Ukraine and the Sword of Vladimir

posted at 6:31 pm on October 14, 2012 by Bruce McQuain

Watching old-school power politics unfold is a fascinating activity, and no better example can be found than those played by Russia and Vladimir Putin. The current maneuvering with respect to Ukraine harkens back to the Cold War days with a decidedly modern twist – i.e. energy supplies, and in particular natural gas.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Nikolai Azarov has said the price of Russian gas would be significantly reduced if Ukraine joined the CIS Custom Union with Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus.

Azarov said on October 9 that Russia had “put forward conditions: join the Customs Union and tomorrow you will receive gas for $160 (per 1,000 cubic meters).”

That new price would be a significant reduction from the $420/cuK it’s currently paying. Needless to say, Putin’s “offer” is awfully enticing, which places Ukraine in an interesting position.

The reason is that, for the past several years, both the EU and Russia have courted Ukraine to form long-lasting trade partnerships. The EU wants to include Ukraine in its Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) while Russia is pushing to join its Customs Union. Because of the way these agreements are set up, Ukraine has to choose one or the other, placing the country in a pitched economic battle between East and West.

As one of my co-bloggers at QandO.net posits, what Ukraine ultimately decides makes a difference:

So why care about the Ukraine?

The simple answer is because Ukrainians have had a taste of freedom, and liked it, and we should encourage that journey towards liberalization to continue. We have an interest in such development – via free and fair elections, open markets and greater legal protections in its reformed court system – because this is how individuals become personally invested in the growth of the nation, and thus how liberty spreads. As President Reagan emphasized in 1981, “only when individuals are given a personal stake in deciding economic policies and benefiting from their success — only then can societies remain economically alive, dynamic, progressive, and free.” The more societies like that in the world, and especially in the Eurasian region, the better. And this is exactly where Ukraine is poised to go.

Not if Putin has anything to say about it. At the same time as promising to cut natural gas prices by almost two-thirds, Putin refrains from making any demands for government reforms, unlike the EU. Clearly, an autocratically-controlled satellite is preferable to Russia than the freer, reformed state envisioned by the Orange Revolution. Especially considering the sheer volume of natural gas (about 75%) that is transported from Russia to Europe via pipelines in Ukraine. Which, of course, is also why the Customs Union price renegotiation would involve Ukraine turning over at least some control of its pipelines to Gazprom (the Russian-controlled gas company on the other side of the contracts). In other words, Putin is giving plenty of incentive to Ukrainian authorities to choose the Western alliance over the EU.

And yet, apparently, Ukraine is still quite interested in greater alignment with Europe. This is true even in spite of the myriad hoops its required to jump through before the DCFTA can be finalized, hoops that make Ukraine’s decision all that more difficult:

Signature of the AA and DCFTA has been supported by all Ukraine’s political forces … However as time has passed broad support from the business community has started to drip away. This is in part a consequence of a proactive campaign by Russia, criticizing the DCFTA and flagging up the economic benefits of its Eurasian Union as a better deal. As far as I am aware there has been no communication campaign from the EU side flagging the benefits of the DCFTA. This is another indicator of the EU’s somewhat “take it or leave it, it makes no difference to us” approach.

Unfortunately the EU’s approach is starting to affect Ukrainian society as a whole, which has now become a sort of hostage to the situation.

[…]

To a large degree the ball is now in Ukraine’s court, and it is in Ukraine’s interests to cooperate over EU concerns. Yet at the same time the EU also needs to act in a proactive and responsive way. The EU has a responsibility to the people of Ukraine to support the country in its transformation, yet unfortunately until now the EU has been using long-term strategy in order to obtain short term results which has clearly not worked and, which could eventually lead to an implosion in the country. It is time for the EU to develop a real strategy for its engagement and relationship with Ukraine.

