Many of the European Union’s political leaders affect to be flabbergasted by Ukraine’s abrupt U-turn, just as Viktor Yanukovych was about to sign the paperwork which would commit the nation to a European Association agreement that would bind Ukraine to a large number of reforms and renovations that would both bring it closer to Europe and liberalize its trading policies with the EU, and free and pardon jailed Orange oligarch Yulia Tymoshenko. Since my position from a long time ago has been that Yanukovych would not sign the agreement – not from any deep reservoir of political savvy on my part, but from a simple conviction that he would have to be out of his head to sign such an agreement – I was not and am not surprised. Yanukoych’s cautious interest in being part of Moscow’s customs union is a surprise, since he had quite decisively blown that off awhile ago. But as with most political situations, there are revealing lessons and behavioral quirks that contribute to what will become the next generation’s stereotypes, so it would be instructive to review the debacle once again; also, the EU’s baffled fury was delightfully entertaining and is well worth a second look. Because the EU has forgotten how to lose. And it is the EU’s behavior, both leading up to the intended moment of Yanukovich’s capitulation, and since it was left at the altar, that have provided us with some of the best entertainment in years.
It’s always easy to be wise after the fact, but it’s fun all the same to look back over the events of the last few months, and snicker at the gloating tone of the Ukrainian opposition and the western pundits; Russia was going to take a licking, and oh, my, weren’t they going to be mad?? Arseniy Yatsenyuk, caretaker leader of the Batkivschnya Party until its pizza-braids iconic ruler, Yulia Tymoshenko, once more takes up the reins of power – is it just me, or does Yatsenyuk look like his head is on upside down? – cockily joked that he would like to see Vladimir Putin get a medal after Ukraine signed the Association Agreement, for pushing Ukraine into the arms of the EU by “starting a trade war” with Ukraine. I’ll bet he majored in drama. RIANovosti, soon to be absorbed by a new network, whooped that Kiev was “sure to sign the agreement“, riffing off of Yanukovych’s statement that “For today, I see no obstacles to signing this document”. Note to Yatsenyuk; “for today” might not even mean for the rest of today, in politics. Anyway, back then Yatsenyuk was walking tall, because Yulia of the Shining Braids was going to be set free any day now; the EU had said that was a condition of signing the agreement, and Germany’s Angela Merkel pronounced that non-negotiable. Ringingly, she announced, “Nations decide for themselves about their future orientation…There can be no veto rights for third parties.” Ha, ha; sorry, that just makes me laugh out loud, now – you’ll soon see how much attention the EU paid to that rule. It became, like, the Pirate Code in “Pirates of the Caribbean”…more what you might call “guidelines”.
Then, the first signs of unease began to show – not alarm; not yet, but nervousness, like a horse that smells smoke in a stable. Germany described the deal to release Tymoshenko as “complicated”, where it had up to that point insisted not only that she be freed but that she receive a full and unconditional pardon, obviously so as to allow her to run against Yanukovych in 2015. That’s where I drew the line, and my position was that Yanukovych would never sign an agreement which made him release and pardon Tymoshenko, because it would be an acknowledgement that she was wrongfully imprisoned, and he would find his own ass in jail faster than you could say “Salo”. And his argument that he could not simply overrule the court’s decision and pardon her actually is correct; Ukraine is not a dictatorship, and the President does not have the special authority to go around springing prisoners at his whim, although his recommendation would have carried a good deal of weight. But had he done it, he might as well leave Ukraine forever the same night. Anyway, the deal began to slowly evolve toward an agreement which would allow her to be released on humanitarian grounds (because of her back problems, which might be eased by her not wearing 4-inch spike heels in her prison cell where nobody can see her except prison staff, who doubtless are not impressed with her fashion sense); that would remove the hurdle of pardoning her criminal activity. Yanukovych said he would sign a deal which would let her go abroad (likely to Germany, which had volunteered) to receive medical treatment provided she returned once well to serve the remainder of her sentence. Since the EU wanted her free to run for election, that was a non-starter, and the wheel went ’round for a few more turns with nothing much happening, although there was a deepening sense of how-is-this-slipping-away-from-us. Complaints began to trickle out that Russia was “bullying” Ukraine, because of a “leaked” document said to originate with the Kremlin which reported Ukraine would lose money if it went with the EU, while it would make money if it focused on trade with Russia and its partners, and because Russia demanded Ukraine pay an overdue gas bill, saying it was “concerned” about the debt. Only in the Anglospheric press could Russia be said to be bullying Ukraine with a document that was nothing but the truth – substantiated by any number of references that report Ukraine’s trade with the world – and a demand to pay a bill which was overdue for goods which had already been received, knowing that Ukraine is broke and almost through its reserves, and that a new-partner EU would be likely to encourage Ukraine to default on its debt to Russia. Gone were the blithe analyses like Walter Russel Mead’s, for The American Interest, which was titled, “Ukraine to Russia: We’ve got a New Friend, Get Used To It“.
And then the wheels came off the deal.
If there really was surprise, I blame it on that warbling fool, Mykola Azarov, who kept fluttering around the EU’s crisis team – because that’s what it had become – crying that the deal was all but done, just a little more of this and a dash of that and they’d all be singing “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours“. If he really was that confident, then there’s nothing behind those glasses but dusty black space, because by that point the signs were all there that Yanukovych would kick over the apple cart – more properly, that he would be forced to break off negotiations because of EU intransigence. They simply waited too long to start backing off on their ultimatums.
