up – including, someday, even Russia.


Jim Kemeny said...

This is the problem, is it not? By flirting with Ukraine, the EU has created the very problem that Russia has been aware of for some time. Russia feels isolated and hemmed into a corner. The Swedes in OE would do well to read the Dagens Nyheter article by Richard Swartz on 15 March 2014, p. 5, entitled "Rysslands geopolitiska mardröm" (Russia's Geopolitical Nightmare). I really do wonder what the EU is playing at. It is effectively provoking a Russian counter-response. At the same time the EU works closely with the US Government. It is getting closer to the point at which Russia will feel completely hemmed in by this western alliance of US-NATO-EU, if that point has not already been reached.

Please bear in mind also that Russian territory in Europe is being drastically eroded. The Ukraine has a large Russian population in the Donbas. Russia's western border with Ukraine here is on the River Don which is only 400 km by road to the River Volga and Volgograd/Stalingrad.

Is it realistic to work towards including Russia in the EU? If so plans need to be worked at now, and discussed. I see no signs that this is even considered. Nor do I think it possible, as it would threaten US global hegemony.

Anonymous said...

It hasn't yet occurred to Eurocrats that citizens of the EU may not want another deadbeat country on their backs.

And apparently democracy in Crimea is a problem, but the illegal putschist government of Ukraine is not, so the signing of pre-accession paperwork will go ahead.

One cannot help but root for some sort of catastrophe to hit the imperialists from Brussels.

Jesper said...

Figuring out what Russia wants can at times be the same as figuring out what Putin wants. Sometimes it is the same, sometimes he might have other priorities. What does Putin want?

I've never met him so I might be way off when I say that he comes across as a man who'd like to be perceived as strong. If that is his wish, then what is the likelihood that he'll allow himself to be seen as backing down?

The opposite of the words of: invasion and aggression, are seldom connected with strength. Therefore I do not see the use of the words 'aggression' and 'invasion' to lead to a de-escalation. Whether or not the words are accurately describing the situation might not be very relevant.

As for the legality of the referendum in Crimea:
What once is illegal can be made legal. In this case it means that the Ukrainian constitution can be changed. Whether or not it should be changed is something for the people in the Ukraine to decide.

The EU and its member nations seem to have been acting unwisely and only focused on short-term interests. It is unlikely that we'll know what has been done until the necessary documents have been declassified and even then we might not get to know the important stuff.

Sanctions will not work. The few oligarchs without connections to unscrupuluos finance professionals in the west will now have been contacted by unscrupulous finance professionals to help them bypass any and all sanctions.

The benefits of trade deals will accrue to oligarchs, maybe there'll be some trickle down benefits for the general population but I doubt that trickle down has worked anywhere so why would the Ukraine be different. The best sanction might well be a refusal to sign a trade deal.

A different kind of EU to have done better? Nope, not a chance. The same people would have done the same things and the outcome would have been the same.

Anonymous said...

While this comment is moderate and generally sensible, it fails to take account of the fact that the German-dominated EU is behaving in much the same way as it predecessors did in 1914-8 and 1933-43 in trying to impose its hegemony via a New European Order over neighbouring territories. The recent putsch in Malaya Rossiya (the Ukraine) is a new version of the Drang nach Osten, about which Russia has genuine and legitimate concerns.

Anonymous said...

Up until 60 years ago the Crimea was a part of Russia, which is why there is such a large majority of ethnic Russians living there.

Currently there is no legitimate government in the Ukraine.

If Barosso hadn't thrown his dolly out of the pram at the rejection, by yet another poor country, joining his empire, the nation may not have become so unstable. The basic truth that the corruption ridden democratically deficient eussr doesn't want being made public is that the Ukrine is almost certainly better off with Russia than it would be in the eussr, indeed when speaking to people from the nations who were in the warsaw pact the ones in Romania and Bulgaria in particular thought they were better off under Russian rule than they are under the eussr.

Anonymous said...

The eussr does not have a good record when it comes to accepting democratic referendums,

Rollo said...

No. The EU is an irrelevance, as the Russia-USA talks confirmed. But short of nuclear war, nothing would stop Russia from reclaiming part of its homeland, foolishly given away by the USSR leadership; they never planned for a break up, only expecting the USSR to grow until it covered the world. Crimea is Russian; the referendum is probably almost representative. The only proper course is to ensure that Tartars and other minorities are looked after; here pressure could work. But no-one did much about the Chechens when they were being crushed; or Issettia when being colonised.

Anonymous said...

I am completely with Russia on this one. The EU has given the situation a good stir up and we are now where we are. I would do the same as Putin in the same situation.

As I have stated before on this OE blog : The EU needs to explain who authorised this empire-grab in the Ukraine and under which mandate it is acting. The EU also does does not need yet another eastern European basket case economy to support either.

For me, this whole episode is illegal based on my understanding of what the EU is about.

It is completely and utterly unaccountable and out of control and has its own dark agenda.

Not in my name.

I demand my right to say NO to this ongoing and unfunny circus.


Denis Cooper said...

My answer to your headline question is the same here as it was on the other site - "Yes".

However I would also like to point out that media criticism of the Crimean referendum is partly because voters were forced to choose between reunification with Russia or de facto independence from the rest of Ukraine, and were not offered the option of remaining part of Ukraine; but a similar exclusion of the status quo as an option would also be the effect of the new "referendum lock" law proposed here by Miliband.

christina speight said...

The Ukraine debacle merely points to the vital necessity of abolishing the EU altogether. Nobody in the founding member states would have voted for a Europe of such mega-dimensions because no sense of common identity exists even now. Rumania, Bulgaria, Serbia, and all the Balkans are foreign to most of us still.

But what do the evil people in Brussels care about that? They are not interested in history and culture but in naked power.

Many above have correctly identified the origins of THIS crisis. The eurocrats want to continue their own version of Drang nach Osten regardless of the obvious Russian reaction. The EI os too big already. It is proving ungovernable and is a danger to world peace and - with the euro - to world prosperity too.

Rik said...

This has very little to do with the EU style. It is all about:
-having your strategic priorities not right;
-having incompetents run the show;
-lunatics running the asylum, tales wagging dogs.

-Not realising that having a stable relation with Russia is far more important than having a financial blackhole in your camp.
-Having Ukrainians that are undigestible for roughly half their own population set the agenda and in that process p1$$ the other half of the population off.
-Having your own bufferstates demanding bufferstates themselves in conflict of your own national security (as it causes a collision with a superpower one you need desperately on other dossiers like Iran).
-Having no clue that if you can not back things up with hardware Putin is likely to call your bluff and make you look like an idiot;
-Media policy that is horrible. The present media which are basically pro West simply looks to be disconnected with large parts of the societies there.
-F-up in the Iranian and energy dossiers.
-No damage limitation but further escalating the conflict.

At the end of the day it is much easier for Putin now to move East with his products than for the EU to find alternative suppliers or frack. And much faster done.
Moving away is risky as well by itself. Now there is a clear problem for Russia itself when they stop the gas. But when they have found alternative buyers it can easily be done without much downside. Much easier than finding new sources for the EU.
That period is probably as risky as the present one.
Putin needs an increase in capacity (already on the way).
EU needs new supplier and completely new supply routes which are probably not therer anyway. Or go for fracking with highly uncertain outcome. Now infrastructure in place and first can be put in place when it becomes clear where the stuff really is. And massive popular protests against that. Simply considerably more uncertain and much more time consuming on top of that.

The West can never really win this one. Even if a victory (in the eyes of the Western political elites) would be achieved they will lose at the homefront.
Americans donot want and donot want to pay for uncertain foreign adventures.
And so does the population of all nett paying EU members.
Simply highly unpopular at home.
And 'winning' it would be likely very Iraqi, Afghanistani. Very costly (long term) with a lot of negative fall out and ending in a black eye. Not in bodybags coming home but now by beggars galore on Travalgersquare.
All these very badly managed adventures (Afghanistan, Iraq, Arab spring, Egypt twice; Libya, Syria, Ukraine now. One black eye after another) makes doing things when it would be necessary, like with Iran, more unlikely to happen. Simply as these mismaneged adventure have taken all the popular support away for any foreign interference.

Rik said...

On the UK EU relation.
It is simply clear that the EU is in no way a better servant of UK national interest than the UK itself. Any increase there would simply be not in the interest of the UK.

There is on Eastern issues for instance partly a fundamental conflict of interest between the UK and several other EU members.
Germany is one biggy, the Eastern states, let ill-advised in on more or less equal terms, are others.

Management is poor. This one was naive beyond compare. Mess things up in Putin's backyard. In an unpalatable way for roughly half of the local population on top of that. With no hardware to back it up and likely be necessary with somebody like Putin involved.
Messing up much more essential dossiers like Iran in the process.
And against the ideas of the majority of the Western European populations.
Simply strategic brainless running the show (not only by the EU but also in Germany and a few others).

Which simply brings up the next issue. Countries like Poland and Germany can cause by themselves an agenda setting that simply pulls the EU in. Like we see here. With those conflicts of interest highly dangerous.

And as important. At the end of the day it is better to make your own bad decisons than have somebody else forcing them upon you. Looking at history own mistakes are much easier forgotten than the ones forced upon you by others.

Rik said...

The strategic interest of the EU and the UK is to have a stable Ukraine and one that doesnot jeopardise the relation with the EUs main supplier of energy (as well as necessary partner to solve the Iran issue (also mainly energy).

Seen the fact that the country is basically split in 2 parts politically: Western vs Russian and on top of that the respective leadership of those halves are very dodgy/corrupt at best that needs a certain type of non standard approach. It is not F@/</<!ng Norway you are dealing with.

One of the basics being the whole country not being pushed into one direction. The second get rid of the rubbish leadership on boith sides. At least control them as good as possible.
The latter meaning get your oligarchs under control. If friendly fine, if more Putinesque fine as well, if even harder than that when necessary.
Also means that both leaderships should be educated that way (aka cut their finaces off when misbehaving). The Russian side just happened but at the cost of getting that horrible woman back. In numbers the situation as a whole seems not to have improved.

As the 2 sides seem unable to work together compromise. A bigger problem in the West than in the Russian part as it seems. It will have to be done over their heads.
Monkeys, not even your own ones, should not rule next door zoos, when you pretend to be a superpower as the EU does.
You need to cooperate with Russia on that only way possible.
Probably meaning a more federate structure.

No Yulia you simply end up with the same corrupt junkyard you had the last few decades only with the puppets changing.

Where OE misses the plot imho is that the EU is not a club anybody to its own liking can join. At least should not be. It is a thing (membership) that should serve UKs national interst in the first place. From there it is hard to see why having another huge basketcase/bunch of troublemakers would be benificial for the UK.
Use some nice wording and dump the junkyard one way or another.
Freetrade fine eg, free travel not in our lifetimes.

On top of that it is simply unbelievably naive to think that it will be possible to have governance changed in the Ukraine. History simply only points clearly into one direction: a long term big mess.
Hard to see that trust with the Russian side can be won.
This should be done by people that follow their own nationalist agenda (at best) onb top of that. Uncredible bunch for the Russian side, incapable of proper governance anyway. Even with a proper government it would already be very very difficult to get results and to restore nation wide credibility.
You simply have created a lot more tension in an already overstretched enviroment in the first place. This is not a process that can be reversed, certainly not easily. definitely not by incompetent, corrupt, pro-Western, likely anti-Russian nationalists.

Back to basics. Issue is getting back on speaking terms with Russia. The Ukraine is simply pretty irrelevant compared to that. Bad enough you got a black eye. Hardly useful to get another one and keep shown it to the wide world.
Starting another cold war with all costs involved is simply a thing the EU at zero to 1% structural growth is not able to afford. The US will rduce one way or another. Budgetary anyway on top of that a move towards the Pacific. You simply cannot financially afford a cold war with a militant Russia.

The Ukraine has 'only sustainable as a mutual bufferstate' written all over it. Will be hard enough anyway. Unpalatable clowns now in power in Kiev trying to restore goodwill with the Russian part of society will simply not happen.

In that respect moving from a 60/40 position in the EU advantage into a 40/60 or even a 30/70 in the time of weeks is simply a political and diplomatic disaster.

Jim Kemeny said...

As usual I agree with all the above posts. Is it still possible to change the EU into something that is less dictatorial, less closed and that includes Russia? Only if the USA agrees, and I suspect it won't, as it threatens its global hegemony.

Does anyone still think the EU could be reformed along the line that Open Europe would like? I still don't know the answer to that. The euro is itself a catastrophe, designed by the Brussels eudiots. It would have to go.

Most of all Open Europe would need to show how its vision of the EU could be achieved in practice. But it has to happen fast, its the 12th hour already. Ukraine is the last straw for many, including me.

Jesper said...

If I were to be looking for who messed up then I'd start by:

-Ranking European Foreign Ministers in order of influence
-Ranking European Foreign Ministers in order of arrogance
-See if any of the persons ranked high on both lists appears to have lost cool as events unfolded

The reasoning is that the mistake was huge so the person must be both influential as well as seen as a person who doesn't make mistakes. The latter tend to lead to arrogance.

Not that long a list of possible persons...

Anonymous said...


Don't beat about the bush. Name the Foreign Ministers concerned!

I have noticed an element of frustration and cynicism in your posts over the last 2 months or so. Do you know something that we don't know and are you now a UKIP voter?!