Edward McMillan-Scott MEP writes… 100 years on from World War I, let’s remember the EU’s role in spreading peace and democracy

Anzac day License Some rights reserved by Ian McKenzieToday is Anzac Day, when we remember those Australians and New Zealanders who fell fighting during the First World War side by side with British soldiers, and the senseless sacrifices of millions of men and women who died across Europe and the rest of the world.

This year will see the one hundredth year anniversary of the First World War and it should give us time to pause and reflect on the tragedies of the first half of the twentieth-century.

As we do so, we should recognise the huge achievement represented by the fact that disputes with our neighbours are now solved around EU negotiating tables rather than the trenches, that we trade with Germans, Austrians and Italians rather than make war with them.

As a country, we can be proud that we have always shown leadership in Europe – during the First and Second World Wars, when facing down communism in Eastern Europe, and when we enlarged the European Union beyond the Iron Curtain to spread democracy, human rights, the rule of law and economic prosperity across our once fractured continent.

It is too easy to forget that only 30 years ago Spain was emerging from Franco’s regime, Poland, the Czech Republic and other European countries were under the yoke of communism, and that Riga and Talinn were not city-break destinations but part of the Soviet Union.

We should not forget that the tragedies of the First World War were seen only too recently in former Yugoslavia, the very place that lit the fuse 100 years ago. We should be proud that genocide and war in the Balkans have been replaced by EU membership for Slovenia and Croatia, and that Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia are all candidates to join.

This is the central purpose of the European Union – promoting peace, democracy and prosperity in a continent was ravaged by perpetual conflict.

Now Europe is faced with a new pressing challenge in the form of the escalating conflict in Ukraine, which risks developing into the first war on this continent in the 21st century. The isolationists in UKIP and many in the Conservative Party would prefer Britain to turn its back on Europe and simply ignore what is happening in our own backyard. This is not what this country has done in the past, and it is not what we should do today. Instead, it is vital that we stand together with our European allies and push for a peaceful outcome.

And as we near the European elections, we would do well to remind people that the EU is not only central to our economic prosperity, it is a vital tool in spreading peace and democracy across our continent and beyond.

Photo by Ian McKenzie

* Edward McMillan-Scott was MEP for Yorkshire & Humber 1984 – 2014, Conservative then Liberal Democrat since 2010. He was Vice-President of the European Parliament for Democracy & Human Rights 2004 - 2014

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  • jedibeeftrix 25th Apr '14 - 9:24pm

    “Now Europe is faced with a new pressing challenge in the form of the escalating conflict in Ukraine, which risks developing into the first war on this continent in the 21st century. The isolationists in UKIP and many in the Conservative Party would prefer Britain to turn its back on Europe and simply ignore what is happening in our own backyard.”

    It is dishonest to conflate the issue of Ukraine with the separate issue of the EU.
    Ukraine is our back yard and we are doing something about it, our attitude to ever-closer-union is ENTIRELY divorced from this fact.

  • “It is dishonest to conflate the issue of Ukraine with the separate issue of the EU.”

    Given that the UK is, together with the other member states of the EU, adopting a common position on Ukraine under the provisions of the EU Treaties on a Common Foreign & Security Policy, it is hard to see how these can be seperate.

    This is a clear example of the EU member states acting together where they have decided – both collectively and individually – it is in their interest to do so.

    And , the isolationists – when they are not cheer leading Russia’s actions – would have the UK refuse to act collectively with the other member states even though the UK has decided it is in the UK’s best interest to do so.

  • I think Paul, you need to look a little deeper, jedibeeftrix is right. Much of the ‘EU’ agreement on the Ukraine can be attributed to the long years of working together under NATO. So in or out of the ‘EU’ club we will still have a role to play in the security of Europe; yes this might be easier and have more clout if we are also members of the ‘EU’ club rather than privateers.

    What we shouldn’t forget that the EU isn’t entirely blame free for the situation in the Ukraine. Remember the EU was very black and white in the demands it placed on the Ukraine if it wished to have better relationships with (EU) Europe and hence was forcing the Ukraine to decide whether to become an EU member or be a small country between two large power bloc’s.

