Borderland Blues

Contrary to popular idealist conceptions that revolutions can’t be bought or made, we have routinely witnessed externally orchestrated revolutions and their dire consequences, especially since 2011, all over the world. The general perception about the revolutions in Ukraine have transformed from an enthusiastic, proactive and hopeful glow of the 2004 Orange revolution against election fraud, to enormous uncertainty about the future and even fear of a full-fledged civil war. The violent protests in Kyiv that ousted a democratically elected pro-Russian President and the antagonistic counter-revolution carried out in the Southeastern part of the country are seen by many as the harbinger of a bloodied national disintegration. There is strong evidence that organizations such as USAID, National Endowment for Democracy and other NGOs have funded the protest groups that demonstrated against Yanukovych in Kyiv. In response to the western interference and assistance in Kyiv, Russia has fanned the separatist movement in the eastern parts of the country and initiated a counter-revolution.

Clash of international interests

Ukraine shares an intricate historical past with Russia, dating back to the 9th century with the founding of Kievan Rus, the first eastern Slavic state. Ukraine is also an eminent economic ally that Russia wants to include in its proposed Eurasian Union (a customs union with eastern European countries such as Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia). Militarily, Ukraine acts as a buffer zone between Russia and the West. The two countries also have a bilateral agreement that grants Russia its only warm water port, as also its Black Sea Fleet in the Crimean city of Sevastopol.

Russia views EU’s efforts to expand eastward to Ukraine as detrimental for Russian national interest, as it would lead to the strengthening of Western institutional ties at the expense of their Russian counterparts. The Russians view the EU’s Eastern Partnership Program as a stepping-stone towards an ultimate military alliance that would bring NATO right to the Russian borders. A comparable situation emerged earlier in 2008 in Georgia, which led to a brief war and the Russian occupation of the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. While Russian President Vladimir Putin justified his country’s role in Ukraine as an attempt to protect the ethnic Russians from the “neo-Nazism” emanating from Kyiv and being supported by the west, in Crimea he held that Moscow was merely assisting the free choice of the population, using the example of western intervention in Kosovo and assistance in achieving independence from Serbia in 2008.

Conversely, EU and US policymakers have resorted to a series of steps to exert their influence and protect their interests in Ukraine. Both EU and US announced $15 billion and $1 billion respectively in economic aid and technological assistance over a span of a couple of years to Ukraine, on the condition that it abides by the policy reforms and austerity measures recommended by the International Monetary Fund. The actions of Russia are strongly condemned by the West and United States as a stark violation of international law, including the non-intervention articles in the UN Charter, and breach of the 1997 Treaty on Friendship and Cooperation between Russia and Ukraine that required mutual respect for territorial integrity. The US, EU, Japan and Canada have imposed sanctions on more than seventy Russian and Ukrainian officials and businesses with links to the Crimean incident and separatist tensions in the eastern parts. The US has also undertaken a number of initial steps to reassure allies in the regions by sending F-16 fighters to Poland to begin joint military exercises. It also reinforced NATO’s air presence in the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, and also Poland.

The Ukrainian crisis could also be considered as a part of a larger energy war. NATO and EU are desperate to end their dependence on natural gas from Russia. On the other hand, Russia needs to protect its vital economic interests by maintaining its near monopoly of natural gas by its state-owned corporation, Gazprom. Russia supplies 30 per cent of Europe’s natural gas and more than 80 per cent of that travels via pipelines that run through Ukraine. Russia also supplies 35 per cent of Europe’s oil. If the deal between Putin and Yanukovych for economic integration of Ukraine with Russia (instead of the EU) had passed, NATO and EU’s energy dependence on Russia would only increase.

Over the last two years, energy giants such as Chevron, Exxon, and Shell have discovered several new natural gas fields in western Ukraine and Poland. These deals were being blocked by the proposed trade deal of Ukraine with Russia. However, with the ousting of Yanukovych, the natural gas field deals in Ukraine are being signed between the corporations and the new pro-EU administration in Ukraine. This threatens Gazprom’s energy monopoly in the region. Russia is responding by scrapping the gas price discounts for Ukraine, therefore pressuring the neighbour by increasing its debts to almost 2 billion US dollars. Putin also warned Europe about a probable disruption in the gas supply because of its interference in and the aggravation of the political turmoil in Ukraine.

Possibility of reconciliation

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: JUNE 2014