But some continued to stumble ahead blindly. The Moscow Times was particularly embarrassing, jubilantly quoting “political analysts” in late October that “Ukraine has always wanted to have its cake and eat it too – to be a part of Europe and have good relations with Russia – but geopolitics do not work that way“. They turned out to be right, but The Moscow Times guessed wrong, doubtless driven by ideology. But that followed by only days an even more embarrassing fail, as dropped-on-his-head-as-a-baby idiot Georgy Bovt penned “How Russia Lost Ukraine“, leading off with “Russia’s leaders view the Association Agreement with the European Union that Ukraine and five other former Soviet republics recently signed in Vilnius as a major defeat in this longstanding geopolitical standoff. Moscow is so angry that it is threatening to unleash a trade war with Ukraine and punish Lithuania for pandering to the “treacherous” behavior of the former Soviet republics.” It was more embarrassing even than Anders Aslund’s, “How Putin Lost Ukraine“, which preceded Bovt’s masterpiece by six months, because Anders Aslund is a known fool who is the journalistic equivalent of a racing stripe on a tortoise, and because the picture was much clearer in October than it had been in April. And because Bovt was far enough out of his mind that he thought he might as well go ahead and write about the reactions to Ukraine signing a deal before they signed it, which ultimately they did not.
Well, you already know all this – why are we going over it again? Because of the EU’s behavior now.
Let’s recall the EU’s attitude toward Russia in the months leading up to the forecast signing of the deal: any pressure exerted on Ukraine by Russia, we heard, to try and influence the decision was “unacceptable”. No less an authority than the EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy, Stefan Fuele, told us, “any threats from Russia linked to the possible signing of EU Association Agreements at a summit in Vilnius in November would be unacceptable…this applie[s] to all forms of pressure, including possible misuse of energy pricing, artificial trade obstacles, and threats to withdraw security guarantees or cease military cooperation.” He went on to dig himself an even deeper future hole, with, “In the Helsinki Principles of the OSCE, we have committed to respect each country’s, let me quote, ‘right freely to define and conduct as it wishes its relations with other states in accordance with international law,’ end of quote. The European Union will support and stand by those who are subject to undue pressures.”
He didn’t mention Russian leaders showing up in Ukraine to foment a revolution and raise a protest movement, but I suspect that would have been “unacceptable” as well. Not to mention doing as U.S. Senator John McCain did, pledging U.S. support to the opposition and meeting with the daughter of imprisoned opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko – who has no political status whatsoever beyond sharing the same genes as her jailbird mother – during which visit he reportedly told Ms. Tymoshenko he supported targeted U.S. government sanctions against senior officials in Yanukovich’s “regime”. Apparently any form of pressure the EU/United States of America chooses to bring to bear to force Ukraine into an EU Association Agreement which is to its great financial disadvantage is not only permissible, but clearly the right thing to do – while Russia’s blocking of Ukrainian chocolate was an act of unbelievable barbarism, and so clearly coercive that it was probably the single biggest contributing factor to Yanukovych’s turning away from the deal. Excuse me, I have to take a break for a minute, before I start throwing things.
Whew; that’s better – I swear, there’s just something about the way John McCain pops up anywhere he can get people to cheer for him, and blathers on about freedom and joy while committing mythical forces to battle over which he exercises no influence whatsoever that just makes me want to jam an artillery rocket up his ass and blast him out of his pricey penny-loafers.
According to Volodymyr Fesenko, Russia’s blocking of Roshen’s chocolate was symptomatic of a targeted campaign against “the leaders of Ukrainian big business, people who play an important role in the Ukrainian economy, because they are the main lobbyists for European integration of Ukraine“. Director of analytics (???) Oleksandr Sokolov of Pro-Consulting reckoned Russia’s trade action could cost Roshen $200 Million if the action lasted a year, because that’s what they sold to Russia last year. Out of total company revenues of $1.2 Billion. In a country with a GDP of $176 Billion. Uh huh.
And now we learn that Yanukovych told Catherine Ashton more than a week ago that he planned to sign deals with Moscow. No word of that leaked out the the Maidan crowd, you can bet – it’s hard to make people sleep out in the cold and protest when they know hope is lost, and the EU is happy for them to continue protesting. Disgraceful.
Which brings us to today. In addition to the $8 Billion in deals signed with China last week, Yanukovych has concluded a $15 Billion deal with Moscow, which includes a reduction in gas prices of about a third. Just in case you have gone foggy on the details of the EU agreement and its gilded benefits, it offered Ukraine a little better than $600 Million in assistance, and imposed strict conditions in exchange for a large loan, one of which was the immediate rescinding of subsidies for home heating, with a corresponding sharp rise in utility payments for citizens. The conclusion of this deal was met back home in Kiev with the by-now-hackneyed “massive protests” from the farseeing foreign-policy experts on the Maidan, who wanted Yanukovych to know he should “not bother coming back to Ukraine if he “sells out” to Russia”. They would rather pay higher gas prices in exchange for being able to say proudly, “We are Europeans”. Aux barricades, mes blockheads.
So, in summary, Yanukovych gets no thanks for negotiating an agreement which will likely save Ukraine’s faltering choco-centric economy, while other aspirants to EU-ness have had no problems soliciting an EU association agreement without the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) the EU wanted with Ukraine, which would have imposed onerous (and expensive) Euro-standardization requirements upon it that it would have had to finance with borrowed money, all to achieve purported trade benefits that there is no reason it cannot negotiate as a member of the WTO.
But the EU continues to posture and squawk and stir things up in a manner that would cause it to burst a blood vessel if Russia were doing it in Ukraine, all because losing to Russia has become so unbearable that any amount of self-deception is preferable to admitting having been outmaneuvered and beaten.
I’ll let Dire Straits take us out, with “The Bug”.
Sometimes you’re the windshield,
sometimes you’re the bug;
sometimes it all comes together baby,
sometimes you’re a fool in love:
sometimes you’re the Louisville Slugger,
sometimes you’re the ball;
sometimes it all comes together,
sometimes you’re losin’ it all...