Dimitris Rapidis

The Ukrainian Conundrum

Ukraine is torn into two parts: the one being strongly opposed to President Yanukovych’s pro-Russian statemanship; the other being silent or at least less opposed to closer partnership with Russia. The first and most ardent part is massively demonstrating in the streets of Kyiv and other major cities, pressing the Presidency to shift roles or resign. Above all, it lies the risk of a bloody partition if Mr. Yanukovych decides to remain standstill and ignore what is happening in the western parts of his country.

The problem of Ukraine is foremost a national identity problem. It then goes to be a democratic problem, then historical, and afterwards political and economic. It is a national identity problem since the country was striving after the fall of Communism to shape the pathway for a fully-sovereign perception and applicability of national independence. Russia was always there and still be; It is a democratic problem as since the Orange Revolution -which in fact perplexed the ongoing political establishment of the country- Ukraine has never turned back to the stability. In the contrary, the country is 1o years now one of the most polarized regions in Europe.

Further, it is an historical problem as geographically Ukraine belongs nowhere. In other words, while preserving the Slavonic and Orthodox tradition, Kyiv had blossomed as one of the most pro-European cities since the 15th and 16th century in terms of culture and arts. But then, it comes another quagmire: the language. While the majority speaks Ukrainian, there is a really big part of the population speaking Russian – let alone the expatriates and those identifying themselves as “Russians” rather than “Ukrainians”.

Finally, it is a political and economic problem. Political in terms of shortage of new leaders, fresh, and independent from the burdens of the past. Ukraine is years now recycling the same political figures as if it was captured into a vicious nightmare. Economic in terms of the country’s enormous foreign account deficit, lack of foreign currency reserves, excessive borrowing, and a market attached to the Russian factor. No way out, and certainly not with the European aid.

Under such frivolous political and economic conditions, pro-European feelings grow significantly and seek for ratification. For many Ukrainians, the country’s integration in the European Union could be sort of freedom from the ghosts of the past, as well as s strong argument against the complete “Russianization” of the country. But does the European Union have the same perspective?

The European Union in times of austerity is more of an economic and financial bureau which gives emphasis on numbers and debts, and less of a space of freedom and democracy. From that prism, it goes without saying that EU decision-makers acknowledge the fact that Ukraine’s sovereign debt is hold by Russia or the fact that free trade and the opening of Ukraine in the European market will not necessarily make Ukrainian products more competitive than the French or Austrian ones, for instance.

Concerning the cost of Ukraine’s integration in the European Union, there are well-grounded doubts over who would assume such a vast financial assistance. Is it the devastating banking system of the Union; is it Brussels and the member-states; or is it Russia? None of these options seems particularly likely. The most possible scenarion for Ukraine would be to resort to a bailout, probably stemming from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). And given the previous experience from the intervention of the IMF in other countries, prospects for recovery are narrowing.

Nevertheless, the most imminent risk for Ukraine is not financial, but rather existential. Even if ecomomic boost is kind of fiction for the moment, the country has crossed the Rubicon of partition. And here comes the bilateral mediation of Brussels and Moscow in order to impede such a scenario.

Author :