  • “Now Europe is faced with a new pressing challenge in the form of the escalating conflict in Ukraine,”
    I guess the first thing to point out is that Ukraine is NOT in the EU and in fact, never will be.
    Beyond that, the notion that the EU has maintained peace in Europe is utterly bogus. In truth, that peace was provided by the fact that we have had a good 30 years of economic growth, where all European ‘boats have risen on the favourable economic tide’. But that ended in around 2008. Since this economic downslide since 2008, we find many EU countries, mainly in the South, (but not exclusively), have found to their chagrin that their underlying economies to not tie in very well with the Euro currency straitjacket that they find themselves in.
    Thus the ‘peace’, that was supposedly provided by the EU project is breaking down spectacularly. To deny the street violence in Athens, Madrid, and even the water cannon use in Brussels some two weeks ago, is a serious blind spot that Europhiles need to acknowledge and come to terms with.
    The EU ‘project’, is unravelling fast, and it needs to be recognised and addressed, instead of blithely ignored, so that all sovereign countries within that EU framework can exit in a safe and responsible manner, and resume an economic and democratic mandate suitable to each of their countries needs.
    In fact, pretty much as was envisaged in the 1975 EEC, before it got too big for its boots, and the ‘crazies’ in Brussels took control.

  • @Roland – Given that 4 or 5 EU member states are not NATO members, it is absurd to credit NATO for common positions that the EU member states adopt under the CFSP provisions of the EU Treaties. You might as well credit the common experience of military non-alignment or even the Warsaw Pact for those member states that “volunteered” to be in it, as NATO in that case!

    As for the second paragraph, at no stage has the EU demanded of Ukraine that it seek to become an EU member. Instead what sparked the whole mess off was a standard proposed Free Trade agreement that Ukraine and the EU member states (including the UK obviously) wished to conclude in their (respective) mutual interest. If you want to believe that the UK government or any other government of a member state of the EU was attempting to “bully” Ukraine far be it from me to stop you. Most people though will have a clear idea of whose troops now occupy part of Ukraine in violation of international law.

  • When Kohl supported Croatia leaving Jugoslavia it led to the Civil war. There were hardly any Serbians in Slovenia but there were Serb minorities in Croatia. Serbia feared Croatian persecution of Serbs due to events in WW2. When Dutch allowed Serbs to massacre Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica it led led to increase in Muslim terrorism. Many Muslims asked why the West could defend oil rich Kuwait from Iraq but not stop Christian Serbs murdering Bosnian Muslims. The EU lacked heavy lift helicopters and the will to stop the fighting: it was USA involvement which stopped the conflict.

    When the EU supported Ukraine it ignored the following
    1. Some Ukrainians were seen with Nazi emblems.
    2. Some Ukrainian supported S Bandera, who fought with the Nazis against The Soviet Union
    3. Some Ukrainians supported reducing status of The Russian Language .
    4. Some Ukrainians destroyed statues celebrating the victory of Soviet Forces over the Nazis.
    5. The EU has ignored the fact many Ukrainians served in concentration camps as guards.
    6. The EU ignored the fact that Krhushchev gave the Crimea to Ukraine in 1954, before that it was Russian .
    7. Russia has sold gas to Ukraine below World prices and is owed money .
    8. Russia paid $50B to use Sevastopol Naval Base.

    It would be difficult what else the EU/Ukraine could have done to arouse the hostility of Russia. If all the above had been avoided , Russia would hardly have any excuses for involvement. The reality is that , as shown on TV , Russian speaking women in their 70s were terrified of the presence of groups associated with Nazis taking part in protests.

    I would suggest NATO has created peace. It was the arms race with the USA which broke Communism. It was the wish of E Germans to enjoy pop music and jeans which showed up the economic failure of communism.
    What the EU has done is to produce an economic zone without tariffs with common trade rules. Trade between nations tends to reduce conflict.

    What membership of the EU has done is to minimise the risk of countries which have left dictatorships from returning to such states. States such as Britain, which have a long tradition of democracy and political stability have gained far less from the EU. Britain in the 1930s was not in danger from becoming becoming communist or fascist or entering into civil war , for example Greece. Britain never had the experience of large communist or fascist parties.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 26th Apr '14 - 6:54am

    Personally I wish to thank Edward McMillan-Scott for highlighting the facts of history which many Euro-sceptics fail to acknowledge. The War to end all wars, was in part caused by the opposing demands to secure or shore up empires on one side, and on the other a desire for the development of micro-states who were rampantly xenophobic. Self determination is one thing, blind bigotry is another.

