Following up on my earlier posts on the normative aspects of the struggle concerning Ukraine and other former Soviet countries (1, 2, 3) in the run-up to, and the aftermath of, the EU’s November summit in Vilnius, where Ukraine had been expected to sign an Association Agreement with the EU. However, the Yanukovich regime backed out at the last minute. I want to focus on recent developments in what analysts are calling the “post-Vilnius” atmosphere and what they reflect about how states and citizens compete over norms.
First, there is the spread of protests from the relatively pro-EU western Ukraine into the relatively pro-Russia eastern Ukraine. Electoral maps of Ukraine (1, 2) show the ideological division and why Ukraine is an example of what I’ve called a systemic borderland. The fact that the anti-government protests moving eastward across the map may be a sign of an increasing tilt towards following the original path of the government in seeking closer association with the EU. But it also may be nothing more that the populace being tired and angry of the political gridlock and motivated by pictures of anti-protestor violence in the western cities. In this latter scenario, the citizens in eastern Ukraine still want to be more closely tied with Russia, they are just sick of their government brutalizing their own people, for whatever the reason. News reports about protests are one thing, but understanding why people are protesting is very important in situations concerning whether or not domestic norms are in play.
I haven’t seen any significant data on whether there is a deeper normative shift taking place or whether the eastern protests are primarily a reaction to offensive government tactics.
The second development of note is the broadening of the Russia/ EU tensions. The New York Times article on this issue from the January 28 online edition is well worth a full read. Here are a few key points related to the normative aspects of the post-Vilnius tensions:
The future of Ukraine and disagreements over how Russia and EU have approached this are the drivers of the current international bickering. (Keep in mind the domestic tensions are also between the Ukrainian citizens and their government over how the Ukrainian government reacted to protests.) The international tensions stem from a concern about how Russia perceives its future, vis-à-vis Europe. From the Times:
Russia, [Michael Emerson, the former EU envoy to Moscow] said, needs to show that “all its talk about a ‘common European house’ from Lisbon to Vladivostok is not just a slogan and that Ukraine can be comfortable with both the E.U. and Russia.”
In short: is there one Europe or two? Will Ukraine be a bridge uniting Europe or a border between two normatively distinct Europes? A related issue is whether Russia even wants to explore deepening ties with the EU. The Times continues… (Continue Reading)