A more assertive Russia: consequences for Ukraine

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.com PLC.

The geography of the first official visits of Russian President Vladimir Putin illustrates the priority status of his project for a Eurasian Union, argues Roman Rukomeda.

Roman Rukomeda is a political analyst for the Ukrainian Foundation for Democracy 'People First'.

"The symbolic sequence of Putin's visits: Belarus – Germany – France – China – the countries of Central Asia – clearly shows what are the foreign policy priorities of the current Russian leadership. The main attention is focused at the closest environment of the countries on the territory of the Community of Independent states (CIS). The purpose is to develop the Eurasian Economic Union as a basic geopolitical Russian project in Eurasia. An economic component of the project at the given stage is the Customs Union (CU) and the Common Economic Space (CES). And the military component of this project is the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO).

The final goal apparently is the Eurasian Union (EAU), where Moscow will have the last word. In addition, this Union is planned to become a powerful global player which would  have partnership relations with the EU in the west, and with China, India and Asian states in the east.

Putin's visit to Belarus symbolises the importance Russia attaches to its nearest ally. It is a signal meaning that Russia would encourage allied relations with its neighbours (a transparent hint to Ukraine). It is quite possible that it will offer financial help for such alliance (for example, cutting the price of oil and gas by 1,5 – 2 times compared to the market price). In exchange, it would transfer "the control package" of the country's political influences to Moscow. In parallel, Putin would actively continue the practise of state lobbying of interests of the big Russian business, conveying the message that business in other countries too should be loyal to the Kremlin.

Actually, Putin aspires to construct, the sooner, the better, a geostrategic axis: Russia (Union States – members of the CU, CES, CSTO) – Germany and France (as the most powerful EU players) – China (as the main player in Asia). The Russian President understands that now the EU is weakened as the geopolitical player, and to be as much productive as possible it is necessary to build direct relations with Berlin, Paris and other European capitals. The strategy with China is also clear, as this country extends its geopolitical influence through economic expansion and a strategy to tap in the world's reserve stocks.

Simultaneously, Putin makes sure not to exacerbate his country's relations with the US. It is not surprising that the energy corporation 'ExxonMobil' was among the first foreign companies to get the right to develop Russian oil and gas shelves and continental deposits.

In this context, the authorities in Kyiv are set on an uncontested course of deepening of integration with Moscow. A wider presence of the Russian capital in Ukraine is expected, with the Ukrainian big business having to cede ground. We can also expect a legal base for the new Russian-Ukrainian arrangements to be sealed at the meeting of presidents Putin and Yanukovych in Crimea programmed for this July.

In case the Ukrainian president chooses the political course on profound integration with Russia, we can expect not only wide admission of the Russian party to the most attractive Ukrainian assets (GTS, the gas pipeline network, enterprises of military and industrial complex, aviation and space area, agricultural land, objects of infrastructure), but a direct consent of the Ukrainian authorities to direct participation in the CU structures, CES and, possibly, CSTO (which will need some correction of the non-block status of Ukraine).      

Hence, now Ukraine doesn't have much time to make the choice of its priority foreign policy partners. Traditional multi-vector orientation and lack of principles of the Ukrainian political elite won't work any more. Moreover, the desire of the authorities to rigidly protect the interests of the big Ukrainian business through the state protectionism will only lead to deterioration of the prospects of the Ukrainian economy and more economic pressure.

The world crisis, coupled with the activisation of Russian foreign policy, have put the Ukrainian leadership before the definitive choice."