Ukraine in the face of a new Cold War

Click to enalrge the image. Drawing by Konstantin Maler

The Polish film director Krzysztof Kieslowski explained it this way: “The television industry doesn’t like to see the complexity of the world. It prefers simple reporting, with simple ideas: this is white, that’s black; this is good, that’s bad.”

The European media assume that the demonstrations in Independence Square — the “Maidan” of the Orange Revolution of 2004 — are because of the president’s refusal to sign the European Union association agreement, which, incidentally, most Ukrainians  confuse with joining the European Union. However, in reality, this is only the final drop of water in the sea of discontent with the Ukrainian president.

According to an April 2013 poll by the Razumkov Centre (pro-opposition), 42 percent of Ukrainians would like to join the European Union, and 33 percent would like to join the Customs Union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

A December 2013 poll by the Research & Branding Group (pro-government) found that 46 percent favor the European Union and 36 percent favor the Customs Union. The same poll showed that 49 percent of Ukrainians support the “EuroMaidan” movement, while 45 percent oppose it. Most polls highlight a historic divergence: the western part of the country is pro-European while the east is pro-Russian.

Although the European media depict Yanukovich as a novice dictator manipulated by Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the vast majority of the population as wishing to join the European Union because of a love of freedom, the situation is actually more complex than this black-and-white confrontation.

In this regard, the activism of various self-proclaimed “democracy ambassadors,” while it has generated attractive images, should not be taken at face value as the reality on the ground. For example, Victoria Nuland, a U.S. assistant secretary of state, was seen giving cookies to demonstrators.

We should instead consider the results of the poll taken by the Gorshenin Institute on December 2 among the demonstrators themselves: 56 percent claim that they are demonstrating for the resignation of the current president, 28 percent for the signature of the association agreement, and 18 percent for an acceptable life in a “normal country.”

In other words, a majority of the demonstrators are rejecting everything without taking the time to make distinctions: Yanukovich’s policies, the deteriorating social situation, the spreading corruption and racketeering, and the arbitrary power of the civil servants and police.

From a geopolitical perspective, it is indisputable that Putin’s absolute diplomatic priority is to rebuild a coherent bloc around Russia: the Commonwealth of Independent States, Collective Security Treaty Organization and Eurasian Economic Union.

It is also indisputable that NATO and the European Union are conducting policies of expansion to and cooperation with the East that are stripping Russia of its “near abroad.”

Yanukovich, by being anxious to raise the bidding between Europe and Russia, has been playing with fire. However, in this simplistic confrontation between West and East, in this “new cold war” that has been playing out in Ukraine for more than 10 years, at the moment there is no voice speaking out in favor of a third path: nonalignment.

Yet it is high time for the Ukrainian elites and demonstrators on both sides to think about a future for their country that would not entail inexorably becoming a suburb of Russia or Europe.

Upon further consideration, the country’s position as an air lock between Europe and Russia could be a blessing for it. In addition, it needs to figure out how to take inspiration from ambitious, previously conducted nonalignment policies rather than doom itself to being the satellite of one power or the other.