political revue


Year XLVII, 2005, Number 1, Page 31



The particular importance of the fate of the Ukraine derives from the country’s highly strategic position on the international “chessboard”. Indeed, the Ukraine lies on the dividing line between two spheres of influence, and the recent crisis over its future — to remain part of the Russian sphere of influence or to become part of the Western world (or more accurately, the NATO area) —, has only in part been resolved by the election of the pro-Western candidate, Viktor Yuschenko, as president.
A number of factors contributed to the result of these troubled elections: the rampant corruption under the Kuchma regime, the desire on the part of most of the population of western Ukraine for a better standard of living and a higher level of economic development, and the considerable pressures, both political and financial, undoubtedly exerted by the United States, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), as well as by some states in the region, such as Georgia, Poland and Lithuania, that, for one reason or another, already find themselves in the orbit of the United States. It must also be recalled that many Western agencies of various kinds were already present, in different capacities, in the Ukraine, and that the services and aid they provided were distributed with equal measures of pro-Western propaganda. But what it is most important to highlight, leaving aside the reasons for the choice made by the Ukrainian people, is the probable impact of this “change of sides” on the fate of the Ukraine as a whole, and on the configuration of the whole global order.
What is at stake, primarily, is the Ukraine’s geopolitical position. First of all, there can be no doubting the depth of the economic interdependence between the Republic of the Ukraine (a member of the Community of Independent States) and the Russian federation: Russia supplies 35.8 per cent of Ukrainian imports and exercises broad control over its energy transportation network. For its part, the Ukraine collaborates closely with Russia in the arms, aeronautical, and space industries, and is a major supplier of the Russian army.
The two areas thus share strong economic links that are certainly not going to be dissolved overnight. The problem is a different one. It is a question of seeing how this interdependence can be managed politically — particularly with regard to the two countries’ collaboration over sensitive military information — and how the Ukraine might fit into the regional integration that Russia is counting on establishing with Belarus, Kazakhstan and Armenia. In short, it is a question of seeing whether Russia can prevent the Ukraine, once its solid ally, from turning into an unreliable partner that is ready, in the interests of the United States, to use its interdependence with Russia as a means of “holding Russia to ransom”.
The problem also concerns the Ukraine’s economic development. We might legitimately ask ourselves whether the Ukraine, as part of a unified economic area, will best serve its objective of increased wealth and harmonious development by exploiting the economic and political synergies that derive from this interdependence, or whether, instead, it stands to benefit more from its new role as “Trojan horse” for the United States vis-à-vis Russia, as NATO member, and even, in the far-distant future, as the most eastern outpost of the European Union (with all the ambiguities, reciprocal threats and tensions that would accompany this position).
But there is certainly more at stake than just the economic development of the Ukraine. This situation throws into question not only the political equilibrium of the whole of eastern Europe, but also, beyond this, the vital interests of Russia. Following the dramatic collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia, a vast country with enormous resources, is slowly and laboriously rebuilding its power, its administrative structure and its economy. However, beset by hostile neighbours and by secessionist tendencies in several of its republics, it has now come to a crossroads: a point from which it may either recover its position as a great power, with enormous potential for growth, or spiral into chaos, disintegration and backwardness. This explains why it is of vital importance to Russia (for its very survival) to prevent the secession of Chechnya, a small republic but one that is located in a highly strategic position, and equally, why it is so important to Russia to stop its traditional ally, the Ukraine — a much larger country than Chechnya —, from joining the Western camp.
In the Western world, these developments have been met with two different attitudes. Let us consider, first, that of the United States. The United States is guided by the theory of political realism, according to which a power should concentrate, primarily, on trying to weaken as much as possible all those powers that may constitute a threat to the maintenance and strengthening of its own position. Indeed, this is the idea that (notwithstanding inevitable concessions due to the size and the wealth of the Russian federation) has underpinned American policy since the collapse of the Soviet Union — a policy that has been veiled in the transparent hypocrisy of its mission to “export democracy”. It was on this basis that Washington actively and unreservedly lent its support to the presidential campaign of Yushchenko, and constantly worked to undermine Russia’s influence in the Ukraine.
But has this policy amounted to correct application of the raison d’état theory, and favoured the proper pursuit of American interests and the consolidation of American power in the world? The answer to this question can only be that it has not. The power of any hegemonic state is a limited resource, dependent upon its production capacity, its military might, its technological strength, and the consensus it enjoys among its citizens, as well as the support it is able to generate within and outside its own sphere of influence. It is a resource that cannot be used indiscriminately whenever — and wherever in the world — the hegemonic power in an area of conflict finds itself up against a real or potential antagonist. Because the biggest danger that a great power can face is that of overstretching itself, i.e., of taking on international responsibilities in excess of its resources and, as a result, of being worn down in its attempt — inevitably unsuccessful — to govern haphazardly and in the absence of a coherent policy an area of the world that is too big and that presents problems that are too numerous and too complex for it to deal with.
Realpolitik certainly cannot be taken to mean striving to increase one’s own power indiscriminately, whenever the opportunity arises; instead, it should be interpreted as a patient and rational endeavour whose purpose is to create and to maintain a stable and lasting international equilibrium that allows the hegemonic state to distribute its power resources among the different areas within its sphere of influence, according to their strategic importance, and to rebuild these resources as they are depleted, in such a way as to ensure that its leadership remains intact and accepted by its allies.
Instead, the aim of the United States, as it seeks to weaken Russia by surrounding it — as we have seen in the case of the Ukraine — with a ring of weak, unstable and unreliable states, is to destroy any possible equilibrium. And given the United States’ lack of a clear design, this action is having the effect of increasing, rather than reducing, the parts of the world that are in the grip of chaos and disintegration, and thus of reducing, rather than increasing, the United States’ own capacity to lead a world that is becoming ever more anarchic and unstable.
The position of the European Union, on the other hand, is of a similar orientation but rests on entirely different motivations. The European policy — if we can indeed describe it as such — compared to the American policy is the policy of a group of powerless and servile states compared to that of a state which, despite exhibiting serious and dangerous deficiencies in its foreign policy, nevertheless continues to be the world’s most important centre of power. Indeed, in the recent Ukrainian crisis, the European Union played a dubious and hypocritical role, acting as the vanguard in (and as a cover for) NATO’s attempt to control the Russian federation along its European and Caucasian borders.
The European Union cannot be said to be playing power politics. Instead, its action is motivated by a sort of “democratic benevolence” based on the erroneous and dangerous conviction that Western Europe owes its relatively peaceful enjoyment of decades of democracy (since the end of World War II) not to the peculiarities of the international situation in which Europe, thanks to the protection of NATO and the supremacy of the dollar, found itself through to the end of the Cold War and beyond, but to the very fact of its impotence. According to this view, this impotence is what allowed Europe to abandon the canons of Realpolitik and concentrate instead on improving its democratic institutions, on stepping up its international collaboration, and on increasing the Europeans’ quality of life through the redirection of resources away from military purposes and into peaceful uses: the improvement of social services, the development and spread of culture, the enrichment of civil cohabitation.
It can be noted that, paradoxically, this idea began to take root in Europe (thanks in part to the tendency of political journalism — in Europe and in America — to be easily swayed by power and by fashionable views) right at the start of the 1990s, in other words at the time when the incapacity of European values to sustain the impact of those of the English-speaking world, founded on economic efficiency and social Darwinism, was becoming macroscopically apparent, precisely because of the growing divergence of interests between Europe and the United States (now reflected in the alarming political, economic and technological gap that separates the two areas). But this incontrovertible fact does not seem to have influenced in the slightest the skewed perception of reality of most European politicians and intellectuals, in other words, their conviction that repeated enlargement of the European Union is a sign of the political and moral superiority of European “soft power” over American “hard power” (as though the former could exist in the absence of the latter). The terms “state”, “sovereignty” and “power”, considered to belong to the language of international and internal relations of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth centuries, have been practically expunged from Europe’s political vocabulary; meanwhile, according to this view, Europe has now entered a “post-modern” stage, in which it is substantially free from power ties, these having been replaced by a network of relations based not on law enforced through the state’s exercising of sovereignty, but on the free accord among parties. Clearly, on this basis, the enlargement of the European Union to 25, and in the future to 27, 28 or even more members, and its resulting transformation into a free trade area, devoid of any binding influence over the policies of its members, is regarded as undeniable proof of the success of this philosophy. At the same time, Europe’s political unification is viewed as a superseded stage of history that has little bearing either on the wellbeing of the Europeans of today or of tomorrow, or on the stability of the global equilibrium.
The case of the Ukraine has helped to clarify the dramatic choice facing the world today. Providing it is managed in accordance with the correct application of the canons of Realpolitik, i.e., with wisdom and moderation, the clash between the forces in the field will result in the emergence of a more stable global equilibrium, which will be destined to evolve in the direction of closer collaboration and broader integration; if it is not, we will see a marked increase in the instability and fragmentation characteristic of the current global equilibrium. This second scenario would clearly manifest itself at the expense of the interests of the Russian federation, and could have one of only two outcomes. The first, which would emerge should the Russian federation prove unable to summon the strength to react to the insane American and NATO policy towards it, would be a second disintegration of Russia (the first having come with the dramatic collapse of the old Soviet Union) — a tragic turn of events that would turn Russia into a vast area of permanent political upheaval, of economic devastation, of social instability and of civil decline. But it is an unlikely outcome. Russia is a huge country with vast economic resources; it has a government that, in spite of the undoubted persistence of a high level of corruption and a strong democratic deficit, is winning the support of public opinion, and it is currently rebuilding both its army and its administrative structure: it will not cave in. But should Russia feel its borders to be increasingly under threat, it will react by stepping up, in its own defence, its mobilization of the political, economic and military resources at its disposal. And this would have the effect, on the one hand, of interrupting, or slowing down, the difficult process of democratization of the institutions and of the way of life that is currently under way in the country, and on the other — and here we refer to the sphere of international relations — it would have a negative effect on the already precarious global equilibrium, and lead to the rebirth, albeit in new forms, of the contrapositions of the past. And the European Union, hypocritically comfortable in the illusion of its own moral superiority, but in reality devoid of a role, a policy and even the dignity of a bit part in the global drama, would merely look on.
Francesco Rossolillo



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