Opinion: Pragmatism instead of confrontation with Russia | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 04.02.2014
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Opinion: Pragmatism instead of confrontation with Russia

The EU should do more than earmark financial aid for Ukraine in a post-Yanukovych era, DW's Ingo Mannteufel says. The bloc should consider a free trade zone with Russia.

Ukraine is politically and economically bankrupt. President Yanukovych has run his country into the ground. If it weren't for financial and political support from Russia, he would probably have to clear the field. So it makes sense that the European Union and the US are planning financial aid for a post-Yanukovych era.

But this aid for Ukraine must be part and parcel of a greater strategy that includes Russia. Otherwise, plans for aid will only intensify the political chaos in Kyiv and drive the political players into a Ukrainian civil war.

Russia's a cumbersome partner

Any Western policies that rely on going it alone in Ukraine and disregarding Russian interests strengthen Moscow's zero-sum reasoning, and thus the continuation of Russian support for the leadership in Kyiv. In fact, Russian President Putin has been disenchanted with Yanukovych for quite some time now. But he will unfailingly support him as long as there is any danger that Russia might be at a disadvantage in a post-Yanukovych era.

Putin may even be prepared to accept further escalation in Ukraine. The massive pressure Moscow put on Yanukovych to prevent the signing of the Association Treaty with the EU made that sufficiently clear. And other bones of contention between the West and Russia, such as Syria, for example, explicitly show that Moscow is maintaining its national interests even in the face of great international opposition. It's long been known that Russian foreign policy pulls no punches. Russia is and remains a cumbersome and disagreeable partner, whether the West likes it or not.

Don't break Ukraine

But before the EU conjures up a new cold war with Russia, one that would have far-reaching and unforeseen negative consequences for Europe as well as Russia, the EU should develop new, pragmatic foreign policies with regard to its eastern neighbors. In the case of Ukraine, that would mean Kyiv should not have to choose between an association accord with the EU and the Russia-led customs union.

Instead, the EU should seize Putin's offer of a free trade zone from Lisbon to Vladivostok - and firmly integrate Ukraine into such a pan-European free trade zone. Instead of being torn apart between the West and East, the country could be strengthened economically by taking on a strategic, bridge-building function. Russia would not feel economically disadvantaged. And European industry would surely be elated at the prospect of reaching more than 200 million consumers in the framework of a free trade zone.

In this context, President Putin could drop his support for Yanukovych. That would open up the path to a post-Yanukovych era. Supported economically by the West and Russia, Ukrainians could, via an interim government and new elections, lead their country out of the political crisis peacefully and democratically.

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