By Paolo von Schirach
February 19, 2014
WASHINGTON – I mentioned in an earlier piece, (see link above), how Victoria Nuland, the US Assistant Secretary for European Affairs used vulgar language (“f….k the EU”) in a private conversation. The context was how the US and Europe were trying to deal with the exploding crisis in the Ukraine. Nuland clearly indicated that Europe is irrelevant and not to be counted on. We can infer that deep down the believes that the EU –a Union that includes most of our key, historic Allies– is weak, irresolute, fearful and essentially impotent.
The Ukraine and Europe
Well, even though Nuland did not use elegant language, she is basically right. The way Europe is handling the crisis in Kiev demonstrates all of the above.
Let’s step back a second. What is this crisis, potentially leading to a civil war, all about? It is about a deep division within the Ukraine between a faction led by the current government headed by President Viktor Yanukovich that would like a much closer association with Russia and those who would like to link up with Europe, aiming at an eventual EU full membership.
Two models: Russia or Europe
Both substantively and symbolically Europe and Russia represent two, mutually exclusive, models. Putin’s Russian Federation is a poor imitation of Czarist Russia. The old KGB officer wants us to believe that he is in fact the defender of an old, revered –and in fact morally superior– Slavic culture. All of a sudden, Putin discovered that he is an “Old Believer”. It is all about Great Mother Russia, the Orthodox Faith and traditional, conservative values. Hence anti-gay legislation and persecution against liberals. And the official propaganda is that a morally strong Russia, fortified by its Faith and superior values, will prevail against a decadent West that is clearly in decline.
Europe is supposed to be the opposite. Europe is about liberal democracy, freedom, equal rights, equal justice, respect for all minorities, gay rights. Last but not least, Europe is about the higher standard of living that usually prevails in free countries.
The Ukraine opposition wants Europe
The vocal Ukrainian opposition has spoken. Loudly. They want Europe. They do not want to be once more an appendix, (or, worse, a vassal), of the reborn Russian Empire.
They want Europe and what they believe it represents: modernity, innovation, political freedoms, freedom of movement, and what not. Hence their feisty resistance against the government led by pro-Russian Yanukovich that would like to take Moscow’s money in exchange for closer ties with Russia.
Europe looks on and does nothing
Looking at all this, what does Europe do? It sees how its “friends” in Kiev are being persecuted, and now killed. Any reactions? Well, there is talk about counter measures, possibly some types of sanctions targeting the architects of the repression in the Ukraine. But we are still at the level of veiled threats. Not much action, so far.
And why so little? Well, because, among other European virtues, there is “soft power”, a euphemism for “passivity”. If Europe acted forcefully against Yanukovich in this crisis, this might place Brussels on a collision course with Moscow.
And Europe does not want that. Certainly there is no admiration in Europe for Putin’s semi-autocracy. But Putin is forceful. If Brusssels takes a strong stand regarding the Ukraine, he might retaliate. And the Europeans want easy-going relations with Russia. Hence EU hesitation in this crisis.
Europe does not fight
What the brave people in Kiev should begin to understand is that they would like to join a club –the European Union–that is not going to do much for its would-be members. No doubt, Europe, with all its problems, is a far better deal than semi-despotic Russia. But the Europeans, whatever their virtues, (with few carefully selected exceptions, usually far from home), do not fight.