The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
The Story That Should Be Dominating The News Is: Ukraine

Yanukovych

Ukraine’s approaching hour of decision is one of the biggest geopolitical stories of our time. If you haven’t been following this story, it’s this: Ukraine is considering signing a free trade and association agreement with the EU, and Russia is not pleased. The Kremlin has threatened and bullied and offered incentives to Kiev in an attempt to get it to join Russia’s customs union over Europe’s. The signs suggest all that is in vain: Ukraine is going to Europe.

Ukraine is expected to sign a free trade and association agreement with the European Union at a summit in Lithuania on November 28-29, as long as it meets remaining conditions, including releasing former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko from prison.

If it moves toward the EU, the old Russia of the tsars and the commissars is dead, and what Putin called “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century” starts to look permanent. Germany will have replaced Russia as the dominant power in Europe, Poland will shift from the frontier of Europe toward its heart, and Putin will go down in Russian history as the man who lost Ukraine.

It will also be a textbook case of what a curse natural resources in the wrong hands can be. Russia’s oil and gas industry helped create the corrupt nexus between big business and the state that ultimately strangled Russia’s nascent post-communist market economy. Poland had no such bounty from nature and was forced to undergo painful reforms and deep restructuring. On the other side of those changes, Poland has emerged as an increasingly influential—and prosperous—member of the European Union.

It’s not 100 percent certain yet that Ukraine will go west. The EU is insisting on the release of ex-President Timoshenko, now languishing in prison after a trial that most foreign observers believe was both politically motivated and deeply flawed. As Russia, the Ukrainian government and the EU maneuver ahead of the deadline, history is being made.

The other side of this story, also largely missed by the mainstream media, is the continuing rise of unified Germany. With Russia crippled by the failure of Putin’s state building project, France in sharp decline, Britain divided against itself and unable to develop a serious European policy, Germany’s position in Europe is startlingly strong. After a decade in which the geopolitical chat industry obsessed over the BRICS, it is interesting, to say the least, that Germany, more than Brazil, Russia, India or even China, is the country that is having the most success at affecting developments in its neighborhood.

Europe as a whole may still be locked into a steady and stately decline, but Germany is becoming much more of a force with which the rest of the world, including the United States, must reckon.

[Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovich photo courtesy of Shutterstock]

Published on November 1, 2013 11:40 am
  • ljgude

    This article is why I read Via Meadia – it comes from a genuine sense of history as opposed to predictably ideology driven journalism. Why the Ukraine may go west is tied up with the history of ideology driven journalism as exemplified by the New York Times. They covered up the slaughter of the Kulaks, largely in the Ukraine in the 30s. And the Ukrainians welcomed Hitler’s troops at first when they took the Ukraine, which isn’t surprising given that Stalin had killed millions of them. Schoinitizen tells us that the number was 6 million. But in any case it was on the order of magnitude of the Holocaust. Not to relativize the holocaust, or cover up that a lot of Jews died at the hands of the Germans in the Ukraine, at Babi Yar. The Jews remember it and well they should. Do we think the Ukrainains forget just because we forget it, or never heard about it at all.

    • Kavanna

      What’s interesting today is the constructive role that Germany plays in Europe, almost alone. Britain and France are too caught up in their own decline to make much difference any more.

      And Germany has been able to best an imploding Russia, while the Empty Suit in the White House can’t fall over himself fast enough in concessions and makes himself look like an idiot.

      • ljgude

        Agree, Germany is leaving the rest of Europe in the dust. It so easy to dismiss Germany on the basis of WW2. Does a night ever go by when there is not a Nazi movie on TV? But Germany has gotten a lot of things right since. To take nothing from what they got wrong an old friend recently told me that in the 19th century when they saw the success of England in the industrial revolution they decided to train twice as many technicians as England. To this day German industry has an edge over other countries in the depth of their technical people. For example I have another friend in California who is the best natural mechanic I have ever met. He fixes the largest of printing presses, many of the German unsurprisingly. His son became a Diesel (That ain’t a French name!) mechanic and was so good Mercedes were willing to send him to their own Diesel school for a year and then pay him ridiculous amounts of money to work for them. In Germany their technical education system still produces the technicians they need. We do social promotion and everyone gets a meaningless trophy. So Mercedes has to do the education for us. Pfui!

  • tarentius

    Germany is a power in terminal decline. You can’t fight demographics; and Germany’s energy policies are damaging the economy in such a way that the German economy will become uncompetitive in the next decade. Germany will remain the strongest of the weak in Europe and will be unable to project in any area not in its very narrow sphere of influence. The statement that Germany is becoming a force with which the rest of the world must reckon is not based on any objective criteria and is way overstated.

  • Victor

    There is a tiny error in the post: Timoshenko is an ex-Premier, not President. She lost Presidential elections to the current President.

    However, one of the important points left behind are the new developments in her case:

    The Ministry of Revenue and Duties of Ukraine Has Begun Legal Process in the USA and Switzerland to Protect the Interests of the Ukraine State in Relation to Over US$200m
    http://finance.yahoo.com/news/ministry-revenue-duties-ukraine-begun-171300425.html

    Timoshenko is a deeply corrupt oligarch and Putin’s business partner with powerful connections in the Party (just ask Lilia Shevtsova). It would be an entertaining show to observe how western politicians run over themselves to rescue a figure from prison just to see her go right after Pavlo Lazarenko in the prison somewhere in the States.

  • worldreview

    One of the major sticking points for the EU is the Ukraine’s human rights record and whether Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich will agree to free opposition politician Yulia Tymoshenko.

    However, if Ukraine slips back into the Russian sphere, Moscow will have serious clout to increase its influence both in the South Caucasus and in Central Asia.

    http://www.worldreview.info/content/human-rights-abuse-sticking-point-ukraine-pact-eu