Putin’s Pyrrhic Victory in Ukraine
Published: December 4, 2013 (Issue # 1789)
Russia’s battle for Ukraine has topped headlines in recent weeks and months, and that struggle now nears an end. Kiev did not sign an association agreement with the European Union at its summit in Vilnius last week. That means President Vladimir Putin has scored a huge victory against the West.
It remains unclear exactly which magic words Putin used to convince Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych not to sign the EU agreement, but he apparently promised Yanukovych billions of dollars in low-interest loans that he desperately needs to improve Ukraine’s economy and strengthen his own chances for re-election in 16 months.
Moscow has taken a strong lead in this year’s geopolitical game of Russia vs. the U.S. Here are the highlights of the match so far:
Washington fails to prevent Russia from granting asylum to U.S. National Security Agency intelligence leaker Edward Snowden. Score: Russia 1, USA 0. Russia all but forces the U.S., Britain and France to abandon plans for military action against Syria. Russia 2, USA 0.
Russia disrupts plans by the EU to sign the Association Agreement with Armenia, while convincing Yerevan to join the Customs Union with Russia instead. Russia 3, USA 0. The U.S. edition of Forbes magazine names Putin the most influential politician in the world, surpassing U.S. President Barack Obama. Russia 4, USA 0.
Finally, Moscow wages an unprecedented campaign of pressure against Ukraine, ultimately persuading Yanukovych to cancel plans to sign the Association Agreement with the EU. Russia 5, USA 0. If this were a soccer match, it would be a complete rout.
As Putin likes to say, “The weak get beaten.” U.S. President Barack Obama, as many had long suspected, turned out to be weak, and he was beaten. Europe has taken a licking as well. The EU was weakened by the economic crisis and became torn by divisions within the union. Brussels revealed its weakness during the Snowden incident, the showdown over Syria, and now in the situation with Ukraine.
The EU never had proper tactics, much less a strategy concerning Ukraine. One of the European leaders tried to convince the others to remove the requirement that Yanukovych release his arch-rival, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, as a precondition for signing the Association Agreement with Brussels. Meanwhile, an opposing camp of EU leaders adamantly insisted that no further progress with Ukraine was possible until Tymoshenko was freed.
In public, Western diplomats in Kiev “expressed concern” about the selective justice applied in the Tymoshenko case, but in confidential talks they cynically argued that, for example, German Chancellor Angela Merkel could not afford to risk raising Putin’s ire over her attempts to facilitate closer relations between Brussels and Kiev. She understood all too well that Putin could create serious problems for German businesses that have billions of dollars invested in Russia.
Pages: