Putin, the EU and the return of the Black Sea spring

Another one bites the dust! Viktor Yanukovych of the Ukraine  flees to his stronghold in the eastern part of the country or perhaps has left to Russia as I write this. The people’s revolution has momentarily triumphed and we wait for the trumpets to proclaim a new constitution. The political prisoners are out too including a former PM.

Unlike other dictators , Viktor Yanukovych was an elected leader. But one who may paid for bending backwards to appease big brother Russia whist the people it seems now favoured a more southern approach to the EU zone much like Moldova.

And pray, what are the key issues that keep Ukrainian people outdoors in bad weather and see him out of the presidential palace? It seems our good friend of Russia wants to go one step and ‘manage democracy’ like Putin. He has already jailed opposition politicians like Yulia Tymoshenko, muzzled free press and introduced censorship. 

But was Yanukovych that so bad that the EU and the world should take notice? After all, the people have had no love for Tymoshenko too if recent media reports are true. We also need to remember,Yanukovych almost signed a deal with the EU before swinging completely over to the Russians.  Why do we care for another  wannabe tinpot dictator when we accept and do business with the Mugabes, the Kims, the Musevenis and the Burmese Generals?

The answer, lies in Ukraine’s geostrategic value to the EU and the grand Russian dream of Mr. Putin.  

Ukraine is Russia’s access to the black sea through its Black Sea fleet and possibly to Mediterranean if needed. Currently, with NATO’s Turkey controlling the Bosphorus end of this sea route, the fall of Ukraine is vital to the EU. Ukraine also controls  Russia’s gas terminals to Europe. Yanukovych had already supported Russia interests by allowing Russia to  lease its Sevastopol bases till 2042. He has also agreed to increase the size of the Russian fleet. 

On the other hand, Yulia Tymoshenko wants the Russian influence to diminish and for the fleet to leave, Perhaps, that is why, Mr Putin might have suggested that Yanukovych ‘manage’ her. Russia badly needs Ukraine’s ports for both export of goods and oil resources.

The EU through its  European Neighbourhood Policy would like to see the Ukraine in its embrace, partly due allowing it ‘values of democracy, rule of law and respect of human rights‘. It will also benefit trade worth over $230 billion in the region. The EU through its eastern partnership  strategy with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and BelarusIt has stepped in with an economic deal and lifeline that may counteract the $15 billion from Russia that Ukraine was dependent on. 

Historically, it may have a point as some parts of the country were created from Poland and Austria by the USSR. But the size of the economy in Ukraine with its subsidized gas and state control of key industries may not be attractive to the EU as  new market economy.

And what is the business angle?

Sea Trade and politics
The total seaborne trade is the region is minimal about 2.5% of global trade. But Russia and the Ukraine alone handle over 75% of this trade. The Ukraine is clearly the largest country with its ports at 
Odessa, Mariupol, Illichivsk, Mykolaiv, Izmail. Russia on the other hand depends mostly on Novorosiysk for access to the black sea.  

The shift to the EU can provide Ukraine with more access to modernizing its industries as well as preferential tariffs to the EU which is potentially a larger market than Russian and its Eurasian allies.The EU is Ukraine’s second largest trading partner.EU-Ukraine trade in goods reached €36.6 billion in 2011. The full report is here

The game

The EU wants to limit Russian influence in the EU by making a stand in Ukraine and also to reassure its allies in Moldova and Georgia that it can still roar. On the other hand, we see Putin’s a grand dream of Mother Russia exerting influence on all satellite regions and the creation of a EURASIA union. Putin would also like to limit the EU’s ingress into his territory too.

At the end of this game, who ever gets Ukraine as prize will find it uneasy as a conquest in both economic and geostrategic terms.