Should Ukraine Join The EU? As Protests Continue, Here's What's Been Happening In Ukraine
Though Ukraine isn't, say, using chemical weapons or threatening a nuclear arsenal, the protests that have taken over the country in the last week are still something we should very much care about. A quick recap: on Friday, Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was supposed to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union that would've put the former Soviet republic firmly on the path to EU membership. It's a development that has been a long time in the making, so many were upset when, at the last minute, Yanukovych backed out: Ukraine's friendly relations with Russia, with whom it has an open economic zone agreement, were apparently too much to squander for something as silly as EU membership.
In any case, people are protesting because, well, nobody wants to go back to pre-1991 Eastern Europe. For Ukraine's everyman, free travel and trade with Europe is much more appealing than weekend trips to Siberia, and, at a very basic level, it took a really long time to reach this agreement with the EU. Backing out now would be bad. You see, Ukraine doesn't quite have an EU-worth human rights record: Yanukovych has kept his chief opponent, a dashing pro-EU woman named Yulia Tymoshenko — who is best known, perhaps, for her signature hairstyle — securely behind bars on charges that some say are trumped up. The EU has demanded more humane treatment and/or release for Tymoshenko, who suffers from a host of illnesses, ahead of any kind of deal. (The Washington Post points out that Ukraine's the six-foot-six president was, like his more Eastward friend, a thug in his youth; but unlike Volodya, he was actually convicted — twice! — of robbery and assault.)
Though the protesters seem to be succeeding (at least a little bit) as of Monday morning, should Ukraine really be joining the EU? Here are the pros and cons to that arguement:
Pro: Signing the EU trade deal will send a strong signal to Russia that it is increasingly isolated in its anti-Western sentiments. As we've reported, Russia recently sent out a number of signals that isn't interested in more Western integration, including passing a law banning "gay propaganda;" its treatment of the Pussy Riot women; and the short-lived "piracy" charges against Greenpeace activists. A Russian economic hold on Ukraine could see the smaller country heading in the same direction as Russia — or on the other hand, an EU agreement would give Europe more influence over Ukraine's human and political rights.
Con: Russia is a valuable trading partner for Ukraine. With their open trade agreement, Ukraine's manufactured goods sell well in Russia because of their competitive prices and superior quality. Ending that agreement, which Russia will surely do if Ukraine signs a trade deal with the EU, will raise prices and could cripple Ukraine's manufacturing sector. It's not like many countries in the EU will buy Ukraine's manufactured goods — or its chocolate, for that matter. Who needs Roshen when you've got Swiss?
Pro: Ukrainian public opinion points pretty strongly in favor of integration with the EU, and sometimes you've got to give the people what they want. Eastern Europeans aren't a group particularly predisposed to showing their emotions, and decades of Soviet rule cured them of any desire to demonstrate, so when protests go on for a week with no sign of stopping ... you know it's serious. People have lost their fear. And for many of them, especially young people, a future with Europe seems a lot brighter.
Con: Russia is also Ukraine's chief provider of natural gas, and has a lot of power to control market prices of that much-needed resource. Angering the big guy next door won't lead to good things in that department, and it's unclear how much the EU will be able to help with that. (Russia, meanwhile, has already offered a deal.)