Monday, February 9, 2015

Between the two chimeras and a world war

As the world slowly slides towards the war in Ukraine, a war which will inevitably, like in a Greek drama, become, in a year or two, a nuclear and possibly a World War, one has to ask himself or herself how and why this has all happened.

           The main victim so far is Ukraine, but soon it will be the world as a whole. Ukraine was victim because, she, a divided country, was forced to choose between the western Europe and Russia. It fully belongs to neither. But moreover  it was offered the two chimeras: nothing real by either side, but just sufficient to annoy the other side.

            What precipitated the Maidan demonstrations, that were started by a peaceful and “nice” pro-European urban crowd and ended by being led by violent groups of neo-Nazis bent on “regime change”, was Yanukovich’s postponement (sic!) of the signing of EU association agreement. That agreement was as substantive for Ukraine’s European ambitions as was a similar agreement signed with Morocco almost twenty years ago. (Have you heard of Morocco being part of the EU?)

            No one can imagine that Ukraine has a chance of becoming even a candidate, much less a full EU member. Not only because it is poor and disorganized country, with declining national income, falling behind both Poland and Belarus (see the graph), and thus requiring enormous financial transfers Europe is clearly unwilling to make. It is also a country with corruption ingrained in all pores of society  with non-existent real political parties (except those created on an ad hoc basis by oligarchs, including the current president Poroshenko, or UDAR, party created by a boxing champion), with no semblance of independent judiciary. 

            The amount of negotiations and changes that the EU would have to impose on Ukraine to bring it to something even resembling the ever higher requirements EU demands from prospective candidates (itself a reflection of EU unwillingness to admit new members) is mindboggling. It is on a scale far greater than what was required from Turkey, the country which since 1963 was an associate member and opened “accession negotiations” with the Union 15 years ago. They have progressed at snail’s pace.

            Moreover, Ukraine is home (or was home) to almost 45 million people. It would be the fifth or sixth (ex aequo with Spain) most populous country in the EU. Europe which is already paranoid about receiving immigrants, even from within the EU members-states (witness the British scare a year ago about being deluged by “millions” of Bulgarians and Romanians) will  surely not accept 45 million impoverished Ukraine roaming the streets in search of jobs. It is thus with an exquisite hypocrisy that the British foreign secretary can speak about Ukraine being welcomed to its European “home” while, in the meantime, another part of his government makes sure that no Ukrainian  (unless he be an oligarch) makes it to England. (Just try, for exercise, filling British visa forms.)  The same is true for France and Germany. So, what Europe offered Ukraine was neither money, nor free movement of people, nor membership in the Union, but a mirage.

            On the other hand, Russia also offered a mirage. The ostensible reason why Putin found a rapprochement between Ukraine and Europe unacceptable was that it would not allow Ukraine to join Russia-designed Eurasian union that was supposed to include Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. Now, that Union was created in somebody head simply as a nice symmetrical idea in order to have something that would look, on paper, like a counterweight to the EU. But other than that idea and a meaningless meeting of the heads of states, that “Union” is a pure fiction:  with no observed rules of functioning, without joint policies, without common organization (where is the equivalent of the European commission? Where are the joint economic, let alone, political rules? Who is the head, government, committee of that august Eurasian  body?). It is yet another stillborn organization like the Commonwealth of Independent States. Even Kazakhstan and Belarus are having doubts about the membership, and despite both formally being in the Eurasian union, Russia and Belarus recently went into a trade war which sensibly led Lukashenko to cry: “We are not puppies to drag us by the scruff of the neck”.  

            Soviet Union, after creating the Comintern which for 10 years was a reasonably well functioning  organization (and which Stalin abolished at the insistence of the United States and the UK in 1943) never managed to create a real international organization. Both the Warsaw Pact and the CMEA were not only inefficient but simply extensions of Soviet domestic policies. The other members were pure figureheads with no autonomy of action. So for the Russians, creating an international organization is equivalent to saying, “you pretend to be members, but we decide all.” No one wants to join such an organization.

            Today’s Russia, with the exception of gas or oil, has nothing to offer to prospective members: it exports arbitrary government, equally arbitrary and unlawful privatizations (cheered by the West) and nationalizations (denounced by the West), individualized decision-making on everything from who is the Prime Minister to who controls the train-station in Perm, a relatively high level of income built on no serious production of any “real” goods or services, and full waste of all the high-skilled engineers, computer specialists, doctors, violinists, mathematicians, athletes created by the Soviet Union. In 25 years, Russia has wasted everything without creating anything.

            Since neither side cared about Ukraine as such, nor cared to give country money, support, free migration of labor or a meaningful role in either Europe or Eurasia, the only way Russia and Europe could pretend to do so was to offer chimeras in the hope of playing a geopolitical game that would upset the other side. Ukraine was thus pushed to choose between the two nothings, and divided as it is, chose a war. But soon the full costs of that choice, and irresponsible behaviors  of Russia and the West, will come to haunt us all, when the direct military conflict between the countries with a total of 20,000 nuclear missiles becomes a real possibility.

PS. A highly recommended book on how international organizations are created is  Mark Mazower's "Governing the world".

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