Fresh from his humiliation of President Obama over Syria, which hosts Russia’s East Mediterranean Fleet, Putin has now scored again, this time humiliating the EU just before its summit this week in Vilnius.
The showpiece event for Vilnius was to be the unveiling of a Trade and Association Agreement with the Ukraine. Not now: the Russian Bear has just torn it up in front of the EU’s face. Now they’ll have a whole week to discuss the one topic they hate: where has all the growth gone, long time passing, in the dysfunctional eurozone?
It’s worse than that, however, as the legerdemain employed by Vlad the Bad against President Yanukovich of the Ukraine is more akin to the Godfather’s style: ‘I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.’
Putin the Retrograde Election-fixer, Pussy Riot-gaoler and Self-serving Premier of Russia, to give him his full title, has played his hand under the table to perfection: first, in the balmy days of summer, he fired a warning shot by banning the major Ukrainian exporter, Roshen Confectionary, from selling into its major market, Russia and its eastern Customs Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan. Other bans on exports followed.
President Yanukovich, twice summoned recently to Moscow, is from miners’ stock from the eastern side of the Ukraine, which is the Russophile side of the country.Yanukovich is no choirboy either, as he gaoled his predecessor Tymoshenko, the leader of the 2004 bloodless Velvet Revolution: she had signed an agreement with Putin where the price of gas from Russia to the Ukraine, for onward transmission through its transnational pipelines to the south of western Europe, was set too high.
Money is alleged by Yanukovich to have ended up – surprise, surprise! – in Mrs Tymoshenko’s bank account. This judicial process in the Ukraine is called ‘selective justice’; say no more.
No doubt Yanukovich now finds himself in the same chair and on the same spot in front of Mr Putin as Mrs Tymoshenko did: sign here for your new gas deal – the thermometer’s plunging nicely outside – and collect your brown envelope and go back to Kiev; then confront the rioters – help yourself to whatever you need from the Kremlin’s anti-riot arsenal – and don’t join the EU. Got it?
Yanukovich, who was under an EU pre-condition to release Tymoshenko, doesn’t want her out of gaol ahead of the next election anyway, that’s for sure, especially now he’s got his own snout into the bear’s trough, or rather had it gratefully shoe-horned into it. That’s how they do things in Moscow and Kiev.
The word Ukraine means ‘on the edge’, between Russia, Asia and Europe, and its people want Europe. In Russia and the Ukraine, however, communism may have gone, but the system and the players haven’t. All elections are rigged, and holding the highest offices of state is a passport for personal wealth aggrandisement.
Their parliaments are business centres, where favours and cash and electoral bribes are the deal, rather akin to certain aspects of the EU. Transparency in the former USSR, however, is still a black veil hiding a widow’s face.