Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Europe's Responsibility in Causing the East-West Split in Ukraine
ISHIGOOKA Ken  / Journalist

May 20, 2014
Ukraine is standing on the brink of dissolution. It is the greatest crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and has the potential of dragging the entire world into war. In spite of this fact, Western views on Russia and Ukraine are far too simplistic and smack of ignorance. So much so that it gives off the impression that the West is grossly underestimating the situation.

Let me start by pointing out that there is hardly ever a case in international relations where the issue is a simple matter of right or left, where one side is unilaterally right and the other side unilaterally wrong. The truth lies somewhere in the middle of two extremes. This is an idea that seems obvious enough to people in Japan and elsewhere in Asia, where the spirit of moderation is respected. However, there is a strong tendency in Europe and the United States of seeking to come to grips with matters by molding them into an argument between right and wrong based on a dualistic idea of good and bad.

Led by Western media, the latest incident has often been explained in terms of a simple pattern of confrontation, as a battle between Ukrainian citizens who have stood up for "freedom and democracy" and the "evil empire" of Russia that seeks to suppress them. Newsweek Japan carried articles titled: "Putin the Great – The God of Destruction Seeking to Break the Global Order" and "The Real Dangers of the 'Tyrant' Confronting the West." But is Vladimir Putin really a "god of destruction" out to unsettle the global order? Could he really be a "tyrant"? Surely, the situation shouldn't be reduced to such a simplistic interpretation. My doubts have lingered on with regard to this point.

Last December, Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych made a stunning move, refusing to sign the "Association Agreement" that was to strengthen his country's ties with the European Union. This marked the beginning of the political upheaval. The President explained that while his country needed several hundred billion euros in funding to raise the quality of its production facilities and products to meet EU standards, support from the EU remained in the order of several million euros and was far from enough. At the time, the International Monetary Fund had suspended its loans to Ukraine with no prospect in sight for a resumption of negotiations. Furthermore, Ukraine's national debt had reached 80 percent of its Gross Domestic Product at 146 billion dollars. The country had 65 billion dollars in short-term debt, with only 20 billion dollars in foreign reserves. Russia had been stalling on its payments for gas imported from Ukraine, and the amount was expected to reach 6 billion to 7 billion dollars by the end of this year.

While there was much talk about the "rosy dream" of joining the EU, core EU members Germany and France were not planning any major aid packages for Ukraine. Honestly speaking, most people had not taken Ukrainian membership too seriously. It was certain to be a lengthy process, and it was not at all clear whether it would ever be consummated. In other words, there was no need to hurry.

The biggest obstacle was that Ukraine's basic idea of economic union differed from Europe's. The idea of a united Europe was founded on the reconciliation between Germany and France – or the inclusion of Germany – in the hope of preventing another world war and of reviving the glory of Europe. Detailed rules were laid out around the European principle, and there was a strict doctrine of refusing membership to countries that failed to live up to the standards. In contrast, Asia and Eurasia are regions where diverse climates and geography overlap with considerable complexity, resulting in a broad variety of ethnicity, religion, economic standards, statehood and degree of national unity. It is impossible to lay down standards and rules that govern all these aspects, and in turn requires a certain looseness. A myriad of organizations aimed at political and economic integration exist independently of each other, and it is normal for a country to hold multiple memberships in several organizations. From a European perspective, this would hardly amount to a union.

Over the course of the latest political crisis, President Putin suggested Ukraine could participate as an observer in his proposed Customs Union – known otherwise as the Eurasian Union. In addition, he proposed creating a system of three-party consultations with Europe for the transition period. On his part, President Yanukovych expressed Ukraine's wish to join both the EU and Russia's Customs Union. Yet the European response was to press Ukraine to make an either-or choice between Europe and Russia. A particularly hardline stance was maintained by proponents of the so-called "New Europe," such as Catherine Ashton, Vice President of the European Commission responsible for foreign affairs, former Polish President Aleksander Kwaśniewski and Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite. In retrospect, they had been completely oblivious to the dangers of drawing a dividing line between Europe and Russia.

Moreover, the true intention behind President Putin's "Eurasian Union" is not about reviving the Soviet Union. It was envisioned as a countermeasure against China, a powerful nation that continues to forge ahead with remarkable success. Ukraine is not even the cornerstone of that Eurasian Union. Russia fully understands that Ukraine cannot be integrated with Central Asia.

The political turmoil in Ukraine has revealed the parochial nature of Western thinking, in which values other than their own are either dismissed or rejected, and has highlighted the conflict between the Western system of universal values and non-Western values based on exceptions and geopolitical considerations. Russia certainly deserves to be criticized for rough handling the issue in defiance of international rules. However, Europe must take most of the responsibility for causing the east-west split in Ukraine by unilaterally thrusting its brand of "universal values" on the country in the name of "freedom and democracy."

Ken Ishigooka is a journalist and former special editor of the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

石郷岡 健 / ジャーナリスト  

2014年 5月 20日


今回の事件でも、欧米メディアを中心に、「自由と民主主義」に向けて立ち上がるウクライナ市民とそれを抑圧する「悪の帝国」ロシアの戦いという単純な対立構図で説明されることが多かった。ニューズウィーク誌(日本語版)では「世界秩序の破壊神 プーチン大帝」「欧米と敵対する『暴君』の本当の危険度」などの見出しの記事を掲載した。しかし、プーチンは本当に世界秩序の破壊神なのか? 本当に「暴君」なのか?こんな単純な理解でいいのかという疑問は消えなかった。

昨年12月、ウクライナのヤヌコーヴィッチ大統領はEUとの関係強化の協定(「連合協定」)の署名を突然、拒否した。ウクライナ政変の始まりである。ヤヌコーヴィッチは、その理由を次のように説明した。「ウクライナの生産設備や製品の品質をEU基準にあわせるためには数千億ユーロの資金が必要だ。しかし、EUからの支援は数億ユーロの規模で、とても足りない」 当時、IMF(国際通貨基金)からの対ウクライナ融資は止まっており、交渉再開のメドも立っていなかった。さらに、ウクライナの債務は1460億㌦で、国内総生産(GDP)の80%に達していた。外貨準備は200億㌦しかなく、短期債務は650億㌦。ロシアから輸入ガス代金の支払いは滞り、今年末には60~70億㌦に達する見通しだった。





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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Europe's Responsibility in Causing the East-West Split in Ukraine