Whether the EU will recognize the precarious position it’s placed Ukraine in (and to be fair, some ministers do see the real issues at stake) remains to be seen. For its part, Ukraine is quite proactive in liberalizing its government in an effort to meet EU strictures. While the fledgling republic has struggled to stabilize itself since declaring independence in 1991, it’s also witnessed remarkable gains in the past decade or so:

For example, between 2001 and 2008, the economy expanded at an average rate of 7.5%, and despite a severe downturn in 2009, it has continued to grow with exports increasing by 30% in 2010 alone. Indeed, Ukraine is ranked by CNBC.com as the second best country for long-term growth in the world, right behind the Philippines. Ukraine has also begun to institute judicial reforms that promise to train better judges, hold them accountable, and strengthen the fairness of the system that has long been burdened with rampant corruption and cronyism. And for the first time ever, outside election observers will be allowed to monitor the parliamentary elections this month.

Continuing down that path would not only enhance individual protections and freedoms of Ukraine’s citizens, it would also serve to diversify its economic interests, including its energy sector, thus making it much less dependent on the whims of Russia. In turn, another island of freedom would blossom in Eurasian area, which would serve the interests of both the EU and America.

~McQ

This post was promoted from GreenRoom to HotAir.com.
To see the comments on the original post, look here.


Related Posts:

Breaking on Hot Air

Blowback

Note from Hot Air management: This section is for comments from Hot Air's community of registered readers. Please don't assume that Hot Air management agrees with or otherwise endorses any particular comment just because we let it stand. A reminder: Anyone who fails to comply with our terms of use may lose their posting privilege.

Trackbacks/Pings

Trackback URL

Comments

Hmmm, hard decision, join the economically suicidal and failing European Union, or Join the Russian Custom Union.

Joe Biden, Paul Ryan and Bibi’s “Red Line” time line.

SWalker on October 14, 2012 at 6:37 PM

…that’s how JugEars and the DOJ operates against the States in this country…who has the manual?

KOOLAID2 on October 14, 2012 at 6:43 PM

“As President Reagan emphasized in 1981, “only when individuals are given a personal stake in deciding economic policies and benefiting from their success — only then can societies remain economically alive, dynamic, progressive, and free.”

“That’s never worked…! OH, so you’re Ron Reagan now?!” – Joe Biden

Seven Percent Solution on October 14, 2012 at 6:43 PM

Yeah these guys are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

rodguy911 on October 14, 2012 at 6:43 PM

Here, kitty, kitty — the first few doses of heroin are free.

John the Libertarian on October 14, 2012 at 6:53 PM

Yeah these guys are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

rodguy911 on October 14, 2012 at 6:43 PM

And that’s putting it mildly.

MelonCollie on October 14, 2012 at 6:57 PM

The idea that the EU represents Freedom while Putin doesn’t is delusional… both sides are despots.

ninjapirate on October 14, 2012 at 7:25 PM

Yeah these guys are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

rodguy911 on October 14, 2012 at 6:43 PM

So what you’re saying is that they’re weak.

RINO in Name Only on October 14, 2012 at 7:37 PM

You also need to factor in the knowledge that Ukraine is personally, intimately familiar with what it means to allow the Russians to be in charge.

PJ Emeritus on October 14, 2012 at 7:42 PM

The idea that the EU represents Freedom while Putin doesn’t is delusional… both sides are despots.

ninjapirate on October 14, 2012 at 7:25 PM

Oh bollocks. The choice between the EU and being under Russia’s thumb (again) is not tricky and the EU represents the same freedom that the US does. You enter a covenant that entails responsibilities as well as benefits and the EU should not let the Ukrainians fudge those the way Greece was allowed to. America’s best allies and trade partners are the EU along with Japan, Australia, and our great neighbor to the North. The US has a role in encouraging Ukraine to make the right choice.

lexhamfox on October 14, 2012 at 7:57 PM

Get dressed,Flabimir…

flameofjudah on October 14, 2012 at 8:30 PM

Get dressed,Flabimir…

flameofjudah on October 14, 2012 at 8:30 PM

20% of the Russian women who, according to recent polls want to marry him – disagree with you!! :)

jimver on October 14, 2012 at 8:57 PM

Russia has been using their natural gas valve like a pair of thumb screws on Eastern Europe for a while now. A couple dozen of people died in winter of 2008 when they shut gas off to entire countries. It literally make me want to strangle someone.

