A top advisor to Russian President Vladimir Putin came out forcefully against Ukraine’s cozying up to the EU on Sunday, saying that it would be “suicidal” for the former Soviet state. This comes on the heels of Putin’s opening salvo in a potential trade war with Ukraine last week, when Russia began discriminatory and costly border checks on Ukrainian goods attempting to make their way to market in Russia. The Wall Street Journal reports:
Mr. Glazyev said Sunday that those checks were “preventative measures” in preparation for changes in customs procedures if Ukraine signs the EU pact.“We are preparing to toughen customs administration in case Ukraine takes this suicidal step and signs the association agreement with the EU,” Mr. Glazyev was quoted as saying by state news agency RIA Novosti.Moscow has long dangled the carrot of cheaper gas prices—which Kiev says it needs to kick-start its spluttering economy—in return for Ukraine joining the customs union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has indicated so far, however, that he prefers the EU deal.
Bellicose rhetoric is nothing new from Russia, just as last week’s border check bullying was business as usual for the Eurasian giant. But the rise of shale gas and its threat to Russia’s energy trump put a different spin on Glazyev’s comments. Russia has been dismissive of shale’s transformative powers, despite America’s preparations to export its gas glut and the impending development of shale reserves in Europe. Ukraine itself is looking to ramp up production of shale gas, depriving Putin of even more leverage.In that context, this latest spate looks more like Russian anxiousness than bravado. Ukraine has long balanced its relationships with Russia and the EU, and the potential European deal (which Ukraine’s President hopes to sign in November) won’t cut Russia out entirely. But if Ukraine can’t afford to completely turn its back on its eastern neighbor, the fact that it’s openly agitating for a free trade agreement with the EU is definitely evidence of Russia’s declining influence.[Putin photo courtesy of Getty Images.]