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Declaration of bankruptcy

Bernd Johann / reDecember 19, 2013

The Ukrainian president subordinated himself to his Russian counterpart. The European dreams of hundreds of thousands Ukrainians have vanished for now, says DW's Bernd Johann.

DW's Bernd Johann (Foto: Foto: DW/Per Henriksen)
Image: DW/P. Henriksen

The gold in the rooms of the Kremlin might have dazzled Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. The huge amount of money, in the form of credits and cheap energy supply, Moscow offered must have overwhelmed him. He did not have much of a negotiating position with Russian President Vladimir Putin after rejecting an association agreement with the European Union. Yanukovych's trip to Moscow was the declaration of bankruptcy of an elected politician who can no longer independently decide on the future of his country.

In Moscow, Yanukovych made clear that Ukraine is nearly bankrupt. The country hardly can service its debts. The economy is in a recession. The gap between rich and poor widely diverges. The hopes of many small and medium-sized companies were recently doused by a new tax system. Meanwhile, the rich industrial magnates, called oligarchs in Ukraine, enjoy their privileges. They support Yanukovych because he helps them to pocket the country's fortunes.

The dream of Europe vanished

What do the desires of the millions of people who for weeks have been demonstrating for a change of the deeply unjust conditions and closer ties to Europe mean? Ukrainians wish for prosperity and democracy on par with what is enjoyed by people in the European Union. Surveys show that the majority of Ukrainians want their country to integrate more closely with the EU. Even eastern Ukraine, a Yanukovych stronghold, people have taken to the streets to show their support for a European perspective despite government intimidation.

But the dream of a Ukraine that eliminates the kleptocracy of the oligarchs surrounding Yanukovych and creates justice, democracy and prosperity for all vanished in Moscow. Putin could not care less about the needs and wishes of Ukrainians. He is committed to forming a new alliance of the former Soviet Republics - a Eurasian Union that would be under the firm control of Moscow and which he sees as a counter model to the European Union.

Putin's blackmailing strategy works

Without the strategically important Ukraine on the border to the EU, the plans would make little sense for Putin to pursue. That's why he was generous with the Ukrainian president. He offered billions for the Ukraine to pay its debts on the financial markets and its outstanding gas bills to Russia. Ukraine thereby becomes even more dependent on Moscow.

Putin's ruthless politics of blackmailing Kyiv proved successful. In recent months, he torpedoed the EU's efforts in Ukraine. He even put up trade restrictions for Ukraine - knowing that the neighboring country was economically struggling and would hardly survive a trade war with Russia.

The EU is just a bystander

Yanukovych is the first Ukrainian leader who succumbed to Russia's neo-imperialistic policy. It is no wonder the opposition accuses him of selling out Ukrainian interests. Opposition members have reason to fear Putin will demand access to Ukraine's key industrial sectors. Even the country's strategically important gas pipeline network, which delivers fuel to Europe, could fall into Russian hands. That's a prize Moscow has long had its eye on obtaining.

For the time being the EU, which is interested in a closer relations and the stabilization of Ukraine as a sovereign country, will not achieve its goals. For now, it's being forced to watch as Putin increases his influence on Ukraine. But the weeklong protests in Ukraine show that the people want to be part of Europe. That will keep ties to Ukraine on the EU's political agenda.