For more than 3 years I have suffered from a bad case of déformation professionnelle. Having kept a close eye on Ukraine at least since the first Maidan in 2004 and visited the country regularly for the past ten years, I was under the impression that the future of the European Union and of the whole geopolitical configuration in Europe were being decided in Ukraine. But I was fooling myself … and probably was not the only one. Certainly the Ukrainian crisis, starting with the revolution in February 2014 and the ensuing conflict in the Donbass has provoked a resurgence of the hostility between the United States and Russia (or rather, of the hostility of the United States towards Russia). At the apex of the crisis in 2014, for a brief moment, it felt like the world was on the verge of WWIII. It was almost palpable and reading the headlines of many newspapers, in the 100th anniversary of start of the Great War, it looked like many were almost craving for an another sensational conflict to break out…. you know, just for the thrill of living through a historical moment. Many in Ukraine, angry at the annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbass, almost seemed to long for a larger conflict between Ukraine and its Western allies on one side (the whole world is with US, as they believed) and Russia on the other one. In a recorded conversation, Yulia Timoshenko, a former Ukrainian Prime Minister, said the Russians had to be punished for having taken Crimea by bombing them with nuclear weapons. Now Ukraine has slowly exited the focus of the short attention span of Western audiences and politicians. Not that anybody in Ukraine seems to have taken notice of this. Amid the country many existing problems, the public conversation is in fact dominated by only two themes: the war with Russia and the question about when the Ukraine will join the European Union.
No doubt the big story of the beginning of 2017 was “Russiagate” and the alleged meddling of Russia in the US Presidential election. This resulted in new economic sanctions against Russia, approved almost unanimously by Congress, in spite of an investigation that has been going on for almost a year and a strange lack of sound evidence. It is difficult however to conceive the entire Russiagate scandal (what a nice title, how would the media survive if they did not have a couple of big stories like this every year?) without the turn for the worst that the relations between the United States and Russia took when the Ukrainian crisis turned hot. In Russia, the United States and Ukraine found the perfect ideological enemy: Russia as some sort of resurgent but technologically advanced Soviet Union, an all powerful evil monster capable of manipulating people’s minds and turning them into zombies and traitors; what can possibly be scarier than that?
The emergence of Russiagate however meant that except for a small group of people strongly concerned about Ukraine, the framing has shifted from Russia as a threat to the territorial integrity of Europe to Russia as a global cyberthreat undermining the liberal foundations of the globalist establishment. And in spite of many excitable souls setting off the alarm numerous times, the fabled invasion by Russia of the Baltics, of Poland and the full scale invasion of Ukraine has failed to materialize. Even the German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel recently criticized the new pack of sanctions imposed by the United States on Russia, fearing that they would affect European and German companies.
In the face of the apparently unsolvable internal problems an economically stagnant European Union is facing at least since 2010, the Ukrainian revolution gave young dreamy enthusiasts of the United Europe project a reason to boost their morale. Europe had the moral duty to “defend” Ukraine against Russian aggression, because the young people of Ukraine had gone to streets en masse waving giant European flags and showing their love of Europe and the European community of nations: “Look, they love us so much and this makes us feel so good, we have to do something for them (or rather, let’s shout and infest online forums deluding ourself into thinking that if we scream just a bit more online, somebody else will take action and go to fight against Russia or Ukrainize Ukraine)”. It did not matter that this imagined and projected community of values between Europe and Ukraine intentionally ignored all the economic and political realities of a country like Ukraine, so closely tied to Russia for many centuries. The story of a young nation enamored with the cradle of modern civilization after all had a charm it was practically impossible to resist … and the yellow stars on the blue flag! Our hearts are filled with proud and joy! European brothers!
More than three years later, Ukraine has certainly achieved the goal of separating itself from Russia possibly forever, at the expense of an intermittent conflict in the Donbass and a large part of the Ukrainian population looks at Russia and the Russians as the enemy and the sole source of their misery. After having obtained a 90-day visa free regime for its citizens in June, President Poroshenko has declared that the strategic goal of Ukraine now is to join NATO and the European Union. An increasingly cautious European Union however is hardly likely to take the risk of giving the country membership in the foreseeable future, given the country proness to political instability. The dignitaries of Europe have found themselves unwilling to put at stake Europe’s relative prosperity to satisfy the European ambitions of a country notoriously run by a fabulously corrupt handful of oligarchs.
In spite of a climate dominated by incessant war propaganda, which theorically should consolidate the support for the current government and intimidate any form of criticism as unpatriotic, Ukrainians seem to have become increasingly tired of President Poroshenko, and some are contemplating the possibility of another Maidan to overthrow him, although this seems unlikely to happen, with a population visibly tired of conflicts and barely struggling to get by. Only a few days ago, Mikheil Saakashvili, the former President of Georgia and a former governor of the Odessa region, literally fought his way back into Ukraine at the Polish-Ukrainian border, in spite of having been stripped of Ukrainian citizenship, which had previously been granted to him so that he could assume political office in Ukraine, by Poroshenko in July this year. Ukraine is much more likely to join NATO before it ever joins the European Union, because NATO needs Ukraine certainly more as an Eastern outpost than the European Union would need it as a source of cheap labour, but serious talks of joining NATO have not been in place and are unlikely to happen under President Trump.