Maxim Behar: Ukraine Should Neither Tease Russia Nor Snub EU
Maxim Behar, leading Bulgarian PR expert and former journalist, was in Kiev as Ukraine's refusal to sign the long-discussed association and free-trade agreements with the EU, triggered massive pro-European protests in the country.
What is the mood in Kiev right now?
It is calm. But this is not the calm before the storm, rather the calm before a significant event. This significant event is the upcoming summit meeting due in Vilnius. No doubt Ukraine's stalled EU trade deal and the question whether the president is bowing to growing pressure from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who wants Kiev to join the Moscow-led Customs Union, will top the agenda.
If I am not mistaken, this is an unprecedented situation in the history of the European Union. Except for Norway, which did not join, following the rejection by the Norwegian electorate in a referendum, but in practice the country uses almost all the economic benefits of the community. At the PR forum, whose jury panel I chaired these days, one could see many EU flags in people's hands or sticking out of women's handbags.
Late last night, when the jury panel convened, all its Ukrainian members came right after the huge protest rally, carrying flags and posters. They were besides themselves with excitement!
Protestors in Kiev have said they want to see a second Orange Revolution, because they feel betrayed by the government. Do you see a new revolution in the offing?
This is out of the question. Today's Ukraine is a very different Ukraine, today's Europe is a very different Europe from back then. The world has changed. President Viktor Yanukovych is an experienced and pragmatic politician, so he is certainly aware of the power of the people in the street, of the need to build democracy of the European type in Ukraine. It may sound weird, but I personally think that this is the logical prospect that Russia faces.
To cut a long story short, we are not witnessing a clash between two warring sides, rather economic interests, which force the Ukrainian government to play a very tricky game and walk on thin ice.
Do you think that the protests will not turn into another overwhelming, euphoric movement like in 2004 due to fear of Russia and the consequences that Russia is painting on the wall?
It is not a matter of negative or positive consequences. The Ukrainian people belong to Europe in terms of mentality, relations, historical and cultural background. Ukraine's future lies in its economic and political union with Europe.
The free market economy is also a very strong factor that will force Ukraine and Russia to follow the European path of development. I think that at least in this part of the world the concept of a revolution is already outdated.
Some say Ukraine had no option – it had to drop EU for Russia or otherwise it would have been crushed.
I do not agree. It is up to Ukraine to make its choice – it should lead a balanced foreign policy, cautious not to frustrate the powerful Russia or drive away the generous Europe. This is the crucial role that President Viktor Yanukovych has got to play and by all appearances he and his team will make quite a good job out of it.
Ukraine seems to have made the better choice in terms of its economic interests - to temporarily solve its problems thanks to Russia's immediate help instead of waiting for EU gains in years?
There is no final decision yet and there will hardly ever be. The door of the European Union remains open for Ukraine and the government has already declared that the only way for the development of the country are European values ??and this type of democracy. Economy has often been the trigger of difficult political processes and maybe it's just such a moment for Ukraine. But Ukraine 's decision is certainly a big victory for the policy of Russian President Vladimir Putin. We are now expecting the European reaction, which seems quite confused, uncertain and too general.
Ukraine seeks to make most of its ties with both Russia and the EU. Is this realistic?
Of course. If the government handles its communication with protestors in a fast and intelligent manner, the rallies will die down in days.
Should Russia soften its demands on post-communist countries?
I am not sure „demands“ is the correct word, at play here are purely economic and political ties, which have long history.
First, all these countries are part of the Slavic Christian world. Second, our relationships date back for centuries and any denial of our history will do us no good. We have to remember our history if we want to move ahead. All of us, especially the people in southern Europe, we are too impatient and eager to see rapid changes for the better, but we must not forget how much we have received from the rest of the Slavic world.
What is happening in Ukraine comes to show that Bulgaria should not base its foreign policy on denial of history, but on a well-balanced approach to our neighbors and allies - former, current and future.
These days many Bulgarians are wondering in horror what would have happened to their country if the EU entry was still only a prospect. On many an occasions Bulgaria has bowed to Moscow's demands...
I don't think that anybody – in Kiev or in Sofia – has bowed to Moscow's demands. Let get a reality check. Russia can be perfectly fine without Bulgaria, but I am not sure that it will work the other way round.
Generally speaking, in the modern world, in modern politics, words like "pressure" and "claims" or even "dependencies" sound archaic. There are only different interests, but not only economic or political. These can be cultural, social and even historical. Bulgaria is a member of the European Union and my forecast is that after not that much time Turkey, Russia and Ukraine will be part of the bloc too. It is clear now that the politics of separation is a dead-end street.
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