Blaming the EU over Ukraine easy, but misguided
A familiar Cold War rhetoric to much of the discussion from our anti-war/neutrality lobby
The blame game has resumed – flowers in tribute to the victims of flight MH17 near the entrance to the military airport in Eindhoven, southern Netherlands. Photograph: EPA/Marcel Van Hoorn
The shooting down of MH17 has restored Ukraine to the front pages and reopened with ferocity arguments about who are the good and bad guys in this brutal conflict. The blame game is back on, not least about responsibility for the attack, but also arguments about whether and, if so, how the protagonists are merely ciphers in the Big Game played out by the great powers.
There’s a peculiarly familiar Cold War character to much of the discussion of the crisis from our anti-war/neutrality lobby: familiar villains, the rhetoric of the evil “West” versus the rest, inflated claims about rampant fascism, and a sneaking apologetics for Russia and Vladimir Putin – never looking more like the old Soviet Union and Joe Stalin.
Most troubling in the wake of MH17, the same willingness shown by old apologists for the Soviet Union to accept at face value or turn a blind eye to Putin’s mendacity because – a priori – he is after all opposing the imperialist US/EU.
“Responsibility for the downed Malaysian airliner is quite clear,”Alan McPartland wrote to our letters pages this week in a similar vein. “It lies with those who organised and supported the illegal coup in Ukraine. This group of course includes the US and the EU. Before this coup, Ukraine was a peaceful country with a democratically elected government . . . The current government, supported by the West, has chosen the path of all-out war against its own people in the east of the country. In war zones, sadly such tragedies happen.” So the EU is to blame. With all the impeccable logic of the Provo “it’s-all-the-fault-of-the-Brits” excuses after every outrage of their own.
In some respects this reasoning has nothing to do with Ukraine. It ’s about fighting the old ideological war about Irish neutrality on a new front, a somewhat forced and implausible rehearsing of the old case that the EU is no more than the civilian arm of Nato, essentially an empire in the making, and one subservient to the real enemy, the US.
To prove the thesis you must pretend that the popular overthrow of Ukraine’s deeply corrupt pro-Russian elective dictator Viktor Yanukovych by the biggest explosion in popular protests in eastern Europe since 1989 was simply a Western plot, that his elected successor Petro Poroshenko has no mandate to maintain the integrity of his country, that pro-Russian separatists are all true democrats, that peace-loving Russia’s fraternal assistance is benign and legitimate, motivated simply by concern for fellow Slavs, that its annexation of Crimea is no more than a rectification of an historical aberration . . .
Please. Give me a break.
Nor should we be taking lectures in democratic practice from Mr Putin who continues to blame the months of crisis in Ukraine on Western leaders, saying they had forced Kiev to choose between Russia and the EU.
No-one was forced to make that choice. Ukrainians chose freely, or sought to do so despite Moscow bullying. Unlike Russia, the EU did not put its tank divisions on the border or infiltrate its troops. It offered an association agreement, now signed by Ukraine’s new president, that promised gradual access to the EU market, new rights for workers, steps towards visa-free movement of people, the exchange of information and staff in the area of justice, the modernisation of Ukraine’s infrastructure, and access to the European Investment Bank . . . and money to help modernising.
Not, it must be pointed out, EU accession, despite what many Ukrainians would like and some feel were promised after the Orange revolution a decade ago. The enlargement process has stalled and the prospect of a huge impoverished Ukraine would be opposed by a majority of member-states. Nor is there any question of Nato membership, an issue so toxic to Russia that even Nato hawks admit it would be dangerously provocative.
Of course there were political and security considerations in the EU’s offer, a reality not in and of itself oppressive or imperialistic. The union’s “neighbourhood strategy” is based on the spread of democratic values and the integration of developing market economies into the EU’s own internal market – the “European method” that reflects its own experience of post-War coming together. Democracies don’t go to war, nor do those whose economic interests are increasingly intertwined – a reality ironically reflected in the difficulty the EU has in agreeing sanctions against Russia.
Not, of course that the western Ukrainians are all angels. There are dangerous fascist thugs in their midst whose presence in militias fighting alongside government forces is causing real fear in the encircled eastern communities of Donetsk and Luzhansk. It is crucial that EU assistance to the government in Kiev is made conditional on the rapid demobilisation and disarming of such forces and their removal from positions of authority.