Ukraine’s approaching hour of decision is one of the biggest geopolitical stories of our time. If you haven’t been following this story, it’s this: Ukraine is considering signing a free trade and association agreement with the EU, and Russia is not pleased. The Kremlin has threatened and bullied and offered incentives to Kiev in an attempt to get it to join Russia’s customs union over Europe’s. The signs suggest all that is in vain: Ukraine is going to Europe.
Ukraine is expected to sign a free trade and association agreement with the European Union at a summit in Lithuania on November 28-29, as long as it meets remaining conditions, including releasing former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko from prison.
If it moves toward the EU, the old Russia of the tsars and the commissars is dead, and what Putin called “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century” starts to look permanent. Germany will have replaced Russia as the dominant power in Europe, Poland will shift from the frontier of Europe toward its heart, and Putin will go down in Russian history as the man who lost Ukraine.It will also be a textbook case of what a curse natural resources in the wrong hands can be. Russia’s oil and gas industry helped create the corrupt nexus between big business and the state that ultimately strangled Russia’s nascent post-communist market economy. Poland had no such bounty from nature and was forced to undergo painful reforms and deep restructuring. On the other side of those changes, Poland has emerged as an increasingly influential—and prosperous—member of the European Union.It’s not 100 percent certain yet that Ukraine will go west. The EU is insisting on the release of ex-President Timoshenko, now languishing in prison after a trial that most foreign observers believe was both politically motivated and deeply flawed. As Russia, the Ukrainian government and the EU maneuver ahead of the deadline, history is being made.The other side of this story, also largely missed by the mainstream media, is the continuing rise of unified Germany. With Russia crippled by the failure of Putin’s state building project, France in sharp decline, Britain divided against itself and unable to develop a serious European policy, Germany’s position in Europe is startlingly strong. After a decade in which the geopolitical chat industry obsessed over the BRICS, it is interesting, to say the least, that Germany, more than Brazil, Russia, India or even China, is the country that is having the most success at affecting developments in its neighborhood.Europe as a whole may still be locked into a steady and stately decline, but Germany is becoming much more of a force with which the rest of the world, including the United States, must reckon.[Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovich photo courtesy of Shutterstock]