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

US, China Have Dueling Definitions of Cybersecurity

Analysts say attribution or or proving that a particular individual or government is responsible for a hack, is a daunting task More

Snowden: I'd Go to Prison to Return to US

Former NSA contractor says he has not received a formal plea-deal offer from US officials, who consider him to be a traitor More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs