сряда, 22 януари 2014 г.

Ukraine - making a bold move ... to the abyss - a view from Sofia

The first victims of the conflict in Ukraine illustrate the futility of the Yanoukovich's grand scheme of buying up space and time using Putin's billions in credits and lower gas prices. The West seemed in no haste to impose sanctions, trying to keep the lifeline to Yanokovich's western options open as full sanctions would have left him totally at the mercy of Moscow. This reasoning might have been politically correct, but given the odds and the events last night seems morally wrong as it has provided an excuse for the regime in Kiev, generating expectations at the top that when it comes to hard talk and tough play - the West has nothing to match Russia's resolve. The Ukrainians are told that President Putin perceives President Obama as weak and passive and the EU as wavering - not ready to act. 

The Kremlin has a longer term strategy - in the worst scenario it would end up with the Eastern part of Ukraine as a separate pro-Russian entity after the Transdnestrian and South Ossetian pattern. The Eurasian Union is no alternative, nor does Moscow intend to offer Kiev alternatives as integration process and economic development track meant for equals. For most of the economic sectors targeted by Kiev as potential export drivers for the Ukrainian economy in bilateral trade, there has been a local Russian alternative and privileged corporate interest. That has been the case with the larger size pipes that Gazprom used to buy from Ukrainian manufacturers, the same pattern applied to the cooperation deals in the aerospace field - suffice to look at the several AN air plane sagas.

The West's policy is naive at best and sanctimonious at worst. The Ukrainian president knowingly rushed through the legislation outlawing protest actions and forced in a crackdown, deliberately ignoring red alerts and warning signs of the coming confrontation that could lead to injured and dead. He has ignored the political track and compromise seeking with the opposition, thereby encouraging the more radical elements to take centre stage.

Those killed last night have drawn the red demarcation line for the West's benign neglect and indecisiveness in Ukraine.

It is highly probable that in the next few days the US and the EU will impose limited and precisely targeted sanctions banning those involved in the use of force and the bloodshed and hold them accountable for the crackdown in Kiev. Too little, too late and totally missing the point. The crisis in Ukraine is just an early sign of a potential yawning black hole engulfing Central East Europe. If Ukraine falls over the hesitancy and lack of resolve of the West to respond to Russia's reassertiveness in the region this will trigger a chain of events across the continent and on a global scale. Moscow does not call a positive veto power but has sufficient resources to deny the EU and the West the ability to engage and implement policies in the CEE and the CIS that ignore Moscow's interests.

Closer to home, in Sofia, the Government keeps silence, as usual, and avoids taking a stance that could overtly or tacitly imply criticism of Russia. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs has remained mute while the Russian MFA issued its 'regular' annual report on the state of human rights in Bulgaria. The human rights topic has been for quite awhile the Achilles heel of the Bulgarian diplomacy in relations with Russia - hence Bulgaria has largely considered this a non issue.

Strange line of conduct judged against the background of unfolding events in Ukraine and the destructive potential they hold for a direct confrontation between the EU and Russia. Sofia will simply have to forget to dream of revenues from the South Stream, or the political gains from attending the Winter Olympics in Sochi or any future energy deals with re-assertive and forceful Russia - as we will have to acknowledge the geopolitical constraints of doing business as usual with Russia at a time of growing confrontation of the EU and Russia and a civil war on Ukraine.

Lessons are to be drawn from events in Kiev for Bulgaria.

Firstly, the right of the state to use force against civilians, including stun grenades and bullets has its limitations and caveats. It ends at the point when civilians' lives are put at stake, when they have the right to resort to self defense, to protect their lives and health. When the police and Berkuts shoot at you, or beat you to death, any civilian has the right to respond and protect himself by whatever means one has at his disposal. Ultimately, the fine line between what is legally and morally justified lies in the acknowledgement of the fact, that only if you remain alive there will be a chance to prove your point. Better found guilty in court than dead in the street.

The second lesson is that authoritarian rules are brought down by continuous pressure and by disruptive actions - peaceful demonstrations are irrelevant, although indispensable as a first peaceful phase. Incumbent rulers. the longer they cling on to power the greater their dependency for affluence and social recognition on remaining in high posts - few if any of them can generate returns and remain important in life out of government or Parliament.

The third. The greater the number of casualties the more difficult it becomes for Yanoukovitch and Azarov to step down in peace and voluntarily, as they will inevitably be haunted by the prospect of being held accountable and ending in jail, if not at home in the Hague.There is blood on the streets and these leaders know perfectly well that history repeats itself. Internal reconciliation within Ukraine might and will eventually happen one day but there will be no room for them.

Neither the Ukrainian President, nor the Prime Minister have any chance at any time in future to feel welcome in the European capitals - effectively they have become pariahs  like Lukashenko as they chose to embark on the road to repression.

Last but not least - a lesson Bulgarian politicians should learn in haste - Ukraine is not an exception, it is only the tip of the floating iceberg of the coming new Cold war that with inevitably engage Central and Eastern Europe with wide ranging repercussion across the region and for the EU. I hope that Bulgarian politicians will grasp the key takeaway from Kiev these days. Whatever the pride and ego of politicians and parties, political compromise and negotiations have no alternative when naturally evolving tension escalate and the integrity of nations and countries is put at stake. When civilians are killed in a neighbouring country the fire is certain to spill over across borders. Remaining mute without reaction is no option for any EU politician - Bulgarian included.

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