Staunton, March 23 – Even as Europe and the United States encourage the countries between Russia and the West to adopt a “both/and” approach to relations with the two, Moscow has signaled that these countries must make an “either/or” choice and is demanding that Ukraine break with the West as the price of good relations with the Russian Federation.
Such a demand reflects Moscow’s growing self-confidence that it can do so because of the difficulties many of these countries face and because of the West’s failure to embrace fully some of these states. But it means that in ways resembling the Cold War, Moscow is demanding that they isolate themselves from the West and subordinate themselves to Russia.
And consequently, while some diplomats and analysts may be inclined to play down this latest development and view Moscow’s latest demands as limited to oil and gas and to Ukraine, these demands and both the language in which they were delivered and the individual who delivered them reflect the re-emergence of a Russian approach that could re-divide the continent.
The case which gives rise to such concerns is an article by Ivan Gladilin yesterday entitled “Moscow has Asked Ukraine to Leave Europe” in which he describes a statement by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev about Ukraine as showing exactly what Kyiv can expect in the future depending on how it responds to that demand (km.ru/world/2013/03/22/organizatsiya-tamozhennogo-soyuza/706679-moskva-poprosila-ukrainu-vyiti-iz-evropy).
By his declaration, Gladilin suggested, Medvedev “had put an end to much speculation” in the media about Moscow’s supposed willingness to make concessions and shown that the Russian government has adopted a united front whose position Ukraine must either accept or face the consequences.
In Gladilin’s words, the Russian prime minister “dotted the I” when he said this past week that “a gas consortium between Russia and Ukraine can be established only on the condition of Ukraine’s withdrawal from a whole line of corresponding institutions including the treaty about uniting to the Energy Union.”
Such a withdrawal from Europe, Medvedev continued, is a requirement for Moscow to be certain that Ukraine, having enjoyed certain advantages from Russia for a time, won’t at some point turn against “our interests, in this case the interests of Gazprom and the interests of the [Russian] state as a whole.”
If Ukraine decides that it is not interested in withdrawing from Europe and uniting with Russia, it is free to go ahead, the Russian leadere said. But “that means that we will develop along our own path, and Ukraine” can do the same. “That is its sovereign right.” But Moscow is going to “protect its interests” first and foremost.
Up to now, Ukraine has been trying to have it both ways, signing agreements with Europe and seeking observer status in the Russian-led Customs Union. But that can’t continue, Medvedev said. It has to make a choice, and Russia is going to insist that it do so by holding the gas weapon over Kyiv’s head.
“Russia of course would be glad to see Ukraine in the Customs Union,” and in the Eurasian Economic Union as well, but countries that try to get the benefits of these organizations not through membership but through observer status are going to be disappointed: “An observer has no special rights,” Medvedev continued.
Consequently, “each country must decide for itself what matters.” If Ukraine does not decide to join the Russian-led group “entirely,” then it will not have “all the possibilities and privileges of the Customs Union.” Instead, it will remain outside, whatever illusions some Ukrainians have to the contrary.
Some Ukrainian politicians understand this reality, Gladilin says, and they recognize as well that at present, Europe is offering nothing more than verbal criticism of Moscow’s position as laid out by Medvedev. Unless Brussels can give Ukraine something more, the journalist suggests, Kyiv will have little option but to agree to Moscow’s terms, however harsh.