    Since War War II, a byproduct of the ‘Great War’ Europe has thankfully developed in a far more mature way and the European Union is a result of this. Naturally the European Union is far from perfect and it needs to constantly seek to become more effective, efficient and economic, but does not every organisation?

    As a Party that is not Euro-sceptic in its position, I would suggest that at least until we have had the elections that we focus on selling the positives aspects of the union, and not dwell needlessly on matters that will cause greater dissent and which actually appear to support the critics argument.

    Since the establishment of the European Union, we have benefited (generally) from the longest period of peace that Europe has experienced in history. I am quite happy to accredit the European Union for this, and long may the peace continue.

    I am writing this whilst present in my ancestral homeland, ‘The Pearl of the Indian Ocean’, Sri Lanka , which has suffered from needless strife as a result of nationalism, xenophobia, jingoism and other intolerance. I for one neither wish Sri Lanka to return to such a state, and certainly do not wish to see Europe return to a similar state in which Britain has little or no influence.

  • @Paul, no I wasn’t crediting NATO, merely indicating that there is a long tradition of Europe working together on security matters; it was one reason why GB got involved in WWI & WWII for example.

    Also I did not imply that the EU was attempting to bully Ukraine, only that it’s negotiating stance wasn’t necessarily helpful. Yes things have moved on from internal Ukrainian politics and civil unrest to the Russian occupation of Crimea, for reasons that are understandable – but don’t fully justify the action. And if we believe some, Russia is looking for any pretext including I suspect to protect it from western aggression, to occupy the rest of the Ukraine.

  • jedibeeftrix 26th Apr '14 - 12:00pm

    Since the establishment of the NATO, we have benefited (generally) from the longest period of peace that Europe has experienced in history. I am quite happy to accredit the NATO for this, and long may the peace continue.

  • It’s hard to read Charlie’s absurd comments without coming to the conclusion that he believes that the Ukrainians are a naturally fascistic people, irreversibly tainted by the actions of one group of them seventy years ago (almost all of whose members are now dead), and that therefore they deserve to be conquered and annexed by the naturally virtuous Russians. This is not a liberal point of view.

    In fact, the recent events in Ukraine have had nothing at all to do with the politics of the Second World War, and everything to do with (1) the desire of many Ukrainians to rid themselves of an odious, corrupt, profligate oligarchy that was killing Ukrainians on the streets of Kyiv; and (2) the desire of Vladimir Putin and his odious, corrupt, profligate oligarchy to aggrandise Russian power and also provide a discouraging example of what happens when ordinary people dare to demonstrate for democracy and win.

    There are, admittedly, not a lot of liberals in Ukraine (and even fewer in Russia), but where they are, they are found on the side of the Maidan.

  • The EU has prevented no wars, but if we are not careful it will cause one.

  • I think Edward-Mcmillan Scott can rightly state “This is the central purpose of the European Union – promoting peace, democracy and prosperity in a continent was ravaged by perpetual conflict.”

    The European Coal and Steel Union (ECSC(, that lead the way to the founding of the European Union was first proposed by French foreign minister Robert Schumanas a way to prevent further war between France and Germany. He declared his aim was to “make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible” which was to be achieved by regional integration, of which the ECSC was the first step. The Treaty would create a common market for coal and steel among its member states which served to neutralise competition between European nations over natural resources, particularly in the Saar, Alsace and Lorraine, Ruhr and Rhineland areas.

    Nato was also created around the same time with the dual purpose of deterring Soviet aggression while simultaneously preventing the revival of European militarism and laying the groundwork for political integration. With the end of the cold war and break-up of the Soviet Union from in 1989 one of the key planks of Nato’s foundation, deterrence of Soviet aggression, was seemingly gone. NATO endured because while the Soviet Union was no more, the Alliance’s two other original if unspoken mandates still held: to deter the rise of militant nationalism and to provide the foundation of collective security that would encourage democratization and political integration in Europe. The definition of “Europe” had merely expanded eastward. Before the consolidation of peace and security could begin, however, one spectre haunting European politics remained to be exorcised. Since the Franco-Prussian War, Europe had struggled to come to terms with a united Germany at its heart. The incorporation of a re-unified Germany into the Alliance put this dilemma to rest.

