The issue: But Ukrainians know better than most that if they give in to Russian intimidation now, the bullying will only get worse
In their wilder fantasies, Ukrainian democrats surely fantasize about moving their country to a location with better weather, better scenery and, most of all, without Russia as an immediate neighbor.
THE RUSSIANS have tried to incorporate Ukraine into first, the empire under the czars, and then, a socialist state as part of the old USSR, a process that involved deliberately starving millions of Ukrainian peasants, liquidating Ukrainian intellectuals and trying to eliminate the Ukrainian language.
Not surprisingly, the Ukrainians were not particularly grateful, and when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, Ukraine jumped at the chance for independence, even though Moscow had made the country so dependent, particularly in energy, that what followed was an eight-year recession.
Like many other former Soviet satellites, Ukraine chose to look to the West and begin discussions abut joining the 28 member states of the European Union, which offered a much brighter economic future plus access to international lenders.
But in politics as in real estate, location, location, location is everything and Ukraine is located way too close to Russia.
Over the summer, Ukraine began talks with the EU about closer economic and political ties, infuriating the Russians, who began customs slowdowns, sanctions on certain Ukrainian exports and none-too-subtle threats about the consequences of joining the EU.
TO A DEGREE, the threats worked. The Ukrainian cabinet suspended talks with the EU and canceled the scheduled signing to an “association agreement” that was to have been the high point of a EU summit in Lithuania.
The cancellation had the bruising fingerprints of the Kremlin all over it and Prime Minister Mykola Azarov was shouted down in parliament when he tried to defend it. And there are strong indications that the Ukrainian government is anything but united in turning away from Europe toward Russia.
As the cabinet was trying to walk back the EU deal, the country’s president. Viktor Yanukovich, on a visit to Vienna issued a statement saying, “Ukraine has been and will continue to pursue the path of European integration.”
The Kremlin is trying to pressure Ukraine into joining a pathetic little threesome — the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan — that Vladimir Putin has put together as a rival to the EU, the world’s largest economic bloc.
THE UNITED STATES is not in a position to get into this and for diplomatic purposes shouldn’t try. But we can help the EU make up for some of the exports earnings to Russia that Ukraine could lose and help underwrite a large and desperately needed International Monetary Fund loan.
The Ukrainians know better than most that if they give in to Russian intimidation now, the bullying will only get worse.