UKRAINE’S PROBLEMS FAR FROM OVER

Ukraine europ-map-eu

At the weekend, ABC news revealed that the US president was “working around the clock to resolve the crisis in Ukraine.”

I doubt this was true.

Pat Buchanan was likely more correct when he said on PBS’s McLaughlin Group that the US was “absent” and “irrelevant” in the Ukraine’s crisis.

Pivotal players in the Ukrainian situation were neighbors, Russia and the European Union.  As more than half the population of the eastern half of Ukraine speak Russian, there is a lot of support for Russia but the western half of the country, until a century ago a part of the Austrian Empire, looks west and wants to join the EU.

It’s not just language and history that divide the two halves.  Religion is another factor, with the Russian half Eastern Orthodox and the western half Roman Catholic.

The pro-Russia / pro-EU division is not the only problem that divides.

There is a great deal of anger amongst the demonstrators about the level of corruption in Ukraine.  As with demonstrators in many countries, economic deprivation is a major driving force.

What the EU represents for many is the hope of change, an opportunity to make a complete break with the Russian-Soviet past.  The EU provides an opportunity to secure democracy and prosperity.

Or does it?

A report just over a week ago showed that the EU itself has become very corrupt.   Perhaps not as bad as Ukraine but in some EU countries there’s a very high level of corruption.  The Mediterranean countries got a special mention, Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain, sometimes referred to collectively as the PIGS.

If and when Ukraine gets to become a full member of the EU, the country will not be another Germany.  It will rather be one of the PIGS, heavily indebted to Germany and dependent on handouts from the wealthier members of the European club.  Austerity is likely to be in force for some time.

If Russia Today, a 24/7 news channel free over the Internet, is accurate, Ukraine could also be a negative influence on the EU.  RT claims that many of the rebel leaders are members of extreme right-wing movements.  A number of European countries are seeing a rise in extreme right-wing parties.  A victory for rightists in Ukraine would encourage the same elsewhere.  It should be noted that, in World War II, many western Ukrainians were pro-Nazi.

Additionally, there is a very real threat of separatism along ethnic and linguistic lines.  If the Russian-speaking, Orthodox, Eastern Ukraine breaks away from the Catholic, Ukrainian-speaking western half, it could encourage other separatist movements in Europe.

It’s a mistake to assume that the fall of Ukraine’s pro-Russian President Yanukovych solves everything.  It is rather the beginning of a very uncertain future.

There is a possibility that Russia will move in militarily to protect its own citizens.  They may also claim the Russian-speaking eastern half of the country.  A Russian military intervention would be quick and would likely boost Putin’s stature at home, already considerably boosted by the completion of a successful Winter Olympics in Sochi.  It would be similar to the Russian war against Georgia in 2008.

If Russia does not intervene and Ukraine is free to join the EU, 15 billion euros in aid should arrive soon.  That’s $20 billion dollars – but Ukraine will be like Greece, beholden to Germany, subject to a long period of austerity that could build resentment and boost the extreme right even further.

It may be months or even years before we see the full consequences of the latest developments in Ukraine.  It will be a while before we see clearly who the victors are from the upheaval that has just taken place.

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