If past experience is any guide, Kiev’s Euromaidan protesters should not rely on promises of future American support – especially if these promises come from high-level U.S. politicians.
U.S. Senators John McCain, right, and leader of the UDAR opposition political party, Vitaly Klitschko at the rally held by supporters of pro-EU integration in central Kiev. Photo: RIA Novosti / Ilya Pitalev
During Russia’s brief war with the Republic of Georgia in August 2008, the Republican nominee for President Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) announced with exaggerated solemnity that ‘we are all Georgians now.’
What exactly he thought he meant by that remains unclear; soon after, however, it was revealed that his chief foreign policy adviser, a neoconservative by the name of Randy Scheunemann, was also a paid lobbyist for the Georgian government. The 2008 war, as is by now well known, was set off by Mikheil Saakashvili, who took promises of U.S. support in the event of a confrontation with Russia from the likes of McCain and his fellow neoconservatives at face value.
Not content with his very questionable track record with regard to developments in the post-Soviet space, Sen. McCain made the journey to Kiev this past weekend to address the protesters in Maidan Square, where he assured the crowd: “This is about you — no one else… this is about the future of your country, the future you deserve. The free world is with you, America is with you, I am with you.”
McCain was simply misleading those people in Kiev, just as he misled the Georgian president in the lead-up to August 2008. My sense is that the United States government, in spite of words of encouragement (and snacks!) from the likes of the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, is prepared to do precisely nothing with regard to Ukraine. And that is as it should be as the United States has no discernible national interest with regard to the outcome of the debate taking place there.
In fact, if you believe, as I do, that the emergence of a strong, economically vital, and increasingly cohesive Europe is in America’s best interests then the prospect of the Ukraine inside the European fold makes little to no sense.
Consider the following snapshot of the Ukrainian economy: its GDP per capita is on par with Algeria and El Salvador’s; its growth rate of industrial production matches that of Grenada; fully a quarter of its population lives below the poverty line. As of this writing, Ukraine’s currency reserves are near depleted and the government will face an external funding gap of $17 billion next year which it needs to cover in order to avoid a debt default.
And consider the trade numbers. There is not one EU member among the Ukraine’s three largest export markets. Russia provides a market for over 25 percent of Ukraine’s exportable goods. Russia, too, provides over a third of Ukraine’s imports, followed by China, Germany (at around 8 percent) and Belarus. That’s a reality that is unlikely to change, association agreement or not.
And are we to seriously believe that Ukraine’s eventual accession to the European Union would be in the long term interests of a Union which is struggling mightily to integrate Bulgaria and Romania (which acceded in 2007), to say nothing of the ongoing challenges posed by Greece, Spain and Portugal? McCain, as usual, got it completely wrong when he proclaimed last Sunday, “Ukraine will make Europe better,” he said, “and Europe will make Ukraine better.”
The spectacle of two sitting U.S. Senators - McCain was joined by the usually sensible Chris Murphy - addressing an anti-government rally in the capital of a sovereign nation is really a bit de trop. The Senators should be reminded, that while, yes, Yanukovich is corrupt, venal, and greedy, he is also the democratically elected President of Ukraine. Elections are to be held in 2015.
U.S. Senators and Assistant Secretaries of State should not be tacitly endorsing a putsch simply because they hold Vladimir Putin and the coterie around Yanukovich in contempt. How would they react, one wonders, if Russian and Ukrainian officials decided to insert themselves into a debate in Washington over, say, whether the U.S. signs on to the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement?
The protesters might be well served by talking to the Poles, Hungarians and Czechs about their past experiences in mistaking professions of support from opportunistic American politicians for guarantees of American action. They should prepare to be disappointed.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.