Thursday, 5 December 2013


Not that you would be aware of it from the UK media but another positive milestone was passed on the 29th November (2013) when the leaders of Georgia and Moldova signed their countries Association Agreements with the European Union. These agreements are an important step in their bid for membership of the 28-nation bloc, although as pen touched paper there must have been lingering thoughts about how Russia would react.

I am acutely aware that the largely London based and London centric UK  media rarely carries any positive EU related stories, but, as an interested child raised during the now thankfully historic Cold War era, the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius, is a positive event. The fact that the largely unheralded (by the UK media) summit was held in Vilnius, Lithuania, a country that was occupied by the Soviet Union from 1944 until 1991, in itself shows how far we have all travelled in recent years.

The problem is that the summit has understandably deepened real fears of harsh retaliation from Russia in both Georgia and Moldova. The Kremlin has reacted aggressively and somewhat successfully to prevent the Ukraine from signing its own EU pact. Just days before the deal was due to be sign the Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych walked away from the deal in Vilnius, in the process sparking a political crisis in the Ukraine and revamping the democratic western looking opposition.

Pro-European Demonstrators in the Ukraine (Picture from Reuters)
Thousands of pro-EU Ukrainians poured onto the streets of the capital , Kiev, on 24th November the crowd being  estimated at being more than 100,000 with larger demonstrations being held since then. The opposition continues to demand that the government resign after President Viktor Yanukovych decided to postpone the signing of a deal on closer ties with the European Union.

The Ukrainian parliament debated and held a stormy vote of no confidence in the government which the government just about managed to win. The Ukrainian President’s decision has sparked some of the biggest protests in Ukraine since the Orange Revolution back in 2004.

Only a few hours after the initialling ceremony, the Moldovan Prime Minister Leanca openly called on Moscow not to shut down the communication line with Chisinau. The reality is that Moscow will probably wait until after the Sochi Winter Olympics in February are over to initiate retaliatory measures to avoid any 'bad press' in close proximity to Russia’s golden Olympic moments on the media spotlight.

EU leaders in Vilnius condemned Russia for its pretty blatant bullying of Ukraine into shelving its landmark association deal with Europe in favour of retaining closer ties with Moscow. Russian sanctions could have devastating effects on Georgia's and Moldova's still-fragile economies as Russia is an important export market for both countries and regular destination for guest workers from both countries.

Perhaps this is the price to be paid for not following the bear
Georgia imports most of its natural gas from Azerbaijan and Moldova relies almost exclusively on gas from Russia - a state that has some form for periodically tightening the tap on its neighbours when it wants to. Russia has no right to try to dictate or to approve or disapprove whatever organisations economic or political associations independent countries might want to join.

Yet, the view from the Kremlin (or the Hermitage) is different, the sight of the EU map getting ever larger and drawing in more and more former Eastern bloc and former Soviet (however unwilling) republics is bound to set historic alarm bells ringing, not to mention setting the ghosts of Peter the Great and Stalin pacing the corridors of the Kremlin or the Hermitage. The dominant Russian component of the Soviet Union historically and practically ended up seeing the CCCP as an extension of greater Russia.

Smaller peripheral nationalities were (and continue to be in some circles) patronisingly and dismissed as possessing simple local political and linguistic peculiarities, this somewhat patronising idea, is entirely understandable particularly if you are Scottish, Irish, Breton, Catalan, Basque or Welsh. Or if you are participating in what looks (at least from the South East of our country) to be a somewhat one sided (London centric media wise) debate on Scottish independence. 

Dean Acheson, US Secretary of State under President Harry S. Truman, once rightly said that “Great Britain has lost an Empire and has not yet found a role”. In my opinion this well perceived observation was right then (in 1962) and is still right today; it’s been fifty years since the Empire was lost and the ‘Brit’ elite have still not got over it or adjusted to economic and political realities of their situation. Much the same can be said for Russia...

We are fifty years down the road since the end of Empire, yet the Westminster elite continue to preside over Fantasy Island and to act out a delusional role on the World stage. If nothing else this should, provide a degree of understanding to unfolding events in the East and Russia’s behaviour. The Russians lost their Empire in barely a fortnight (in late August 1991) and their elite and many (but by no means all) Russian citizens may well be a long way from getting over it and adjusting to the new realities and opportunities. 

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