|Which way is the wind blowing...?|
I have a soft spot for Ukraine. It is a fantastically interesting and awe inspiring country which has given the world a great deal. It is a complex nation and deserves a lot more than the current violent upheaval.
The shocking protests in Kiev, which we have seen in recent days, highlight the huge chasm between the interests of national parties and those of its people.
Something which is quite apparent in many countries - Ukraine is not peculiar in this.
The Eurosceptics have heralded the rejection of the agreement by President Yanukovich as a victory for their camp. It clearly isn't, and to me shows how people can protest so ardently in favour of joining and being part of the EU.
Russia say it is a victory for them. It isn't. Threats to a former Soviet state are an unfair way to go about creating some kind of Russian led customs union which Russia clearly wants. This is no bad thing. I personally, and many of my Ukrainian friends, would prefer this.
Ukraine is, despite what the BBC like to tell you, more like Russia than Europe.
What would be good I think is if Russia swallowed her pride and apologised.
Apologised for everything that Russia has ever done in its past to upset and hurt its former states. Some kind of grand gesture of penitence to ensure that a clean fresh slate could be made.
Sorry may be the hardest word but it is also one of the most vital.
Putin I suppose is not one for such gestures.
It is important I think to remember that Ukraine is a very different country to many in the EU and it's ties with Russia are not merely superficial. It is angered me the way the EU has behaved and thus antagonised Russia. I think for the EU to remain a success and to realise its true potential for good, then they must learn to adapt and understand situations better.
The EU is something that many ordinary Ukrainians aspire to be in and President Yanukovich’s rejection of the association agreement and free trade accord is a sharp blow for many who see Ukraine’s future within the EU, or at least standardising to the EU model.
A trade deal with the EU was estimated to have boosted the Ukrainian economy by 6% and saved businesses billions in import duties and Barroso called it the ‘most ambitious’ agreement ever offered to a non-member state.
The formidable demonstrations clearly show that Ukraine is very much torn between East and West. Yet is proof of how desirable still it is to be in the EU and how much the people of Ukraine would like to be given the opportunities that other member states enjoy through closer political association and economic integration.
For many modern Ukrainians the EU represents transparency in the political system they are cynical of and believe that Ukraine can be a prosperous state within the EU. This agreement was the first stage in that process and the failure marks a huge setback for them.
The people of Ukraine want to share the common standards of European justice and democracy.
These are the benefits that all member states can enjoy and it is a remarkable thing to see people protesting because they want so much to be part of that, unlike the muted discontentment from the Eurosceptics complaining at being in the EU. Europhiles can use this episode as further proof that the EU matters and is a force for good.
Now, it may seem at odds with how I began this post, but one must understand that Ukraine wants to be in the EU for reasons of national discontentment not always because of what the EU is.
Yanukovich symbolises all that is wrong for Ukraine - corruption and lack of transparency and justice.
In a poll out today opinion suggests that the EU being a force for good is not so widely held in certain member states - particularly in Britain.
Opinium found that just 26% of British voters regard the EU as, overall, a "good thing" compared with 42% who say it is a "bad thing". In Poland 62% say it is a good thing and 13% bad; in Germany 55% good and 17% bad, and in France 36% good and 34% bad.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Nick Clegg have called for some serious debate in Britain to highlight the real benefits that being in the EU offers.
In these troubled times amid the Euro crisis it is easy to see where this disillusionemnt comes from. When polled recently nearly a third of French and Germans said they would vote to leave the EU.
Certainly across the continent in countries where the EU used to be more popular there is clearly a need for leaders to remind people of the good that the EU has achieved.
The current situation in Ukraine is timely in demonstrating how important and vital the EU is for many and what a strong force it can be.
For many Eurosceptics using the rejection of the agreement as endorsement of anti EU sentiment they have missed several key points and misinterpreted the situation.
Ukraine rejected the agreement not because they didn’t want to be in the EU, but because of pressure exerted on them by Russia and the fact they did not want to comply with one of the conditions laid down by the EU as necessary.
The EU requested that the ’selective justice’ that Ukraine implemented regarding the imprisoned opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko was to be amended and they allow her out the country for medical treatment.
This decision not to sign the agreement was based largely on national party interests and not because Ukraine does not want a trade deal with the EU. The protests do however show how much the Ukrainian citizens want that deal.
The demonstrations are in fact proof of how valuable and important the EU is and how much being a member matters. They see being part of the EU as a way out of the corruption that many think still blights their political system. The EU holds a standard that all members must aspire to and achieve and for many Ukrainians joining the EU is a way to attain those democratic ideals.
Van Rompuy said after the agreement was rejected that “we need to overcome pressure from abroad”.
Russia’s pressure on Ukraine not to sign the deal was indeed at the heart of the decision.
Russia sees Ukraine as an essential part of their Eastern Partnership trading agreement.
Ukraine has for some time now been torn between the EU and Russia and is now facing up to the reality of how this manifests itself.
Russia recognises the importance of the EU but as a separate entity from their own trading agreements with former Soviet states, which they hope will form part of a Russian led customs union.
Yet lessons must also be learned from this by the EU in how best to continue.
Not all countries should be in the EU and perhaps it may be best for Ukraine to concentrate on ties with Russia and its former Soviet neighbours. Dare I say it? Expansion is not necessarily a good thing. (off to hide from the fanatical Euro Federalists)!
Yanukovich himself says that Ukraine is too economically fragile to be in the EU at present and surely amid the Euro crisis it would be best not to exacerbate an already precarious situation.
The last thing the EU needs is another unstable economy joining ranks.
It is certainly not for the EU to cause rifts between countries who perhaps belong in a different kind of trade agreement with their neighbours.
This has also now caused a huge crisis in EU- Russian relations not seen since the 2008 Russian – Georgian war.
Barrosos’s insensitive flat refusal to have three ways talks between Russia, the EU and Ukraine is improvident.
The future of the EU depends on co-operation and negotiation, though clearly any vetoes by Russia would contravene international law.
It is not for Russia to try and block such a deal and use threats to do so, but the EU must also recognise and respect the cultural and political differences in this matter.
In these troubled times they do not need to give the Euroceptics and naysayers any ammunition.
Union can only work in any form when all parties work in harmony and with a mutual goal.
This is not a victory for the Eurosceptics as some have mistakenly suggested.
It is not a victory for Russia as they might suggest.
It merely highlights the benefits that being in the EU brings and why being a member is such a privilege, which must not be undertaken lightly and why perhaps some countries are not suitably placed to become members.
The dilemma is for Ukraine, and Ukraine alone to conquer in order to decide what is best for their nation and they should not be threatened or intimidated by anyone.
We are not all the same. We do not necessarily all want or need the same things.
Negotiation, compromise and co-operation make the world go round.
I think the EU needs to have this mini mantra written down and stuck on a post-it on their office fridge so that they can be reminded on a daily basis. Thereby continuing to be the force for good that many members and non members believe them to be.