Thursday, December 5, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Misunderstanding EU Association Could Lead to Disaster in Ukraine and Russia, Shiropayev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton,  December 5 – Both the supporters and opponents of an EU-Ukraine association agreement appear to think that such an accord means that Ukraine will soon be a member of the European Union, but that is not so, Aleksey Shiropayev says. And a continuing failure to understand that could lead to disaster in both Ukraine and the Russian Federation.

            In an essay yesterday on, Shiropayev, one of Russia’s leading theorists on regionalism, says that he is “certain that if a poll was taken, the majority of people in both camps would say that what [an association agreement] means is the membership of Ukraine in the EU.” But “this is not the case” (

            The EU isn’t all that interested in taking in new members anytime soon, he continues, and assuming otherwise could lead in Ukraine to expectations that will not be met and in Russia to actions that could not only threaten the territorial integrity of Ukraine but lead to the disintegration of the Russian Federation itself.

The limited meaning of the association agreement becomes clear, Shiropayev suggests, if one takes the time to go through the 236-page document itself which is available online at and which highlights how much Ukraine would have to change before closer integration with the EU would be possible.

Indeed, he says, it is clear that this agreement is “not a path to heaven on earth strewn with rose petals but only the first step toward economic and political freedom. At the present time, this is not a bad thing ... and thus it is the best choice for Ukraine and a road in the correct direction.”

Unfortunately, many Ukrainians expect and many Russians fear that it means more than that, and because they do, the former are adopting one form of apocalyptic thinking and the latter another, with Ukrainians assuming that this accord will solve all their problems and Russians concluding that they act forcefully and immediately to block it.

And that pattern, Shiropayev makes clear in an interview he gave to is particularly fraught with dangers for the current regime in the Russian Federation because “the integration of Ukraine in Europe means the collapse of the entire imperialist conception of Putin” (

            What is happening in Ukraine now, he says, is “the logical continuation of the processes of the collapse of the Soviet empire.” More than that, “Ukraine is now seeking to correct its historic mistake, made in the 17th century when under the pressure of political circumstances, Khmelnitsky was forced to go ‘under the hand of Moscow.’”

            In short, what is happening is that “Ukraine is overcoming its colonial past and returning to Europe where it once was.” Of course, Moscow will oppose this not only because Ukraine’s choice means “the demise of the official Russian historical conception” of a Russian people including Ukrainians and Belarusian “but also the collapse of the entire neo-imperialist policy of Putin.”

            Putin understands this, and Shiropayev says that the Kremlin leader may have forced Viktor Yanukovich to use force against the demonstrators “in order to finally bury the Ukrainian president in the eyes of the West and attach him for life to the Kremlin,” as a dictator that Putin can hold onto only in this way.

            Moreover, there is a risk that Moscow will seek to “provoke the division of Ukraine into two parts East and West with the succeeding ‘voluntary re-unification’ of the Eastern part with Russia.” That would leave Ukraine in an impossible situation, but Shiropayev says it would also have an extremely negative impact on Russia itself.

             Ukrainians “must integrate in Europe,” and “the greater part of the population of Ukraine is inclined toward the European choice.”  That is true even in the Eastern part of Ukraine and in Crimea, Shiropayev argues, although it is entirely possible that Moscow will seek to “ignite” opposition in these regions.

            The European Union is not without its own problems, the Russian analyst says, but they are “incomparably” less than those of the USSR are Putin’s Eurasian Union.  The EU is “all the same the free world,” and “if Ukraine wants to restore its European identity and overcome its colonial past, it does not have an alternative to European integration.”

            Ukrainians are taking this step, he continues, not because of some “’psychological complex’” as some Russians suggest but because “Ukrainians are really a different people with their own special history and values which were formed in the context of European history.”  Russians need to accept that.

            The impact of Ukrainian events on Russia itself, however, could be even more fateful.  Unfortunately, Shiropayev says, “the Russian opposition does not fully recognize the importance of the events in Ukraine.” If that happens, this will mean not only a defeat for Putin and his imperial conception, but it will call into question Russia’s domestic arrangements.

            In the first instance, those will involve the issues of federalism, something the regime is now so frightened of that it wants to criminalize any discussion of reordering the country except according to its own ideas. But “history shows that attempts to put back in a bottle ideas that have escaped like a genie do not lead to anything good.”

              The real reason the Kremlin is afraid of any talk about federalism lies in what it understands the phase “united and indivisible” Russia.  It means by that not political unity but rather the access of the oligarchic elites to the country as a trough for their feeding. Any challenge to that arrangement is thus something the Kremlin will oppose.
            Noting that he is not a separatist but rather a committed federalism, Shiropayev says that he is convinced that “Russia must become a genuine Federation on the basis of agreement” between the center and the regions. At present, there is no federalism in Russia now; there is only “the traditional tsarist system of power.”

            To develop, Russia must become a genuine federation. If it doesn’t, then it will face the threat of “disintegration,” Shirpopayev says.  And the main “stimulator” of that are not some kind of separatists domestic or with foreign support but “the Kremlin itself with its policy of an imperial tightening of the screws,” something Ukrainian events are leading it to do even more.

            Instead, Shiropayev concludes with a rhetorical question: “Is it not time for us to think about ‘a United States of Russia,” about a country that would be attractive to its neighbors rather than one that is driving them and many of its own residents away as fast as they can go?

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