With US-Russo Relations becoming ever more clouded with mystery since Trump’s leap into the political arena, Ukraine stands as an increasingly hostile issue.

 

Russian group Open Left see the events in Ukraine as a ‘classic act of imperialist intervention’, and with the recent declaration by Ukrainian separatist Alexander Zakharchenko of a ‘Malorossiya’ (‘Little Russia’) in Eastern Ukraine, the 2015 Belarus agreement has served little to stop fighting or ease tensions in the region.

With increased Russian involvement since 2014, the propaganda war is fierce on both sides and Ukraine now finds itself with two identities. It is simultaneously: ‘a country that has battled hard to win independence from the Kremlin … or it’s a cousin of Moscow, pulled violently away from its relative by meddling Westerners’.

On Thursday July 6, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson co-hosted the Ukraine Reform Conference alongside Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, with Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman leading the Ukrainian delegation at Lancaster House in London. The conference was to showcase the progress Ukraine has made on reform since 2014 and to present the Ukrainian Government’s Reform Action Plan 2017-20, with the aim of bringing the international community together and to agree on priority reform areas while showing support for Ukraine. Alongside ministerial-level plenary discussions, the conference included conversations on each of the priority reform areas agreed in the Action Plan: good governance; economic growth; rule of law and anti-corruption; defence and security reform; and human capital.

Johnson spoke of how the aim in Ukraine is ‘to build a prosperous and a peaceful and successful Ukraine’ that is ‘for the UK, for the West, for the world’, and also how Ukraine is something the ‘UK is determined to preserve’ — mentioning how there had been ‘more reforms since the revolution’ than in the two decades previously (post-Ukrainian independence).

There are also plans in place for a ‘new central election commission’ which will be covering areas such as land, pensions and state-owned enterprises. Johnson then spoke of Ukraine’s ‘array of leaders’ and how some people will fight ‘tooth and nail’ for the old system. Slovakian representative Lukas Parizek’s short speech at the conference seemed comparatively more concerned with making sure the process was domestically-led. Parizek focused on making Ukraine a ‘European success story’, using the terms ‘economic integration’ and ‘deepening of political co-operation’ to say that any reforms looking to make the nation ‘democratic, prosperous and stable’ should be ‘domestically driven’.

From the language being used here we can see that, in the short-term at least, neoliberal capitalism will continue to run riot in Ukraine and it is simply a matter of which flag will be lurking in the shadows. The question that these discussions need to be centered around however, is whether or not the Ukrainian people want to be a part of the EU and, secondly, whether or not holding greater ties with the EU would benefit Ukraine.

The documentary Winter On Fire (Netflix, 2014) answers the first part of this question; that the majority of Ukrainians want their country to forge a stronger relationship with the EU. The violent clashes between protesters and armed government forces were triggered by former President Yanukovych’s decision to refuse an ‘association agreement’ with the EU at the last minute. Plans were in place for EU funds to be exchanged with the Ukrainian government in return for liberalizing reforms, but Yanukovych instead took out a multi-billion dollar loan with Russia, a deal which sources most of its support from people in Ukraine’s south-eastern regions. (However, 57 per cent of the government-controlled East are reported to have perceived the events as an ‘illegal’ coup.)

Ukraine is another stage in a saga that has spanned decades and torn countries like Vietnam and Afghanistan apart. In 2014, Russian Foreign Ministry stated:

‘What is happening is a direct result of the policies of appeasement by Western politicians and European institutions, which from the beginning of the crisis turned a blind eye to the aggressive actions of radical forces in Ukraine, thereby encouraging them to escalate and provoke the legitimate authority’.

To this, economist Yanis Varoufakis says that the EU ‘however fast it may be descending into democratic illegitimacy, still looks like Heaven through many Ukrainian eyes’, and that Ukrainians find ‘their highest hopes are resting on weak shoulders’.

So, would the EU benefit Ukraine?

The EU would certainly argue that it would, as do many Ukrainians. But, writing in The Guardian in June 2014, Slovenian commentator Slavoj Zizek had this to say on the events in Kiev:

‘It is not the Ukrainians who should learn from Europe: Europe has to learn to live up to the dream that motivated the protesters on the Maidan. The lesson that frightened liberals should learn is that only a more radical left can save what is worth saving in the liberal legacy today… What, exactly, does the “Europe” the Ukrainian protesters are referring to stand for? It can’t be reduced to a single idea: it spans nationalist and even fascist elements but extends also to the idea of what Etienne Balibar calls égaliberté, freedom-in-equality, the unique contribution of Europe to the global political imaginary, even if it is in practice today mostly betrayed by European institutions and citizens themselves’.

The split in Ukraine also reflects Western attitudes to similar situations elsewhere. Owen Jones compares Ukraine to Israel, a nation that he (rightly) asserts ‘is allowed systematically to violate UN resolutions’ and annex Palestinian land. Then look at Chechnya where, as Varoufakis asks, ‘On what principle does a Western liberal deny the right of Chechens to independence from Russia, but is prepared to defend to the hilt the Georgians or the Ukrainians’ right to self-determination?’

Here in Europe we have several choices: standing by the EU in its current form; reforming the organization; giving in to right-wing populism; or uniting and forging a more radical left. Varoufakis sees this as a battleground between ‘Russia’s industrial neo-feudalism, the US State Department’s ambitions, and Germany’s neo-Lebensraum policies’ (a.k.a. expanding its market/industrial space eastwards).

So it must be asked, are conferences like this going to give Ukraine the future it thinks it wants? What also is ‘the “dream” of Europe?’ Is it the ideals of democracy and of Balbar’s égaliberté? Essentially, is Europe really a dream, or is it simply better than the ‘nightmare’ that looms on Ukraine’s perimeters?