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

    In Britain, The Sun Still Doesn’t Shine

    Invoking Spitfires and Merlin, Leave voters insist country can be great again, following surprising 'Brexit' vote last week

    Double Wave of Suicide Bombings Puts Lebanon, Refugees on Edge

    Following suicide bombings in Christian town of Al-Qaa, on Lebanon's northeast border with Syria, fears of further bombings have risen

    US Senators Warned on Zika After Failing to Pass Funding

    Zika threats and challenges, as well as issues of contraception and vaccines, spelled out as lawmakers point fingers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeasti
    X
    June 29, 2016 6:15 PM
    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora