I’m torn. This is a decision for the Ukrainian people and as I find them a wonderful people in a beautiful land, my heart breaks for all they’ve been through and the challenges they’ve faced, not just today or even the Soviet period, but for generations. Life has not always been kind for those living in Ukraine.
Historically it makes sense for Ukraine to have strong ties with Russia, but right now this is not just Russia, but Putin’s Russia.
For the future we must realize that the EU has no interest in folding in Ukraine and all her debt, tainted government and culture of corruption. The EU has their own financial problems and they just don’t need another Bulgaria on the dole.
However a trade agreement with the EU is really what they’re talking about, not EU membership anytime soon. Ukraine needs this and one might expect Yanukovich to try to wiggle a way to keep those doors open without totally pissing off Moscow. Putin however is much smarter than Viktor. The EU needs this Eastern presence to check/balance Russian influence, but the folks from Brussels wanted Ukraine to join civilized countries and so things like paying back their loans and release of political prisoners were on the agenda.
Some might make futile attempts to argue that the blonde in prison isn’t a political prisoner but sorry, I don’t see lines of Yanukovich’s corrupt pals in jail and selective justice squarely meets the definition of political imprisonment. Like Ivan the Terrible who had prison cells directly under his bed chambers so that he could descend at night to observe their misery before retiring, the Russian deal allows Yanukovich to keep his toys right where they are. Vlad and Yulia were partners in deal making but Mr. Putin is a very pragmatic personality and if throwing someone under the bus is necessary to accomplish a larger goal, then he won’t hesitate to follow the Stalinist idiom, “You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.”
The fact is that the CIS Customs Union will always be dominated by Russia and Russia will eat first; women and children (the other partners) can come to the table after Russia is satiated. This is largely driven by:
1- Pipelines and control of the stuff that runs through them
2- The drive to return to some form of reinventing the Soviet state
3- Development of a energy currency alternative to the Dollar
The Customs Union is set up so that Moscow will have ultimate oversight regarding the common defense, borders and policing of each country. There are reasons for that and it boils down to control. Ukraine needs to think really hard about this, otherwise they will have decades more of domination from outside forces. But again, it is their decision.
Right now you can see lots of Ukrainian protest posters which read that Ukrainians want Europe over Asia. We Westerners don’t always get that subtle difference but Ukrainian locals do. Russia covers 51% of the Asian continent and just because the two Russia capitals happen to be in Europe, a Europe they hold as suspicious if not outright hostile, doesn’t give much comfort to Ukraine which is more truly European.
The makeup of the Customs Union will be largely Asian in perspective, as to how they view and relate to the world, etc. If you look at Russia’s development plans, they’re largely Asian. They control much of Asia’s energy sources and developing the Far East and common economic projects with China and both Korea’s trump anything Russia has planned for the 49% of Europe she possesses. Which by the way is one reason Russia needs Ukraine–extending that 49% gives added influence over European neighbors.
The fact is that Russia needs Ukraine more than Ukraine needs Russia but Yanukovich is in reality a dumb thug; blinded by the chances to personally gain from a deal with Russia, he doesn’t understand the value of the cards he holds.
Were it me, I’d be worried about how long the marriage to Moscow would last. Who will fill the void once Putin leaves the stage? Will a personality like the Belarus butcher Lukashenko or Kazakhstan’s President-for-life Nazarbayev step in, or will Russia, and thereby the Customs Union, someday experience true liberty? These are things that those protesting have on their minds.