    Since its founding in 1949, the transatlantic Alliance’s has had to meet different requirements at different times. In the 1950s, the Alliance was a purely defensive organization. In the 1960s, NATO became a political instrument for détente. In the 1990s, the Alliance was a tool for the stabilization of Eastern Europe and Central Asia through the incorporation of new Partners and Allies. Now NATO has a new mission: extending peace through the strategic projection of security.

    Nation-state failure and violent extremism may well be the defining threats of the first half of the 21st century. Only a vigorously coordinated international response that combines the European Union, the United States, Nato, the United Nations and other international organisations such as the Arab League, African Union or Asean can address them.

  • David-1. I suggest you look at the situation from Russian speaking Ukrainian perspective. During WW2 large number of Ukrainians served as concentration guards and fought with the Nazis.

    If Ukraine had followed the example of Finland and not undertaken actions which anyway was connected to Bandera or those who served with the Nazis , then they would be in better position. One of the Ukrainian nationalists was believed to fought with the Chechans and murdered 20 Russian captives. To have anyone like this near the protest was likely to create doubt in the Russian speakers. Russian and Russian speaking Ukrainians have been able to state that the new government includes Fascists. For women in their 60s and older in the Russian speaking areas, this is deeply emotive.
    The reality is that of the western leaders only G Schroder appears to understand Putin. I suggest you read T Halligan in The Telegraph, D Helm in Prospect May and Sir Brian Barders blog who explain who and what the the Eu is dealing with regard to Putin.

    The future of E Ukraine will be heavily dependent on the actions of the miners. If any more Russian speaking Ukrainians are killed by the Ukrainian Government, what will the miners do? If the miners come out in support of E Ukraine joining Russia or some sort of federal structure; it is difficult to see what the Ukrainian government can do.

  • @Joe Bourke – good recap of recent history.

  • @ Edward McMillan-Scott – “and the senseless sacrifices of millions of men and women who died across Europe and the rest of the world.” The sacrifices of men and women during the First World War were not senseless. It could be argued that the Serbians who lost more of their male population than any other nation fought to keep their country independent so I expect they didn’t think it was senseless. The French may well have been fighting to avoid another 1871 and loss of territory to Germany and so theirs wasn’t senseless either. The British, Australians and New Zealanders were fighting to uphold international treaty obligations and this is not senseless. The Americans were fighting to stop the loss of their commercial shipping and this isn’t senseless either. Of course there may have been other reasons, but they made sense to the people at the time.

    Joe Bourke has stated the case for why the EU has contributed to European peace along with NATO much better than I could have.

  • Putin is a dangerous leader, a hard man more likely to use military might than diplomacy. Yet, amazingly, the EU foreign policy is to pick off, one by one, all the states previously influenced by or within the former soviet union. Putin sees the EU as an expansionist regime with plans to create its own Europe wide military capability. He does not want the missiles of a huge power situated close to his borders.

    With many Russians and Russian speaking people in these former soviet satellite states, Putin feels an obligation to protect these people who see themselves as Russian.

    If the EU did not expect Putin to retaliate in some way, then they have been incredibly stupid. If they did expect him to retaliate, then they have been incredibly stupid and irresponsible. I do not credit the EU with avoiding wars, but they certainly look determined to start one.

  • Why does the author of this post credit the EU with spreading democracy? Membership of the EU is at the expense of democracy.

  • Peter 27th Apr ’14 – 5:38pm
    “..Why does the author of this post credit the EU with spreading democracy? Membership of the EU is at the expense of democracy.”

    This is a ridiculous comment . Look back at your history books and check what sort of government existed in all the former eastern block countries from Esthonia all the way down to Bulgaria, not to mention Greece, Spain and Portugal.

    In my lifetime we have seen democracy spread with the growth of the EU and replace dictatorships.

    Perhaps you intended to say something else ?

  • A Social Liberal 27th Apr '14 - 7:04pm

    Dangerous or not, it is not Putins place to dictate to any country who they can and cannot have trade agreements with. We in the west should not allow him to bully or browbeat anyone into doing what he says in regards to trade, the world has moved on since then – we should be making sure that soviet style tactics do not work in the modern day!

  • John Tilley – Is the UK a more or less democratic society following our membership of the EU? Please justify your answer.

  • A Social Liberal – If I may say so, I think you are choosing to appear naïve to support your argument. I agree with your stance, but we are discussing whether or not the EU is a cause for peace or war.

    The fact is that the EU expansionist policy is threatening to Putin. This is a reality. It matters not whether this is fair, good or bad. The point is that it is a dangerous threat, knowing Putin. His response was perfectly predictable. The EU was either stupid or irresponsible or both to provoke this man in such a manner. Being right but stupid is not a good policy for world peace.

    Secondly, Putin knows that trade agreements with the EU can often lead to becoming a potential federal state of the country of Europe. This must be an additional factor in his thinking.

  • 1) ” EU foreign policy is to pick off, one by one, all the states previously influenced by or within the former soviet union [sic]”
    No justification is given for this ridiculous statement. It is difficult to talk about an “EU foreign policy” — every EU member state has its own foreign ministry and there are therefore a variety of policies. Questions about whether any particular state should belong to the EU are between the people of that state and the member states of the EU. This is not “picking off,” but the states in question making their own decisions about what sort of relations they want to have with other countries. You are prejudicing the picture by pretending that this is some sort of zero-sum game when it is clearly not.
    In any case, Ukraine has neither sought nor been offered EU membership; the question has been whether it should have a free trade association with the EU, something that would be in Ukraine’s economic interests.
    2) “Putin sees the EU as an expansionist regime with plans to create its own Europe wide military capability.”
    If Putin really believed that, he would be a fool deceived by his own propaganda. The EU is not a military alliance. A free trade agreement with Ukraine hardly leads to “missiles” — though if Putin wants to turn Ukraine into a hostile state that would seek to arm itself against Russia, he is certainly going the right way about it. But that is not a justification for Russia’s actions, but merely self-fulfilling prophecy; by treating Ukraine as an enemy, he forces it to become one. Most Ukrainians would prefer to have good relations with Russia, but Putin doesn’t seem to be giving them a choice.
    Once again, this is not a zero-sum game. There is nothing, in a rational world, that would prevent Ukraine from having excellent relations with both the EU and with Russia. It is Putin’s strategy, or his paranoia (whichever you prefer) that is framing this as an either/or question.
    3) “With many Russians and Russian speaking people in these former soviet satellite states, Putin feels an obligation to protect these people who see themselves as Russian.”
    This is not an obligation but an excuse. Ukrainians who “see themselves as Russian” are comparable to citizens of Ireland who “see themselves as British”; in other words, an existing but very small number. I hope you don’t believe that the UK has an “obligation” to “protect” English-speaking people in Ireland by invading it!
    4) “If the EU did not expect Putin to retaliate in some way, then they have been incredibly stupid. If they did expect him to retaliate, then they have been incredibly stupid and irresponsible.”
    The only way one would have expected Putin’s aggression is to assume that he is an irrational, militaristic despot bent on rolling back the democratic gains of the late 1980s in Eastern Europe. But this is precisely what Putin’s defenders were not telling us before the Crimean invasion; rather, we were supposed to believe that Putin was a warm cuddly friend to all freedom-loving people east and west, who wouldn’t hurt a fly. Had anyone said that Russia was liable to attack Ukraine if the Maidan demonstrators succeeded in their call for a new government and new elections, the Putin-defenders would have denounced it as the worst form of scaremongering. Only after the fact does it become something that “everyone should have known.” This kind of inconsistency is typical of apologetics which reason, not from facts as they stand, but rather toward a predetermined outcome. Any argument is acceptable as long as Putin’s Russia comes out smelling like a rose.
    In the meantime, the few liberals that remain in Russia remain silenced, and it is assumed that the ultra-nationalist positions advocated by Putin represent the true voice of Russia. I don’t know why liberals in the UK should abandon Russian liberals in favour of one of the most reactionary powers existing in Europe today.

  • @Charlie: “Women in their 60s” were not even born until the end of the 2nd World War, or after, so they obviously have nothing to do with it.
    Any description of Ukrainian history that leaves out the massive government-engineered famine which Ukrainians call the Holodomor is terribly lacking. Ukrainians had a lot of reasons not to love Stalin or the U.S.S.R. which had nothing to do with fascism. Of course, there were Ukrainians on both sides, and probably more Ukrainians fought in the Soviet Army than fought for nationalist groups allied with Germany. But all of this happened before most of Ukraine’s living population was born — it is not relevant to the current situation.
    Russia’s propaganda machine uses “Fascism” not in any technical sense, but simply as a highly emotive term meaning “anti-Russian.” When the toppling of Lenin statues is taken as prima facie evidence of “fascism,” it is clear that we are not talking about it in any political sense of the word. The fact is that the vast majority of these supposedly “fascist” protesters of the Maidan are advocating a pluralist democratic state run according to European norms of transparency and accountability, and not a rigid dictatorial state run according to a xenophobic ideology. If such viewpoints have their followers in Ukraine, it is among extremists, such as the separatists who have committed kidnappings and murders against those they have identified with Europe or with the Maidan.

  • John Tilley,

    ” “..Why does the author of this post credit the EU with spreading democracy? Membership of the EU is at the expense of democracy.”

    This is a ridiculous comment .”

    I agree. However, I also agree with all Peter’s other comments. The EU’s expansionist policy is dangerous.

    It is sobering to realise that Putin, an appalling human being, has so far caused far less harm when playing realpolitik than the West has done. Putin’s aggessive games over Ukraine have caused deaths in ones or tens. The West’s “crusade” in Iraq, and the saintly Obama’s actions to support Western-style “democracy” in Afghanistan, have caused deaths in hundreds of thousands.

  • Putin’s so-called “games” have the potential to lead to global nuclear war, causing the deaths of billions. That might be worth thinking about as you try to gauge the harm factor, if you even still think that such a thing makes the least amount of sense. There’s a reason why nations have tried, over the past several decades, to establish the principle that international boundaries cannot be changed at the whim of a despot: precisely to avoid unleashing that threat. Putin is gambling on Western nations not stepping up to confront a nuclear power, but that is a very, very dangerous road to tread, and one which a completely sane person would never set foot on.

  • Helen Dudden 28th Apr '14 - 8:08am

    It was the wish of Winston Churchill, that we worked to promote freedom and justice within the EU. I agree with what he was wishing to do.

    I became involved with the EU, after problems on the subject of child access, incidentally, your Party has no input into the All Party Group.

    I believe the only way to make the EU more attractive is to be part of it, in other words, you make sure you have a strong voice on given subjects.

    I know that you yourself, was part of a pro bono many years ago, and still the ideas are simply ideas.

    We have met at Europe House.

    I no longer am a member of the Lib Dems, but I still am a voice for freedom and justice.

  • David-1. history is relevant to politics and when people ignore it, they make mistakes. . I said women 60yrs and older. The presence of Ukrainians showing support for Bandera, the destruction of WW2 memorials and reducing the status of the Russian language were all actions which aroused the suspicions of Russian speakers. The presence of Bandera supporters and Ukrainians wearing swastikas was an absolutely stupid action to allow.The ignorance of what happened in WW2 was a reason why the EU failed to appreciate what could and did happen when Jugoslavia split into ethnic groupings. If you think that giving Crimea to the Ukraine by Krhuschev in 1954 is not relevant to the Russians , then I suggest you study their history and speak to some Russians.

    I suggest you undertake some research:one of the Ukrainian nationalists fought with the Chechans and is alleged to have murdered 20 Russian captives. If the Ukrainians had had any sense they would not have allowed anyone who supported Bandera, damaged WW2 memorials or reduced the status of the Russian language anywhere near the protests and disowned them immediately.

    The West will continue to make mistakes until they start making an effort to understand Russian history and the Russian soul.

