An EU Perspective on the crisis in the Ukraine Part II: What the EU represents to Putin

In the first part of this analysis it was proposed that Putin’s actions – annexation of the Crimea, a build up of the army at the eastern border of the Ukraine, a refusal to negotiate through diplomacy, bear all the signs of a President following an out-dated world view of international relations. One that employs a geo-political approach where territorial gain is more important than prosperity. In this second part EU Perspectives examines what exactly it is that Putin fears about the EU.

So why does Putin feels so threatened by the EU? As stated in a previous post the EU is not a military alliance. It has no military hard-ware, no generals, no fighter jets, no air-craft carriers, no nukes. Nato does and Putin put forward a good argument back in 2009 that he did not want to see Nato inch closer to the borders of the Russian Federation.

But the EU?

In any other context, and if the world didn’t know better, it would be tempting to describe Putin as a bit of a wuss. The most the EU can threaten the Russian Federation with is a bunch of pen-pushers tossing paper-planes out of sixth floor conference room windows. The EU is hardly in a position to seriously threaten the borders of the Russian federation.

Yet the precipitation to this whole crisis, to recall, was Putin’s demand that Yanucovych, on no account, sign a trade agreement with the EU. Putin gave Yanucovych a choice. Either Russia or the EU. Not both. In the modern world order there is absolutely no reason why states can not have multiple trading partners. Multi-lateral and bi-lateral trade agreements between states are signed all the time. Which is why under EU law there is no “us-or-them” scenario. The EU prefers to talk of “and-and” – a trade agreement with Russia and a trade agreement with the EU.

One can argue, of course, that Russian business fears EU competition – a legitimate concern. But business competition is not the same as territorial conquest.  So why did Putin precipitate a military crisis over an Association Agreement?

It is more likely that Putin fears the EU because it represents everything that he is moving Russia slowly, subtly but surely away from –  a rule of law based approach to governance

The EU and The Rule of Law

The rule of law is a principle enshrined in the EU Treaties. Article 6 of the Treaty of the European Union states “The Union is founded on the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law, principles which are common to the Member States.”

When signing trade agreements the EU extends this principle by ensuring that these fundamental principles are included in any final agreement. Thus Art 3 of the proposed Ukrainian Association Agreement – the one Putin insisted Yanucovych rejects – reads:

“The Parties recognise that the principles of a free market economy underpin their relationship. The rule of law, good governance, the fight against corruption, the fight against the different forms of trans-national organised crime and terrorism, the promotion of sustainable development and effective multilateralism are central to enhancing the relationship between the Parties.”

When pictures emerge of Yanucovych’s floating Spanish galleon on an artificial lake, whiskey bottles bearing his face and a Justice Secretary who favours portraits of himself dressed in Roman Caesar garb is it any wonder that neither Yanucovych nor Putin wanted to sign such an Agreement?

If Putin wants to return Russia back to word of geo-politics, chess shenanigans and pawns then there is no place for democracy, rule of law, human rights and anti-corruption all of which are the compete antithesis of what Putin is fast becoming – a dictator in the making. Were the Ukraine to adopt such values such liberal notions would be lapping at his own front-door threatening to leak into his territory and infect his own people. For a dictator such values must be resisted and fought – at all cost.

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