Both Ukraine and Russia Belong in Europe

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to cancel the signing of the Association Agreement with the European Union—undoubtedly taken under pressure from the Kremlin—is yet another reminder of the post-imperial complexes of Vladimir Putin, who once infamously described the peaceful dissolution of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the [20th] century.” Examples of these complexes are abundant, from the Kremlin’s previous spats with Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova to its continuing hostility toward the Baltic states.

Yet the shorthand references to Kiev acting “under pressure from Russia” and “choosing Russia over Europe,” used by many analysts and journalists in the past few days, are an all-too-familiar oversimplification. While Putin’s authoritarian and increasingly unpopular regime has indeed opposed Ukraine’s quest for European integration, Russia’s civil society and democratic opposition have backed it—a fact all but ignored by the international media.

As tens of thousands of people gathered in downtown Kiev on Sunday to protest Yanukovych’s U-turn on Europe, Russia’s opposition Solidarity movement declared its unequivocal support for “the aspirations of the brotherly Ukrainian people that are fighting for a European path for their country,” and expressed the belief that Ukrainians “will not allow [their] hypocritical and weak leaders to impose decisions that hamper Ukraine’s development.” The Republican Party of Russia–People’s Freedom Party, the country’s main democratic opposition party that achieved important advances in this fall’s regional elections, issued a statement that calls for both Ukraine’s and Russia’s “rapprochement and consequent integration with the European Union.” “We do not see any threats for Russians in the Ukrainian people’s aspiration to launch their own country’s rapprochement with the EU in a situation when Russia’s current authorities, acting against the real interests of our country’s citizens, are pursuing the course of … isolation from the EU and the West in general,” added party leaders Boris Nemtsov, Mikhail Kasyanov, and Vladimir Ryzhkov.

This week’s Levada Center poll showed that 50 percent of Russians consider Ukraine’s EU Association Agreement to be “an internal affair of Ukraine,” with only 30 percent opposing it. Meanwhile, a poll conducted earlier this month by the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle showed that 38 percent of Russians want Russia itself to join the European Union (versus 40 percent who are opposed)—a remarkably high figure given the relentless anti-Western propaganda in the state media.

There is, in truth, no choice for Ukraine “between Europe and Russia.” Both Ukraine and Russia are European countries; both of their futures belong in Europe—just as surely as Viktor Yanukovych and Vladimir Putin belong to the ash heap of history.

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