On a more important note, Ukraine. Over the past month, it's exploded into a Cold War-esque geopolitical nightmare for the west. Russian troops (in unmarked uniforms for the plausible deniability) occupy Crimea, which has voted to secede from the Ukraine and become a part of Russia. Vladimir Putin, the all-but-a-sultan of Russia, has stated that the recent ouster of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych posed a threat to the ethnically Russian people living in Crimea; thus, the intervention, even though Putin has also said that there is no way to tell if those are really Russian troops. (Confusing, I know)
There needs to be a brief bit of background on this whole issue:
- the first point of note is that, before the protests in Kiev began, Ukraine was preparing to enter the EU by making the standard array of changes (see Copenhagen Criteria).
- President Yanukovych was renowned among leaders for his corruption, and quickly accepted money from Russia, turning his back on the Copenhagen Criteria and the EU, which was supported by a majority of the Ukrainian population.
- Russia supplies around 1/3 of all gas imported in the EU.
- Half of all Russian gas that enters the EU goes through Ukraine.
- A 1994 agreement between the US and Ukraine recognizes the border of the then-new state of the Ukraine.
- Russia maintains a naval base in Crimea, which would likely no longer be leased to the Russians should Ukraine enter the EU. The base maintains a strategic Cold War position as the place of first strike against the west in case of an all-out war.
The costs for that, however, would be large. The shipping, tariff, and import duties, not to mention the establishment of transit areas through which the gas can be safely delivered to Eastern Europe would likely cost more than the current Gazprom pipeline setup. Thus, the EU hasn't implemented the pernicious sanctions that it could; at least, not yet.
This is Europe's trump card over Russia: cutting off Russia from all gas imports would cause the Russian stock market and economy to take a nosedive due to the estimated loss of profits, and the ruble would drop internationally. 60% of Russia's state income comes from export of gas and oil, and the EU is its largest customer. It is the one pressure point the west has on Putin, and they are hesitant to use it.
One should hope, however, that the EU is willing to take the dramatic step in terms of international presence and make a stand against Russia's incursion into Ukraine. This entire debacle raises ghosts of the 1990s, when the incipient EU found itself impotent in the face of the Balkans crisis; one would think that, in light of those confusing and tumultuous times, the EU would be able to make the difficult, yet right, decision.
Of course, then there are the business interests. One shouldn't be surprised that David Cameron's government is espousing pro-business, anti-EU positions; honestly, would anyone expect anything less? In this situation, however, even Germany, which receives 40% of its gas imports from Russia, has been hesitant in taking a strong stand against Russia.
The EU Council of Ministers, the European Parliament, the European Commission, the EU High Representative, etc. etc. etc.; they were all established in order to create a prominence for Europe in international affairs. One preening windbag (or the preening windbags in his party) shouldn't be enough to stop what is the only reasonable course of action for the EU: impose trade sanctions on Russia, targeting gas imports. With a united voice, the EU can deescalate the situation. After all, the European economy can be recovered, but the people who fought and died against Yanukovych's crackdown in the Maidan cannot.
That's all for now,