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 Getting to Zero AIDS Infections

More than 35 million people around the world are infected with HIV, a disease that is both preventable and treatable

Children, Childhoods Lost in European Refugee Crisis

According to UNICEF, 190,000 children applied for political asylum in Europe in the first 9 months of this year - twice as many as last year

What Happened When I Landed in Antarctica

Refael Klein chronicles what it's like to visit one of the coldest, most desolate places on Earth

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

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 After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

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 Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

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 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 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 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.

VOA Blogs