As Ukraine gives pro-Russian separatists a deadline to disarm or face a full-scale terrorist operation, here are five reasons why we should all be very concerned by what is happening at Europe's eastern boundary.
1. Europe’s future: It's not just about gas supplies but Ukraine is probably the most important of the former Soviet states as the EU faces east. Its 48 million population is significant and much of the Russian gas supply to Europe comes through it (it’s true that oil and gas often play a big role in these issues) The massive protests currently underway in the capital Kiev were basically triggered by a failure by former President Viktor Yanukovych to sign an agreement that would eventually have led Ukraine to join the European Union. Still there are divisions within Ukraine and some are not so sure that this is the right route to take given the historical links with Russia. A recent poll signalled that 44pc of the public supports seeking EU membership. Still, it would seem that the home of the Orange Revolution, is still undecided with 20pc still unsure about where there future lies.
2. Putin/Russia: Russian president Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and his political and economic clout is the main reason why Ukraine has yet to fully face west. He sees Ukraine as a key component of a Russian grouping and recently dangled a carrot of cheap gas and a multi-billion loan to keep Ukraine onside. He is closely linked with former Ukrainian president Yanukovick who failed to pull his country out of the global economic crisis and has also introduced repressive political policies including the jailing of former Prime Minister Julia Tymoshenko who has since been released.
3. Central European wounds still run very deep: Even before WW1 the region was divided up many times, and different countries ruled at different times. Fast forward to the 1990s when I lived in Poland and experienced a time when the region was transforming from communism. While Giants like Russia and Germany dominated Central European history, countries that suffered under previous regimes still covered over the cracks for the sake of more recent economic development and growth. Germany and Russia aside, there are still other complicated relationships that still linger. For example, on a recent trip to Lithuania I was reminded of relations between Poland and Lithuania which pre-date the Great War and remain pretty cool despite outward appearances. There are ongoing tensions in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius where Poles are putting up signs in Polish while Lithuanians living in Poland are complaining about that their language is being removed from the Polish curriculum. Obviously the situation in Ukraine is much graver but these smaller tensions continue to brew under the surface and they are manifold.
4 Svoboda: Ukraine’s far right party, has a growing support network and has been to the forefront of the ‘pro-democracy’ street fighting in the capital. Parties like it are gaining ground throughout Europe including Greece’s Golden Dawn. Svoboda is part of the Alliance of European National Movements along with the Hungary’s Jobbik and the UK’s BNP. It’s leader Oleh Tyahnybok’s anti-Semitic claims in the past have been controversial including one that a ‘Moscow-Jewish’mafia controls the country.
5.The US: Yes, it really does matter to the US too. The more West Ukraine moves the easier it will be for Washington to find ways to make political and economic links with the country. In addition, though, the US must try not to aggravate Russia at a time when it can play a role in resolving geopolitical and other issues with the likes of Syria and Iran.