Putin’s been having a tough week in his backyard. First China began to push Russia out of Kazakhstan; now the EU is making a concerted effort to lure Ukraine away from Russia following Putin’s attempts to intimidate it into backing out of talks with the EU. The FT reports:
The EU’s two most senior officials—José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, and Herman Van Rompuy, the European Council president—expressed their “determination in moving forward” with the agreement after meeting Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovich, at the UN General Assembly in New York on Tuesday.EU member states agreed in a private meeting on Monday to sweeten their offer so that Ukraine could enjoy many of the pact’s benefits, including trade liberalisation, as soon as it is signed.
This is good news for Ukraine and bad news for Putin, whose grand project of a Eurasian Customs Union is on the verge of collapse.For Putin, Ukraine is a make or break issue. If Russia succeeds in pulling Ukraine back into a tight economic association, the path to the emergence of something like the old Soviet Union is still open. If Ukraine decisively turns west, Russia will lose its last real hope of recovering something like its old place in world affairs.What’s most humiliating for Putin, however, is that he isn’t even losing to a strong competitor: the euro crisis has left Europe even weaker than usual. The reason he is losing is that the kind of government he runs has been unable to generate a serious economic revival that could make association with Russia an attractive prospect for Ukraine. Even the oligarchs of Ukraine, whose political interests might be served by a closer alliance with Russia, know that the companies they control have a better shot at thriving if they link up with Europe.This whole turn of events demonstrates Germany’s relative position of strength over Russia in Europe today. Germany’s project of a peaceful association of democratic states remains, warts and all, attractive to states on the periphery in ways that Russia’s Eurasian fantasy does not.[Putin photo courtesy of Getty Images.]