As goes Ukraine, so goes Europe

Paul Wells on why Canada should encourage Yanukovych to sign the agreement with the EU


Gleb Garanich/Reuters

This month’s events in Ukraine must be baffling to all the people who had a good laugh when the Nobel Committee gave the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union. What a joke! Europe, we were told, is nothing but a bureaucratic swampland, a never-ending economic crisis. And yet here are thousands of people gathering every night in Kyiv’s central square, and across Ukraine, to protest the Ukrainian government’s refusal to bind the country’s future to the European Union.

On some days, the crowds have been as large as the gatherings during Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2004. That one ended in grief, of course: it looked like a confrontation between a Moscow-backed thug, Viktor Yanukovych, and a Western-style democratic reformer, Viktor Yushchenko. But Yushchenko’s presidency was a disappointment. Yanukovych, the antagonist in 2004, replaced Yushchenko as president in 2010. He seemed to be seeking closer relations with both Russia and Europe. The association agreement, which would have sealed the deal with Europe, proposed a “deep and comprehensive free trade area,” enhanced labour mobility and closer cooperation on energy, transport and a host of other areas.

That was too much for Vladimir Putin. Russia’s ruler made it clear to the Yanukovych government that Ukraine cannot have two strategic partnerships, and that the cost of a deal with Europe would be economic pain imposed by Moscow. Yanukovych backed out of the EU deal. The protests followed. They haven’t stopped.

Why? If you get all your Europe news from London newspapers, it must be baffling. If you spend any time in Central or Eastern Europe, you get it. For 45 years, those countries’ trade and diplomatic choices were made for them by Moscow, in Moscow’s interest. After the Cold War ended in 1989-90, every single Eastern European country that had the freedom to make decisions for itself chose the West: they joined NATO first, then the European Union. In 2011, Estonia—a former Soviet republic whose democratic revolution Mikhail Gorbachev once tried to put down with tanks—began using the euro. Most of the region’s other countries will follow suit sooner or later, if the eurozone lasts that long.

Europeans in the former Soviet bloc make fun of European bureaucracy and high taxes. They joke that it reminds them of the bad old days. But they know it’s a joke: in the bad old days, one wrong step could land you in a KGB prison. They understand that Europe offers far more freedom than restrictions. Poles can live, work and, sometimes, vote in Ireland. Estonians can do so in Poland, as can everyone in London. Borders that used to be defended with armies now slow daily life far less than does Canada’s border with the United States.

Ukrainians, for the most part, get this. It’s true that the country is divided linguistically, with most in the East speaking Russian and feeling a historical affinity for Russia. Yanukovych’s electoral base is there. But even there, a lot of people have done the math. They know that even though Russia still dominates the region, it is in long-term decline. They would strengthen ties with Europe if it could be done without hurting ties with Russia.

A poll conducted in October by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology shows that support for the European option increases dramatically among younger Ukrainians. Those over 70 prefer a customs union with Russia by nearly 20 points over the EU association agreement. Among those under 30, the proportions are reversed. Europe is Ukraine’s future. That’s why John Baird, Canada’s foreign minister, was right to visit Kyiv this month for a long-scheduled multilateral meeting, and at the risk of upsetting his hosts, right to go to Maidan Square to talk with the protesters.

For a bunch of reasons, the Harper government decided early to make friends among the governments of Central and Eastern Europe. Jason Kenney idolized a Polish Pope, so when he became Canada’s immigration minister, he moved decisively to remove visa requirements for visitors from most formerly communist European countries. The Eastern European diasporas in Canada are large and often socially conservative. Stephen Harper’s attempts to forge working alliances with an assortment of Western European governments have gotten nearly nowhere. His electoral interests and Canada’s permanent interest in close ties with Europe align nicely in Eastern Europe. That goes doubly so in Ukraine, whose Canadian diaspora is profoundly anti-Soviet and, therefore, deeply suspicious of Putin’s barely post-Soviet Russia.

Yanukovych may yet buckle under pressure and sign the agreement with the EU. In the meantime, Canada should keep encouraging him, or frankly encourage Ukraine’s chronically splintered opposition to find new candidates for leadership posts. And Canada should continue to discourage Putin’s meddling in Ukraine and elsewhere.

A handy lever presents itself. Of course the Sochi Olympics should be free of politics, as much as any Olympics ever are. Canadian athletes should not pay a penalty for political conflict, as earlier generations of athletes did during the boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics. All of our athletes should go to Sochi. But no member of Canada’s government should go with them. Putin’s economic bullying, his contempt for political dissent and gay rights and for a free press, have surely earned him that much rebuke. Perhaps to underscore the point, John Baird could return to Kyiv while the Olympics are underway.


As goes Ukraine, so goes Europe

  1. Great article, although I am doubtful that that Sochi is likely to be much of a lever for the Ukrainian issue.

    • I’m not so sure. If we could occasionally arm wrestle the Soviets on matters of self interest, why not Putin? The man has an ego the size of Jupiter and he’s a fanatic. And as Lecarre said, the fanatic can be beat eventually, because he’s always harbouring a secret doubt.

      • Oh its not that I don’t think protests at Sochi will not have an impact, I just think that the dominant issue will be gay rights not the Ukraine. Given the announcement Obama just made, I would say this is a certainty. It is also a time when I think Canada should follow the US’s lead.

        • There was a truck sized flaw in my argument anyway. The Soviets were always verging on being broke – far from the case with Putin’s Russia. Arm twisting this guy may well take something else altogether.

      • But why join the EU to pay for other peoples currency debts? Seriously? A lot of PR about a recovery but its all fake. Reality is inflation is making GDP look good but the reality is stuff just costs more to get less, and thats why less goods and services means no real job recovery.

        There is a lot of BS in just quoting GDP as a recovery, as good and services define jobs, not GDP that defines we paid more. Real growth comes from goods and services, not GDP by itself.

  2. “Canada originally imposed the visa to block what it called bogus refugee
    claims by large numbers of ethnic Roma applicants from European

    It’s good to know at a time like this that Kenney has principles and all that good stuff. I guess it’s just a pity for the Roma they don’t form a large so-con potential voting block in this country.
    I imagine it isn’t an easy job sorting through all the poor and huddled masses of Eastern Europe that might want to come here, particularly when human smuggling and a host of other vile criminal activity is no doubt deeply entrenched and nearly impossible to eradicate. But i’m no fan of minister Kenney’s chosen brand of ministerial discretion, even if it does get thing done more efficiently and effectively from time to time. At times it’s too darn reminiscent of Putin’s style…sans the actual thuggery and personal and political corruption of course[ which is no minor distinction i grant]. It’s one good reason why we have processes that shouldn’t simply or easily be over ridden on a whim of this or that minister.

    Perhaps it comes to this – his first reaction seems to be to think the worst of aspirant Canadians and refuges, while i [ and i hope many other Canadians] would prefer to first give them the benefit of the doubt, and only take remedial action with considerable evidence in hand – not because my left knee is aching or my ideological hackles up.

    Agree about Sochi. Seems like a reasonable and principled compromise. Will we do it?
    Edit: Sorry about that, i seem to have only given the most relevant point a couple of sentences right at the end.

    • As usual, you have completely missed the point.
      Try walking down the streets of Kiev and try comparing a Minister in our free country to Putin.
      Do you really think that Kenney imposing Visa restrictions on certain groups (Roma being one ) because they were openly abusing our immigration policies, is comparable to anything that Putin would do to the Ukraine.
      Try asking that one to a someone in the Ukraine today.

      • Try reading ALL my rant before you bloviate. Better yet stick to your psuedo – sarcasm, i don’t have to parse that.

        • You should stick to parsing your own rants, then rewrite them or edit them, or whatever you do.
          Let me tell you why I use sarcasm. Because I get a pain in my inner ear when I try to comment in a straight manner to the blatant anti-government liberal-loving, conservative-hating contributions from you and most of the others here including most of the paid staff.
          If I`m sarcastic then it seems to help point out the ridiculousness of that which I`m replying to.

          But some of you get it. Wells in the paid section and Smith in the unpaid peasantry seem to get it.
          I simply pointed out above an example of someone who doesn`t get it. After reading an article about the struggles of the Ukraine you wrote almost a complete comment that had something to do with an administrative move made by Jason Kenney 5 years ago that was needed because one group in particular were abusing our immigration system to the detriment of other immigrants.
          I realize we are all a little guilty of slamming someone we dislike for no reason. Me too. So, from now on I`m going to try not to belittle Justin Trudeau. He can do that to himself, ………ok that`s the last time I do it.

          • I liked your non self pitying side better. Could you point me to the evidence for all this Roma shameful behaviour, i seem to have missed it. Not one decent academic paper anywhere, not that i noticed anyway. You would think, had they existed the minister would be happy to splash them al over the shop for the public to see. The minister would not act arbitrarily without evidence now would he? Not stoop to such a thing in order to curry favour with core cons…perish the thought. My bad my cynicism. But you can see why i might remain cynical given this govt’s appalling track record on appeasing those with pre conceived notions about refugees and migrants, crime…anything really!
            We have institutions and processes for a reason. Not merely to block ideologically inclined Conservatives, but any minister who gets a bee in his or her bonnet about whatever. That, was my point – the one you missed.

          • No you won`t find any academic papers pointing out the shameful behavior of the Roma, just like you won`t find any papers pointing out the blatant financial mismanagement of many Chiefs and elders in our aboriginal community to the detriment of aboriginal youth, just like you won`t find a paper on the misuse of socialist programs by the parents of poor children.
            In our pc world nobody dare talks about the truth. They get crucified by those who don`t want to hear the truth. The truth only gets in the way of their pre-conceived and naive ideas.

          • What utter bull and self serving crap. Call it what you want, but institutions and govt departments both create and sub contract out reports on these issues all the time. It’s hardly their fault if minister or govts fail to act on them or just take off on tangents of their own, regardless of best practices or evidence to the contrary.

      • Read your piece a little too casually. I see the heart of your argument is what it always is with right whingers: we have to compare our standards to the worst out there before we complain. It rarely matter what the subject…the Soviets, failure to observe international law at home, support for torture or lax enforcement of environmental laws… there is always someone much worse then us we should measure ourselves against before we demand better of ourselves.
        Unlike you i don’t subcontract out my principles out to the non existent standards of others.

        • Well. if your principles are to allow the Roma to continue to abuse our immigration system to the detriment of others, or to continue to enable those responsible for the mismanagement in our aboriginal community, or to blame the faceless federal government for the sins of reckless parenting, then continue on.
          Nothing will change for the disadvantaged.
          Maybe you will feel better because you haven`t subcontracted out your principles.

          • I think I`m getting a pain in my inner ear.

          • It’s the rust falling off your brain. It’ll go away eventually if you give it a chance.

          • Wrong again bud. I demand at least a reasonable amount of evidence before i bow the knee to govt dictates, no matter the brand on the masthead.[ i couldn’t stand the liberals in bc. I think the McGuinty brand was probably no better]…Unlike you apparently. The Harper brand seems to suit you down to the ground.
            “It is because we say it is…until it isn’t convenient anymore. Then we find someone else to blame.”

          • Then you will be doomed to talk and talk and talk about problems. Your pc ear will not allow you to hear the truth. You`ll feel you are contributing with your compassion, but nothing will change for those who need change, just more talk.

          • Actually reports are read. But i can see why you might have a problem with that. It’s always simpler to believe what you’re told to believe.

  3. 25 years after the Wall was tore down the Russians are still finding victims to bully.
    They are the bully of the world.
    The Ukraine should have been the wealthiest part of Europe, blessed with excellent agricultural possibilities and abundant natural resources, but all pi$$ed away with over 90 years of Bolshevik bull$hit.
    No wonder those lucky enough to get out of Eastern Europe in the past 50 years arrive in a country like Canada are immediately able to distinguish the benefits of the free market state offered by the Conservatives from the soft socialist one offered by the other Parties.

    Harper is right to stand up to a bully like Putin but it probably won`t help, not a lot to be optimistic about in the Ukraine. I have no idea where Obama is on this file. Maybe he and Justin can take a course in Russian literature. Putin would like that.

