Ukraine Facing Pressure from Both Sides as Association Agreement Nears

The European Union and Ukraine are expected to sign an Association Agreement in November that will make travel between the two easier, open trade, and mark the most important first step on the path of eventual union between the two. Yet there are forces external to Ukraine that are converging to stop this progress once and for all.

The external ones begin in the EU itself — where the Germans among others are concerned about a weak economy joining a still-fragile union, and Angela Merkel faces pressure from her opponents and allies over Yulia Tymoshenko and the American NSA scandal — and in Russia, where Vladimir Putin knows that to lose Ukraine is to lose any chance of restoring the Russian empire. With the time to delay ending, Brussels is now enlarging a series of heretofore minor disputes to bring Kyiv to heel.

These, however, should be resolved before November. The EU is not the greatest problem facing Ukraine’s bid for Europe.

Putin is far savvier than Merkel, and so is applying both force and persuasion to bring Kyiv to heel. With Russia’s grip on Ukraine’s energy security fading (President Viktor Yanukovych’s administration has engaged in a series of maneuvers to recapture natural gas sold to other European countries through its pipes, and to transition to coal), he is leveraging the historic ties between the two countries to keep Ukraine in his grasp.

In the West — especially the English-speaking West — it is hard to understand the strength of blood, faith, and history. Where yesterday and today blend together, it is hard to look to the future. So when Putin arrives along with the heads of the various national Orthodox churches on Saturday — including the patriarch of Moscow, whose influence on Eastern Christianity is only arguably second to the Ecumenical Patriarch’s in Istanbul — to celebrate the 1,025th anniversary of the baptism of Kyivan Rus’, he is training weapons more powerful than mere artillery on Ukraine.

Putin, who laughably now claims to have been secretly baptized as a child, is making a very simple statement: Russia stands with the whole of your history and faith; Europe belongs to the Catholic Church or worse, no Church at all. In Ukraine, where death threats against visiting Popes are not unknown and adoration of the Moscow Patriarch are common, this is no small weapon.

Putin’s latest ploy will be a difficult one for Yanukovych to resist, but he must. The alternative is not a return to old ways and old traditions and ties, but to an empire that has exploited Kyiv since the Muscovite Dukes took their spiritual and ancestral homeland centuries ago.

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