News / Europe

Will Ukraine Go West, or Stay East? Russia Fights Hard to Keep It in Its Orbit

FILE - Pro-European Union activists rally in the center of Kyiv, Ukraine's capital, Oct. 30, 2013.
FILE - Pro-European Union activists rally in the center of Kyiv, Ukraine's capital, Oct. 30, 2013.
James Brooke
President Putin’s advisor on economic integration warns Ukraine a move to the European Union would be “economic suicide.”

A close friend of Russia’s president floods Ukraine’s capital with billboards warning EU association is a ticket to gay marriage.

From steel to chocolates, Ukrainian products are held up at the border with Russia, Ukraine’s largest trading partner.

The Kremlin has woken up to the fact that Ukraine, seen for centuries as a cradle of Russian culture and religion, may be on the verge of taking a decisive step out of Moscow’s orbit.

At stake in this increasingly tense East-West tug-of-war, is a nation the size of France with 46 million people, nearly one third the population of Russia.

Maxim Trudolyubov, editorial page editor of Moscow’s Vedemosti newspaper, warns the Kremlin will take reprisals if Ukraine signs an agreement of association with the European Union at a November 28-29 summit meeting in Vilnius, Lithuania.

“On the face of it, it looks like the Kremlin will be very tough on Ukraine, and they can do a lot of things, they can do terrible things,” said Trudolyubov, whose newspaper is politically independent.  “But, on the other hand, from the long perspective, of course, it is not in the Kremlin’s interest to harm Ukraine in any serious way.”

At the Vilnius meeting, four former Soviet republics were expected to sign or initial agreements with the European Union. One, Armenia, folded in face of heavy Russian pressure.  It agreed to join the Eurasian Economic Union, the rival trade group administered by Moscow.

The other three - Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia - are on track, for now.

The big prize

The big prize is Ukraine, the second most populous former Soviet republic, after Russia.

Pro-Kremlin analysts charge that “Polish imperialism” is pushing the European Union to admit Ukraine.  They charge Washington is using the European Union to drive a wedge between Russia and its historic Slavic brother, Ukraine.

Sergei Mikhailov, an analyst at the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, warns the European Union is too broke to give Ukraine and Moldova the kind of infrastructure support doled out in earlier expansions.

“Bulgaria and Romania are two countries that show the risks,” he said here.

Russia’s pressure is taking its toll.  Ukraine’s parliament has missed three deadlines to pass laws required by the European Union.  The fight is expected to go right down to the wire, the day the meeting opens in Lithuania.
Strong popular support

But public opinion and Ukraine’s political calendar may be on the side of Ukraine choosing Europe.

In a poll last month, 45 percent of Ukrainians favored the association agreement with the European Union.  This is three times greater than the 14 percent who wanted to join the Moscow-led economic bloc.

Dmitri Trenin, director of the Moscow Carnegie Center, sees Ukraine and Moldova’s move to integrate with Europe as a natural, positive evolution.

“This will be an important stimulus to the modernization, not just of their economies, or political and legal systems, but also of societies,” he said in Moscow.  “So I see it as hugely important and, on balance, very positive.”

In 16 months, Ukrainians vote for president.  With polls indicating growing popular support for joining Europe, analysts say President Viktor Yanukovych will win reelection only if he signs the European accession agreement.

Indeed, Yanukovych seems to be preparing alternatives to weather economic blasts from Russia.  This year, China is to become Ukraine’s second largest trading partner.

Last week, Ukraine suspended imports of Russian gas until the end of this year.  This is possible because of warm weather, an expanded gas storage system, and pipeline changes that allow Ukraine to import gas from Europe.

In Moscow, Sergei Mikhailov compares the tension between Russia and Ukraine to the tension between two candidates in days before a close election.  He says much of the tension is psychological.  If a deal is signed in Lithuania, Russia and Ukraine will adjust to the new reality.

Vygaudas Usackas is a Lithuanian living in Moscow.  He is the E.U. ambassador here and says the deal could benefit Russia: “It will also have, I hope, a strong impact towards Russia, which is the most immediate and closest neighbor of Ukraine, benefiting from that pathway towards European values, governance, accountability and economic diversity of the systems we all embrace.”

The coming days will tell: whether Ukraine stays East, or goes West.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs