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The Meaning of Ukraine’s Big Weekend

Poland’s Sikorski unstoppable for top Brussels post; U.S.’s Nuland now in a chorus with Putin.

February 23, 2014

Euromaidan anti-government protests in Kiev, December 2013. (Credit: Nessa Gnatoush - Wikimedia)

The events in Kiev are at least a momentary triumph of the Ukrainian people, their perseverance and their sheer courage. Nobody can take that away from them.

Whatever the future holds, this is a hard-earned victory “of the people, by the people and for the people.” In the annals of European courage, it ranks up there with the Poles resisting General Jaruzelski from 1981 to 1989. One can only hope that a worthy government, reflecting Abraham Lincoln’s noble standard, will emerge.

Some doubts are in order. Ukraine’s near-term future will most certainly be very messy. Yanukovich, Russia’s lackey, is setting up tent in the southeastern part of the country, i.e. Russian dominated Crimea.

He is busy mobilizing his supporters. Several eastern regional governors issued a statement saying they rejected parliament’s authority to fire him. Some predict the emergence of another post-1990 Yugoslavia, with plenty of low-level combat. There are worrisome parallels with how the civil war started in Northern Ireland, more than 40 years ago. There, boisterous street protests deteriorated to full scale carnage over four years. The Ukrainians have done it all in only two months.

However, even Yanukovich’s business allies are speaking out in favor of unity, making civil war unlikely. Reassuringly, Ukraine’s top military leaders echoed those sentiments and vowed not to get involved in the political situation.

More likely is a peaceful divisions of the spoils, if anything changes at all. The country’s most Russified areas near the border and in Crimea may end up merging back into a re-imperialized Russia. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Western half will get to position itself in the same manner where it was slightly over 100 years ago, as the Eastern-most tip of civilized Europe.

Putin as a revanchist?

And Putin being Putin, in a post-Olympic mindset, may well resort to his old nasty self and threaten to play with the natural gas weapon. Except that this won’t do much to blunt Western Ukrainians’ resolve – or the EU’s to help them.

It will only strengthen European resolve to look beyond Russia for its energy needs, a scenario that could over time be suicidal for Russia, as it has little on offer economically except for hydrocarbons.

The main surprise about the events of recent weeks is the relative absence of the United States. It is as if John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State, has wisely ordered his teams in the region to keep a very low profile.

Not only will it take time to live down the Nuland moment. U.S. diplomats also have their hands more than full with Iran, Syria, Israel and China. That is an auspicious moment to engage in some practical global division of labor and let the Europeans handle the crisis management for Ukraine.

No yearning for America

It must also be stinging for Americans to compare the situation in Kiev to the situation in Poland several decades ago. Back then, when many Poles were yearning to join the United States — not Europe.

Such fond sentiments toward the United States are no longer to be found in today’s Ukraine. It would be an exaggeration to put that disillusionment at Victoria Nuland’s feet. Closer yet would be the finding that contemporary America mainly stands out as a terrorism-baiting war machine, not as particularly freedom loving.

The closest thing to the truth is that today’s Ukrainians are mindful of their Polish neighbors pain, not least since the two countries hosted the European Football Championship jointly in 2012.

Polish officials’ decades-long efforts to obtain visa-free travel for their fellow citizens wanting to visit the United States have gone nowhere. Not even Radek Sikorski, Poland’s long-time foreign minister, any longer harbors rosy views of America. Once just about the keenest of advocates of the United States and American freedoms, his enthusiasm has been tempered greatly.

When talking about dealing with the United States, Sikorski even speaks – disarmingly and very convincingly — of the danger of living close to a “hippopotamus.“ As he is fond of explaining, when the hippopotamus (i.e. the U.S.) turns around in the mud, it doesn’t even know you’re there when it rolls right over you. Ouch!

Where is Victoria Nuland?

What about the ever so ardent freedom defender Victoria Nuland, America’s top diplomat for the region? She is missing in action, thankfully so. Her credibility with the Ukrainian people is shot, having tried to mastermind events with extreme superciliousness.

As a matter of fact, she has new company in blurting out her favorite slogan – you know, “f*** the EU” Her new joint venture partner in blurting out that same frustrated line must be none other than Vladimir Putin, who has reason indeed to be mad at the Europeans.

His emissaries could seek new communications channels into Washington via Nuland, suggesting that perhaps a “reset” of mutual relations is possible after all. Hillary Clinton may have looked for that reset button in vain. Is it possible her former spokeswoman at the State Department is now finding it?

No, this isn’t the time (yet) to watch out for the Nuland-inspired project of a pivot away from the EU. That move will materialize only after the big push toward a TTIP, despite all the relentless fanfares blasted out by the business community, will end stalemated in some months. Then, political and business America alike may feel it’s time to “f*** the Europeans.”

Radek, the Unstoppable

Such light-hearted observations aside, the management of the Ukraine crisis is also the ultimate emergence on the global stage of the crisis management skills of Radek Sikorski. At this juncture, and after his quiet victory on Syria last year, one can only hope that he is now unstoppable as the future European foreign minister.

That would be welcome news indeed. When he assumes the post in the EU’s upcoming great rotation of posts, Europe will finally have a foreign minister deserving of that title.


Hopefully this moment in #Ukraine is akin to Poland’s struggle for freedom in 1989.

Radek Sikorski’s management of the Ukraine crisis makes him unstoppable to become the European foreign minister.

Victoria Nuland now has new company in blurting out "F*** the EU": None other than Putin.

Contemporary America mainly stands out as a terrorism-baiting war machine, not as particularly freedom loving.