I have certainly learned a lot about Ukraine over the past few months. From the news reports it seems that Ukraine was not such a happy ship as we believed after leaving the Soviet Union. The unrest that we knew as the ‘velvet revolution’ was an indication of how they do politics in Ukraine, namely rigged elections, thuggery and mob rule.
The peoples of Ukraine vary considerably, with pro-Western populations in the west of the country (which includes some rather unsavoury elements) and a large pro-Russian population in the east. However, it is not that simple as not everyone in the west is pro-Western and not everyone in the east is pro-Russian, people like the Crimean Tartars, who were terribly persecuted under Stalin’s regime. So there is a collection of populations, with divided loyalties and fears for their safety under an unfavourable regime.
There was governmental incompetence and corruption on a grand scale, which reduced Ukraine to an economic basket case, even though it is rich in mineral wealth. The oligarchs always got richer while the peasants got by. Eventually it got to the point where they needed a bailout by somebody before the country went bankrupt. Ukraine’s natural saviour was Russia, as they had formally been part of the Soviet Union and had many ties to Russia, and Russia duly offered a trade deal and bailout package. The trouble started when the EU came along and offered a trade deal and bailout of its own.
Ukraine has a basket case economy and is riddled with corruption and incompetence, so it should fit in well with the EU, but quite why the EU wanted to add yet another basket case economy to the bail-out list is beyond me. I suspect that the EU has a doctrine of expansion at any price and sees Ukraine as another potential member. The result is the current debacle. The Eurocrats showed their incompetence in international affairs by failing to take into account the attitude of Russia, which was somewhat predictable. Russia may have lost some of its superpower status after the fall of communism but it is still the major power in that region. Russia has a historically based fear of being invaded, and anyone with half a brain should have been able to work out that if the EU moved into Ukraine, NATO might not be far behind it, and that Russia would see that as a threat to its southern flank and its Black Sea naval base, and would retaliate in some way. It is not a good idea to give the bear a jab in the back with a sharp stick.
Quite how this situation will pan out is anybody’s guess. America has got involved now, but the whole Western military capability has been run down in recent years, leaving the West incapable of any sort of military response. This may be a blessing in disguise because, even if NATO sent a task force to the Black Sea and it fought its way past the Russian fleet and landed a task force in Crimea or eastern Ukraine, it would not be welcomed as liberators by many of the local populations. Fortunately, all the rhetoric is about economic repercussions at the moment. The economic interdependence of both sides should ensure that only minor economic actions are taken, and this situation will hopefully be solved by diplomacy, even if this results in Ukraine splitting into two separate states. The Europhiles are always keen to say how the EU has been responsible for keeping the peace in Europe since World War 2, but those words will prove hollow if the EU ends up being responsible for starting World War 3.