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Putin’s geo-strategy backfires

Publication Date : 29-06-2014


Russian history entered a critical phase on Friday with Ukraine concluding the long-delayed trade agreement with Europe. In a mark of profound symbolism, the former Soviet satellite has reinforced its equation with the European Union, pending full membership.

Profound no less will be the impact on international power-play; Kiev under President Petro Poroshenko, the confectionery magnate, has dealt a defiant blow to the Kremlin which has consistently opposed the pact. A former satellite has challenged the seat of authority as it was till 1991. It is a setback, above all, to Vladimir Putin’s expansionist intent and his robust attempt to reassert Moscow’s influence in what they call the “near abroad” ~ Russia’s term for the territories of the former Soviet Union. 

The Russian President’s warning of a reprisal against Ukraine has been greeted with renewed threats of tighter sanctions. Clearly the West and pre-eminently US Secretary of State John Kerry have ratcheted up the pressure on Putin.

Just as the attempted trade agreement had lent the spark to tumultuous developments in Ukraine since last November, so too will the economics of the region influence the course of its subsequent political history... in a faint echo of the rise of the East India Company in British India. Indeed, Poroshenko has revived a deal which was rejected seven months ago by his predecessor, Viktor F. Yanukovych.

This had ignited months of pro-European protests in Kiev; the rest is history not least the fact that the ensuing crisis was reminiscent of the Cold War. The week-long truce could well be in tatters. Verily has it turned out to be a test of wills between Russia and the West.

Of course, Poroshenko has taken a calculated risk in his dealings with Putin; but as a President elected as recently as May, the world must acknowledge that he has spoken at a defining moment in the history of Ukraine, however truncated it may be after the annexation of Crimea.

In the immediate context, Mr Putin has suffered a major loss of face. Having exacerbated the ferment in the Ukraine, he has managed to push the country further within the ambit of the West than it ever would have gone before.

It would be no exaggeration to suggest that the Russian President’s geo-strategy has backfired, reinforced on Friday when Moldova and Georgia concluded similar agreements with the European Union. The predominant mood was mirrored in the celebratory grandstanding at Independence Square, the venue of street protests for the past several months.

The trade agreement at once signifies a victory for Europe and a setback for Russia. It is the way history often works. This time, it carries a lesson for a vast swathe of the world.


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