On the Ukraine: Three Awkward Questions for Western Liberals
BALKANS AND EASTERN EUROPE, 17 Mar 2014
Let us accept (as I do) the principle that national minorities have the right to self-determination within lopsided multi-ethnic states; e.g. Croats and Kosovars seceding from Yugoslavia, Scots from the UK, Georgians from the Soviet Union etc.
Awkward question no. 1: On what principle can we deny, once Croatia, Kosovo, Scotland and Georgia have come into being, the right of Krajina Serbs, of Mitrovica Serbs, of Shetland Islanders and of Abkhazians to carve out, if they so wish, their own nation-states within the newly independent nation-states in the areas where they constitute a clear majority?
Awkward question no. 2: 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?
Awkward question no. 3: On what principle is it justifiable that the West acquiesced to the raising to the ground of Grozny (Chechnya’s capital), not to mention the tens of thousands of civilian deaths, but responded fiercely, threatened with global sanctions, and raised the spectre of a major Cold War-like confrontation over the (so far) bloodless deployment of undercover Russian troops in Crimea?
The above three questions are being asked not because I want to challenge the notion that Mr. Putin is a dangerous despot. I have no doubt that he is. Indeed, I wear as a badge of honour the fact that I was in a minority of one in the Faculty Board meeting of the University of Athens in 2003, where I voted against the award of an honourary doctoral degree to Mr. Putin by the University of Athens (denying the University the opportunity to state that the award had been unanimous, and thus incurring the wrath of most colleagues who had been ‘requested’ politely by the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs to honour Mr. Putin during his visit to Athens).
My three awkward questions have two aims: To remind readers of the West’s unprincipled attitude toward ‘other’ people’s struggles and tragedies. And to explain, in part, why such unprincipled behavior by the proponents of democratic principles ends up denigrating not only these very principles but greatly reinforcing the power and influence of the Putins of this world as well.
Europe and the Ukraine
Ukrainians fought pitched battles against the security forces in Kiev’s main square to protest against the former President Yanukovic’s decision to back out of a deal that would seal the country’s partnership with the European Union. Why? Are they blind to the incongruities of the European Union?
No, they are not. However, Ukrainians are facing a different type of problem compared to those we Europeans do. Whatever bone we have to pick with Brussels, with the ECB etc. (and we have many!), the people of Kiev had other priorities. E.g. how to rid themselves of security forces that felt at liberty to torture and to kill; how to travel freely; how to live in a country where courts were not completely run by the same mafia that run the state apparatus. To them, the fact that democracy is on the wane in the Eurozone and Europe’s principles are becoming increasingly hollow, matters little: The EU, however fast it may be descending into democratic illegitimacy, still looks like Heaven through many Ukrainian eyes.
Having said that, the greatest tragedy for Ukrainians is that their highest hopes are resting on weak shoulders: the European Union’s! ‘Europe’s Foreign Policy’ are three words that only need to be stated to cause hilarity. For there is no such thing, in truth. Even the Franco-German axis has been shuttered by Libya, let alone the ambitious idea of a common foreign policy for a United Europe that can act as a bulwark helpful to the Ukraine.
While Libya was of minimal importance to Europe’s security, even if of crucial importance to the Libyans, Ukraine is crucial and Europe ought to tread very carefully. What worries me the most is that the seriousness of the Ukrainian crisis is in inverse proportion to Europe’s competence in the field of foreign policy. Brussels may be keen to expand its ‘authority’ Eastward but it is treading into dangerous territory, ill equipped to deal with the repercussions.
The United States, the IMF, Germany and the Ukraine
The Ukraine is, and was always going to be, the battleground between Russia’s industrial neo-feudalism, the US State Department’s ambitions, and Germany’s neo-Lebensraum policies. Various ‘Eurasianists’ see the crisis in Kiev as a great opportunity to promote a program of full confrontation with Russia, one that is reminiscent of Z. Brzezinski’s 1970s anti-Soviet strategy. Importantly, they also see the Ukraine as an excellent excuse to torpedo America’s role in normalising relations with Iran and minimising the human cost in Syria.
At the same time, the IMF cannot wait to enter Russia’s underbelly with a view to imposing another ‘stabilization-and-structural-adjustment program’ that will bring that whole part of the former Soviet Union under its purview. As for Germany, it has its own agenda which pulls its in two different directions at once: securing as much of the former Soviet Union as part of its neo-Lebensraum strategy of expanding its market/industrial space Eastwards; while, at the same time, preserving its privileged access to gas supplies from Gazprom.
As for the White House itself, there is little doubt that both President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry understand the limits of Western power and the danger that too much of a hawkish reaction to the events in the Ukraine will undermine their efforts vis-à-vis Syria and Iran, at a time when Iraq is being increasingly destabilised
Epilogue: The European Union should stop meddling in the Ukraine
In this geopolitical context, Brussels’ ambitions ought to be curtailed. The European Commission is clueless, regarding the goings on in the Ukraine, and the less involved they get the better for everyone. Indeed, the EU apparatchiks resemble Rome’s last emperors who, foolishly, thought that extending the Empire’s borders was all that mattered, when in reality the problem was that the Empire’s core was rotting.
Yanis Varoufakis is a political economist and author of dual Greek-Australian nationality. He is an active participant in the current debates on the global and European crisis. Yanis is a Professor of Economic Theory at the University of Athens and a private consultant for Valve Corporation. Yanis is also the author of The Global Minotaur: America, Europe and the Future of the Global Economy, Modern Political Economics: Making Sense of the Post-2008 World, Game Theory: A Critical Introduction, Foundations of Economics: A Beginner’s Companion and The Global Minotaur: America, The True Origins of the Financial Crisis and the Future of the World Economy.
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