Ukraine should steer clear of Soviet Union 2.0
November 7th, 2013
11:48 AM ET

Ukraine should steer clear of Soviet Union 2.0

By Anna Borshchevskaya, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Anna Borshchevskaya is a fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy. You can follow her @annaborsh. The views expressed are her own.

Later this month, the European Union’s Council of Ministers will decide whether to sign Ukraine’s European Union Association Agreement at the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius, ten days later. If the European Union agrees to offer the Ukraine formal association, it will eliminate most barriers to trade between Ukraine and the European Union, and boost Ukraine’s economy.  More importantly, the agreement would allow Ukraine to take a big step closer to Europe and away from Russia. It would be a historic shift.

In anticipation of Vilnius, Moscow has increased pressure on Ukraine, Moldova, and other neighbors to join the Russia-led Customs Union. And, because a country can’t both sign an association agreement with Europe and join Russia’s Customs Union, Ukraine must choose.

The Council of Ministers’ decision about Ukraine will come down to whether Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych will pardon former prime minister and political rival Yulia Tymoshenko, jailed since 2011 on politically-motivated charges. Tymoshenko’s imprisonment is symptomatic of the corruption, electoral fraud, and selective justice in Ukraine in recent years. Her release is not simply a matter of justice for one individual, but rather whether Ukraine accepts the most fundamental values of the community of democracies it wishes to join.

Meanwhile, pressure from Russia mounts. Russia’s state-owned gas monopolist Gazprom demanded on October 29 that Ukraine pay an overdue gas bill. The demand carried a veiled threat of another “gas war” as Ukraine is almost entirely dependent on Russia for its energy.  The move comes barely two months after Russia fired a warning shot across Ukraine’s bow, temporarily stopping Ukrainian imports at the border for increased customs inspections.

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Yanukovych’s ambition may work in Europe’s favor – he may sympathize more with Russia than his predecessors, but he knows that if he chooses Russia over the European Union, he might lose the March 2015 presidential election.

Of all post-Soviet countries, Ukraine is perhaps most significant to Russia. Historically, Russia draws its very creation as a state to Ukraine. The two countries share deep historic and cultural ties. For Russian President Vladimir Putin – who once famously declared that Ukraine is not even a state – losing Ukraine would be akin to losing a crucial part of Russia.

And Ukraine may simply be the tip of the iceberg. Moldova could also initial an association agreement this month. During a trip to Moldova in September, Dmitri Rogozin, Russia’s deputy prime minister, warned that it would be “a grave mistake” for Moldova to seek European integration. Upon concluding his visit, Rogozin threatened to cut Moldova’s gas, on which the landlocked country is entirely dependent. “We hope that you will not freeze,” he reportedly said. The same month, Russia banned Moldovan wine, and for good measure suspended Lithuania’s dairy imports in October, even though Lithuania is already a European Union member.

One country has already fallen victim to Putin’s bullying. Armenia, which appeared set to be on a European integration course after concluding in comprehensive trade agreement with the European Union in July, made an abrupt reversal in September and instead joined the Customs Union after a meeting between Putin and his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sargsyan. Putin probably made Sargsyan an offer he couldn’t refuse: Russia, with deep and multifaceted control in Armenia, is also the only guarantor of Armenia’s security, and therefore, was easy pickings for Putin.

Yet for all of Putin’s bullying, and his recent diplomatic efforts in the Middle East,  his actions only mask a weakness at home. Russia’s neighbors are resisting his pressure. As Vilnius draws nearer, it’s therefore important for the United States not simply to sit idle, but to use its diplomatic influence to encourage Ukraine and other East European states to look West toward Europe, to an alliance of democracies, rather than East, to Putin’s idea of a Soviet Union 2.0.

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Topics: Russia

soundoff (96 Responses)
  1. rightospeak

    Another one of my comments on brainwashing in the EU in reply to Andrey, vanished -CNN censors proving the very thing about our media that he wrote about.

    November 11, 2013 at 4:41 pm | Reply
    • Matthew

      Umm... your comments are on the previous page of comments. ^__^

      November 15, 2013 at 10:36 am | Reply
      • rightospeak

        Only some, Matthew.

        November 16, 2013 at 5:02 pm |
  2. Don Lemon

    Only ignorant and naive may expect Ukrainian economy to receive any boost by joining the EU. In fact, just the opposite is going to happen- the economy will receive painful blows on multiple fronts and Ukiraine will be forced to beg on its knees for rescue from the EU.
    First of all, removing customs barriers will result in European goods overrunning the country, and consequent liquidation of whole industries domestically. Meanwhile, domestic exporters will see no benefit at all, as Ukrainian goods cannot compete in European markets. The only exports that may or may not see any increase is going to be commodities like grain. Essentially, the EU only wants Ukraine as a source of unprocessed agricultural commodities to ensure its own security in case of any global food crises. The EU plans to build its relationships with Ukraine just like with any other third world country and it is not something that will benefit Ukraine in the long term. It will be just like Africa- the eternal banana supplier- for the EU.
    Secondly, given the fact that the bulk of Ukrainian exports is destined for Russia, the event will result in immediate closure of Russian markets for Ukranian goods with devastating consequenses for Ukrainian economy.
    Thirdly, no more talk of special energy prices or preferential treatment from Russia. Ukrainian economy will receive a fatal blow from this side as well, given its absolute dependance on Russia for energy.
    Regarding Ukrainian language gaining precedence over Russian- that s another lie. I suggest the author should use more reliable sources or, still better, take time and visit Ukraine at least once to have some idea on the subject.
    Altogether, staying the course toward joining the EU will spell a disaster for Ukrainian economy both in the short and the long term.
    The ruling elites in Ukraine can only hope the EU is going to bail them out when the time comes to face the consequences but they may find themselves on their own in the midst of a fatal crisis with neither Russia nor the EU to turn to for help.

    November 12, 2013 at 7:41 am | Reply
    • Felix Unger

      Well put, Don. The Ukrainians need to stay neutral and develop it's own economy instead of joining the EU. Both the Americans and Europeans only want to exploit Ukraine's natural resources just like they're doing in Afghanistan and Iraq!

      November 12, 2013 at 8:47 am | Reply
    • steve

      Better to get away from the Russian yolk, Ukraine will thrive in the EU. And she will continue to be controlled by Putin if she does nothing.

      November 20, 2013 at 1:33 pm | Reply
  3. ukrainian

    it seems that the flood and trolling of Ukrainian news sites moved here))) shut up, katsaps
    СЛАВА УКРАЇНІ

    November 14, 2013 at 4:11 am | Reply
  4. John

    Ukraine will be exploited by either Russia or the EU...but it has to choose which one offers the best deal.

    Take a look at the standard of living in Customs Union countries like Belarus....vs an EU country like Poland.
    Both were in a similar state 20 years ago...but but now the EU alligned country has higher quality education, healthcare, and consumer goods. The customs union alligned Belarus is not a country where I would educate my children and if I ever got sick, I would pray to god rather than expect the doctor to help me.

    November 18, 2013 at 9:52 am | Reply
  5. ミッコ

    Putin is recreating the soviet union

    December 9, 2013 at 4:56 pm | Reply
  6. ミッコ

    Ukraine and Russia build soviet 2.0, all Ukraine problem solved.

    March 26, 2014 at 5:50 am | Reply
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