    The fact that Germany and N Italian Industrial ail sector depends upon Russian gas appears to have been ignored. Russia has built a pipeline direct to Germany which bypasses all other countries. Russian is rapidly constructing a network of pipelines which bypasses the Ukraine- read Dieter Helm and T Halligan and Sir Brian Border.

  • I think the argument about whether the EU entering into discussions with Ukraine with respect to a partnership agreement was a provocation to Russia is best viewed in the light of what President Yanukovych stated he was aiming to achieve before he was ousted.

    When re-elected in 2010 Yanukovych said, “Ukraine’s integration with the EU remains our strategic aim”, with a “balanced policy, which will protect our national interests both on our eastern border – I mean with Russia – and of course with the European Union”. His aim was a neutral state that would be part of a “collective defence system which the European Union, NATO and Russia will take part in, with Ukraine joining neither NATO nor the CSTO. During the 2010 presidential election-campaign, Yanukovych stated that the current level of Ukraine’s cooperation as part of the NATO outreach program is sufficient and that he considered Ukraine’s relations with NATO as a partnership,that Ukraine needs.

    When Yanukovych was persuaded to change his mind on an Association Agreement with the European Union, by the offer of a gas deal and loan support from Russia, a relatively small student protest began on 21 November last year. It was the harshness of the government response, when young protesters were attacked by police leading to several injuries and hospitalizations, that the protest widened to became a national movement against state corruption, the concentration of economic power in a handful of extremely wealthy oligarchs and political oppression of opponents – swelling to nearly 1 million by early December. As the crackdown continued with harsh anti-protest laws and restrictions on free speech and free association, violence escalated drawing in far right groups to the protests.

    An agreement on the way forward was apparently reached on 21 February 2014 with the opposition, signed off by representative EU ministers and an observer from the Russian Federation. However later that day, Yanukovych inexplicably abandoned his post precipitating the crisis first in Crimea and now in Eastern Ukraine.

    It is hard to see how the charge of naivety can be levelled at the EU here – in responding to the overtures of an Ukrainian president who’s base of support came from the predominately Russian speaking regions of Ukraine and at a time when discussions on a Russian/EU trade zone and visa free travel agreement were ongoing.

  • Joe Burke. study history and in particular, Russia’s view of Ukraine and Crimea. Just because a country wants to join the EU it does not have to be accepted. If Ukraine had developed a position similar to Finland during the cold war, then Russia would not have any excuses.

  • Charlie,

    It is precisely the example of Finland that Yanukovych was seeking to emulate. I agree with your comment that “Just because a country wants to join the EU it does not have to be accepted.”. It was not, however, membership of the EU, such as Finland currently enjoys, that was on offer or under negotiation, but rather an Association Agreement – not dissimilar to the earlier discussions with Russia and the EU on a European-wide trade association agreement.

    For Finland, membership in the EU from 1994 was seen as a safe haven and main political goal after the cold war, which made NATO membership less urgent at that time. Finland and Sweden are the only Nordic countries outside the alliance. They are in NATO’s Partners for Peace Programme, as is Russia, and support close cooperation with the alliance, as close as possible without actually joining. Both countries participate in the NATO-led ISAF operation in Afghanistan. This is the kind of neutrality and co-operation that Yanukovych originally stated he was aiming for.

    The Partnership and Co-operation Agreement between Ruusia and the EU, provides a political, economic and cultural framework for economic relations . It is primarily concerned with promoting trade, investment and harmonious economic relations. Russian exports to the EU have very few restrictions, except for the steel sector. A replacement agreement has been under negotiations since 2008 and following that and WTO entry, a more detailed agreement is due to be negotiated.

    In the run-up to the 2013 Vilnius Summit between the EU and its eastern neighbours, Russia attempted to persuade countries in its “near abroad” to join its new Eurasian Union rather than sign Asssociation Agreements with the EU.The Russian government under president Putin succeeded in convincing Armenia and Ukraine to halt talks with the EU and instead begin negotiations with Russia. Nevertheless the EU summit went ahead with Moldova and Georgia proceeding towards agreements with the EU despite Russia’s opposition

    Russia has no excuse, in my opinion, to employ military force to deny to its near neighbours, on the basis of maintaining spheres of influence, the same kind of trade associations or security partnerships that Russia claims the right to enjoy for itself.

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