Putin is more challenged by EU than NATO & that’s key to addressing Ukraine, Russia-West ties

 

The late Samuel Huntington described Ukraine as a ‘torn’ country. Anyone who has a more rudimentary sense of geography and history, not to mention demography and domestic politics, would know that. Apparently not the EU.

Most analysts blame the Ukraine crisis on NATO expansion. There is some truth to it. But in reality, its is the expansion of the EU which lies at the heart of the crisis engulfing Europe now. Russia knows for some time (despite NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s diplomatically inept statements to the contrary) that the West would not seek Ukraine’s membership in NATO. This is not just or mainly because he feels EU’s democratic values would threaten his authoritarian regime. It is because Russia feels a sense of competition (rather than threat) from EU expansion in its own backyard.

Russia, which is ironically labeled as an “emerging power” is actually an old-fashioned European great power which still believes in the concept of a sphere of influence, just as Germany, the US (Monroe Doctrine) and other Western powers sought in the 19th century.  The expansion of EU squarely conflicts with that belief.

There is much to admire about the EU, the way it has transformed relationships among the nations of Western Europe,including the historic rivals, Germany, France and US. But the EU is a highly rigid and bureaucratic institution and it sometimes goes too far in imposing its rules and values on other peoples and states.

Moreover, the EU has developed something akin to the ‘standard of civilization” that the European nations imposed on countries whom they colonized. The EU is of course into neo-colonialism, but its insistence that the whole of Europe must adopt its values, institutions and rules ignores long-standing political and geopolitical realities and carries risks of self-destruction.

Now this approach might have had much to do with bringing war back to Europe.

One potential solution to the Ukraine crisis could be to develop a diplomatic and economic framework that allows Ukraine to be part of both the Russian-sponsored Eurasian Union and the EU.

This is not going to be easy task especially at this stage, given the level of tensions and conflict that is now tearing Ukraine apart. But diplomats (including the highly paid EU officials) and policymakers should live up to the challenge to devise this viable long-term solution. It will be a serious folly not to pursue this option, especially as Putin has indicated that he would be willing to live with Ukraine’s participation with both institutions.

A dual membership for Ukraine in EU and Eurasian Union not only reflects the situation inside Ukraine but also is quite common in other parts of the world.

In Asia, regional institutions overlap. China is a member of all the key Asian regional institutions. Even the US-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership, which sets a very high standard in creating a free trade area of the Pacific, is open to China and all other major economies of the region. And it does not preclude a member country from joining other regional bodies. It does not forbid countries from having different values and political institutions or level of economic development in order to qualify for membership.

The US should support dual membership for Ukraine in both the EU and Eurasian Union. While President Obama asserts that the “defense of Tallinn and Riga and Vilinius is just as important as the defense of Berlin and Paris and London”, in reality would the American public really be willing to shed blood for this cause. It also reminds one of the classic Cold War question: would the US sacrifice New York for Copenhagen?

And the EU should listen as well. Economic sanctions and strengthening NATO might help to contain Russian geopolitical expansion, although many would question the hype that Putin is bent on resurrecting the Warsaw Pact. But no amount of sanctions and military readiness is going to help Ukraine if its domestic situations retains its deep fissures.

A persistent state of conflict at the heart of Europe is a frontal challenge to its dream of creating a peaceful and prosperous Europe. It also undermines the EU’s claim to a a role model for other regional groups in the world.

 

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