The new documentary FrackNation, apart from debunking fracking myths and showing the positive results of oil and gas drilling in America, investigates the potential of a few natural gas plays in southern Poland and parts of Ukraine. Personally, I would be ECSTATIC if gas was found there. Then the entire nation of Poland could collectively turn eastward and give their old “friend” Russia the bird.

Glenn Jericho on October 14, 2012 at 9:07 PM

The EU?……….you mean Germany and the Teaters of the German sow?

So Germany or Russia……..mmmmm, go with survival.

PappyD61 on October 14, 2012 at 9:21 PM

Dude, put a shirt on. A 2nd childhood is not becoming, Vlad.

Kissmygrits on October 14, 2012 at 9:35 PM

Dude, put a shirt on. A 2nd childhood is not becoming, Vlad.

Kissmygrits on October 14, 2012 at 9:35 PM

…yeah…whose been giving Vlad titty twisters?

KOOLAID2 on October 14, 2012 at 9:42 PM

I didn’t read the post, but the pictures of Vladimer always doing some stunt with no shirt on crack me up. I know his pr people are trying to promote some manly image of the guy but it ends up having the opposite effect. What a tool.

Ellis on October 14, 2012 at 10:47 PM

Ukraine is NOT weak!!

RedCrow on October 14, 2012 at 10:57 PM

Get dressed,Flabimir…

flameofjudah on October 14, 2012 at 8:30 PM

20% of the Russian women who, according to recent polls want to marry him – disagree with you!! :)

jimver on October 14, 2012 at 8:57 PM

He’s trying to impress Ukrainian women by giving them free tickets to the gun show. Not that I blame him. Have you seen some of those Ukrainian women these days? (wolf-whistle)

JimLennon on October 15, 2012 at 12:41 AM

I was visiting Odessa, Ukraine, this past summer. Nice town on the Black Sea.

Much to the chagrin of the Ukrainians, the Russians still exert a lot of control over their country. They would choose to be divorced from the Russians in a heartbeat if they could. They’re fed up with being under Russia’s thumb. But it’s a relatively poor country. Options are limited.

Go Ukraine!

FlatlanderByTheLake on October 15, 2012 at 12:51 AM

Ah yes, Ukraine, land of the Red Mafia natural gas tycoons. Lots of ‘free enterprise’, for sure, there, and one of the few places a Red Mafia organization can openly own TV stations, metalworks, and hockey teams! And when you know that the Red Mafia outfit with so much in the way of natural gas infrastructure has an ‘in’ with the government of Turkmenistan, then the shut-off of gas going to Iran now makes a lot of sense: someone with pull in the middle-man position saw that Iran wasn’t paying what the market could bear.

For all the stuff the Mullahs will do to their own people, having to tell large sections of Tehran that they need to shut off their natural gas so that the bakeries can run… there is something quintessentially heart-warming about that. And Iran upped the amount it paid, too. Too bad they weren’t bothering to keep their refineries and natural gas marginal expansion going after the fall of the Shah, huh?

Mind you, Putin did put Mogilevich in jail in Russia. Firtash, however, has proven to be quite the capitalist in his own right and has learned that diversification is the means to go legit. Just don’t dig too far under that thin veneer. And, really, how does Russia feel about getting taken by the same organization sequentially against all safe-guards they have put in place? Just because you are conniving and brutal doesn’t mean you know beans about contracting for natural gas export services.

ajacksonian on October 15, 2012 at 7:50 AM

It’s a Hobson’s choice.

Putin is a KGB thug leading a dying country but he does have lots of Hot Gas he can sell cheap.

The EU is notionally democratic (but not at all in fact) and in an economic death spiral due to Socialist idiocy.

It’s really about what flavor of tyranny you feel like sucking down.

CorporatePiggy on October 15, 2012 at 8:47 AM

The dude has B*tch tits! I wouldn’t be afraid of a guy with saggy titties! I think Vlad has 1/2 of the sex change and he’s going for the V-Spot and will be the first transgender president of the Kremlin.

Tbone McGraw on October 15, 2012 at 11:35 AM