By Vincent J. Truglia
The situation in Ukraine continues to remain critical and dangerous. However, the lack of good reporting on the conflict by most of the Western press is worrisome. As I noted in my last blog on Ukraine, in many respects, both sides in the dispute are right, making any solution, diplomatic or otherwise, difficult to accomplish.
I may not be a fan of President Putin, but he is simply following a plan outlined years ago in trying to reestablish a somewhat different version of the former Soviet Union. This is not something he suddenly dreamt up in the last several months.
Following the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union, in 1991, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus signed an agreement establishing the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Later other former Soviet Republics signed onto the agreement.
Common Economic Space
At the time, they envisaged the establishment of a “common economic space.” Initially it seems to have mainly entailed some sort of free trade zone.
In 1996, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan signed a treaty calling for increased integration among their economies. The goals were to establish a common market for goods, services, free movement of capital, as well as integrate transport, energy and communication. Frankly, it sounds like they were simply trying to mimic the European Economic Community founded by the Treaty of Rome.
In 1999, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan signed another treaty outlining more specific details regarding the establishment of such a customs union and a common economic space. In other words, it appears they wanted to make sure their intent was clearly understood and would eventually become operational.
Eurasian Economic Community
In 2000, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan formally established the Eurasian Economic Community, which Uzbekistan joined in 2006.
In 2003, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine established, again by treaty, a Single Economic Space. However, as a result of the political chaos associated with, and following the Ukrainian “Orange Revolution,” Ukraine pulled out. It should be noted that the Ukrainian parliament had already passed the Single Economic Space Treaty in April 2004.
In January 2012, the Single Economic Space became operational, with more details regarding day-to-day functioning to be clarified by treaty by early 2015.
Over 70 Treaties Signed
By any reasonable standard, having already signed more than 70 treaties, the idea that Putin suddenly has decided to remake the Soviet Union is simply incorrect. Most of the major republics, which were part of the former Soviet Union, have been making steady progress moving in that very direction.
Does that mean a return to the Cold War? I don’t think it has to. Most members of the Eurasian Economic Community are, at worst, authoritarian, and more likely better described as kleptocracies. The US and the West regularly deal with authoritarian and kleptocratic states. The big difference between today and the Cold War is that there are no two opposing economic models per se, but rather differences in national views regarding domestic politics and national culture.
The problem Ukraine poses for the Eurasian Economic Community, is that at least the eastern part of the Ukraine’s economy, for the most part, perfectly complements the newly emerging Eurasian Economic Community.
In fact, there is no reason why the existence of the Eurasian Economic Community could not be/remain a good trading partner with the European Union.
What led to the present crisis is that Ukraine’s last president decided to not sign an agreement with the European Union, which would have had little near-term economic benefit for the Ukraine, and instead signed onto the idea of the Ukraine once again becoming part of the Eurasian Economic Community, which would have provided an immediate injection by Russia of about $15 billion into the economy.
We all know once rioting broke out among supporters of an alignment with the EU vs. the Eurasian group, the government responded in a heavy-handed manner and killed dozens of protesters. The President fled, and allegedly signed his powers over to parliament, which some observers say is not allowed under the existing Ukrainian constitution. The President or former President of Ukraine (depending on your interpretation of the Ukrainian constitution) is reportedly hiding in Russia and may have suffered a serious heart attack.
The bottom line is that domestic Ukrainian politics are chaotic. To date, at least, among all sides along the political continuum, kleptocracy, rather than democracy, is probably a better descriptive. I personally wouldn’t trust the result of any national election in Ukraine.
The Black Sea Fleet
In the growing chaos, Russia was obviously going to make sure its Black Sea fleet was safe from a now West-leaning government. Who knows, tomorrow may see a Russian-leaning government in Kiev. It’s already gone back and forth several times over the last 10 years. Yanukovych was president twice and was ousted twice in that time period. This sounds more like Latin America in the old days.
In the end, the West must come to terms with the Eurasian Economic Community, which means a more powerful Russia. At present, even without Ukraine, the population of this community is 170+ million.
Ukraine’s Rule Of Law
Regarding comments about the Ukrainian constitution and its rule of law reminds me of a story my former professor Jeanne Kirkpatrick used to tell about her time in Paris during the last days of France’s Fourth Republic. She would say if you went into a bookstore and asked for a copy of the French constitution, the proprietor would respond that he did not carry periodicals. I think you get the picture. Arguments about constitutionality and legality in Ukraine are useless for now. What we should be doing is to have the EU, the US and the Eurasian Economic Community figure out a way for either the Ukrainians to live together in one nation, or how to split the nation in a way that brings calm.
Sabre-rattling is not the answer. It is a mere detail whether Crimea is formally a part of the Russian Federation or remains outside it, but under its suzerainty. Western leaders need to move on to the more substantive issue regarding why Ukrainians seem unable to live together in harmony. That’s the real problem, not simply Putin’s leadership style, which definitely leaves much to be desired.
As always, Clear and Candid.