    • Be VERY open-minded when you talk about “bullying”, you don’t think America ever bullied anyone Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan,…, iran, oh I get it, but that’s ok, becuase we are on America’s side and of course we are right 100% of the time.?
      Do not forget, that at that time “Ukraine” CHOSE to join Lenin and the Revolution.
      I do agree, and I’m sure the Ukraine itself would like nothing better than to see Ukraine be what all Ukrainians want it to be, but I also don’t want Western greed and agendas’s to be “bullied” upon them either, anymore, get it?

  4. I find it baffling that Eastern Europeans want their decisions made in Brussels instead of Moscow. You would think having your decisions made for you in by communists in Moscow for 50 yrs would illustrate the stupidity of having left wing bureaucrats in Brussels make your domestic policy. Only difference between Moscow and Brussels is terror – which is a big difference admittedly – but it would be even better if every country would mind their own affairs only and not involve themselves in their neighbours affairs as well.

    My understanding of Ukraine is that Russians are using trade, mainly oil, as a weapon, Russia supplies Ukraine with third of their oil/gas and were threatening to cut off supply entirely. Russia can inflict immediate pain while EU deal will take years to work out and take effect. However, there are lots of clever working and middle class people who know Europe is better place than Russia and they desire to work within Europe.

    • Yeah, freedom and prosperity is all the EU can offer.

    • Only difference between Moscow and Brussels is terror – which is a big difference admittedly

      I think you just answered your own question. Countries in Europe have never “just minded their own business”, and never will. You therefore choose a bloc, and hope you chose right when the shit hits the fan.

  5. And I thought this was an interesting column by one of the ignorant Brits you mention.

    Daily Telegraph – Dec 12 2013:

    When my immigrant wife first came to Britain, it took her ages to understand our GP system. If I fell ill, I had to wait days to see the doctor. But if she felt sick, the same doctor would see her that afternoon as she was categorised as a private patient (and paid a modest £50 for the privilege). As far as she could work out, it was a Russian-style system of bribery: the official system doesn’t work, but you can bypass it with a few backhanders.

    Ironically, it’s workers from ex-Soviet countries who are least likely to put up with all this in Britain. There has been a trend in recent years of Poles being shocked that the GP clinic expects them to take half a day off work for an appointment. So a new breed of private operators is emerging, charging about £70 per consultation and opening until the wee small hours.

  6. So Canadians should urge Ukraine towards the EU because… Russia bad, EU good? Sorry I thought this was a Canadian publication. Here is an idea, publish an article in regards to the economic benefits each trade agreement stands to offer.

  7. Ukraine has a chance to reform and become a free and prosperous Western nation but that won’t happen if they tie themselves to despots like Putin. This has nothing to do with the rancid bureaucratic mess that is the European Union. This is about Westernization.

  8. I think Scott Bryson and Svend Robinson would be suitable national representatives. Kathleen Wynne if she’s up to it.

    • Sven Robinson? I’m pretty sure we don’t want to send jewel thieves as our representatives.

    • If they stay there forever the better.

  9. I wonder how many people commenting, including so called reporters have actually spent time here in Ukraine visiting more than just the capital or big cities. There is a lot more going on than reported here, there are a lot more options than most seem to write about. Propaganda is so irritating and keeps people apart rather than supporting independent thought and movement – this is in regards to the so called 2 sides in this. There really are a lot more options and more sides to the stories being “reported”. Ukraine needs to take a stand for Ukraine and be independent, both the EU and Russia want Ukraine and unfortunately the Ukrainians being reported on are the ones brainwashed into the EO or Russia camps. Ukraine can and should stand on its own. Ukraine has a lot more going for it than reported and both dictatorial governments (EU and Russia) know it
    Please come here, check it out and you will see the possible future that can be great if Ukrainians refuse both and stand as a bridge between them, independent and strong

    • Given the history of Europe, choosing a bloc, the right bloc, would seem to be all the difference.

    • Agree 100% with Canuck in UA! It is not about politics or economy, Russia or EU. It
      is about Dignity! People are standing up for their Rights and Freedoms! See for
      yourself (in English) on (an independent publicly-funded news

    • I agree, let Ukrainians choose what they want.

  10. Ukraine is the buffer between Europe and backwards Russian thinking.
    The people should go to war for their land.

  11. One of the reasons why Ignatieff lost: almost all Eastern Europeans in Canada hated the Russian.