As the world knows, Kiev backed out of an association agreement with the European Union at the last moment, probably as a continuation of its long game of trying for a better deal by playing Moscow and Brussels against each other. This is a common strategy for “in-between” countries; it won’t work forever but, if well played, it can leverage a better end deal. If poorly played, however, it can produce nothing but bad feelings. The Kyrgyz Republic played the same game with Russia and the US over the Manas Air Base, eventually winning a better payment from the US. Egypt is doing the same today.
But such a simple explanation will not do for the anti-Russia brigade. It’s all about The Chess Masters in the Sky. And we see Kiev’s choice cast in Manichean terms: it is a “principal[led], some even say civilizational, choice between Europe and Russia, democracy and dictatorship, sovereignty and subordination, prosperity and poverty, modernity and mayhem. Indeed, the contrast between what Ukraine can expect from her Western and Eastern neighbors could not be starker.”. All this may be Gospel to most Westerners, but in Kiev they have to seriously ask themselves whether the EU is really the best path to Ukraine’s future. And, a sub-question: is last week’s offer the best we can get?
The other assumption is that it’s all Moscow’s doing. “EU leaders Friday revived Cold War rhetoric Friday, accusing Russia of bullying Ukraine into ditching a landmark deal so the former Soviet republic would stay locked in Moscow’s orbit.” (Sic and much repeated: does anybody read this stuff before re-typing it?) This Tartuffian fanfarade was soon followed in the report by real evidence for Yanukovych’s motives: “Yanukovych complained that the EU hadn't offered enough in financial incentives to secure his signature.”. But ils ne passeront pas! “We may not give in to external pressure, not the least from Russia” said one EU “president” (there are three of them). But the assertion that Moscow made them do it is directly contradicted by many Ukrainian spokesmen: Prime Minister Azarov said the IMF’s conditions were “the last straw”; an official statement declared the EU had not paid enough attention to “Ukraine’s needs”; many feared costs would go up; concerns about Ukraine’s independence were expressed; the EU’s moralistic additional demands were rejected. Nonetheless Russia “blackmailed” Ukraine; Putin is holding the police line in Kiev; Yanukovych “gave in to Russian pressure”; it’s Russian “blackmail” and so on.