Sophie Pinkham is a writer on Russian and Ukrainian culture and politics. Her articles have appeared in The New Yorker, the New York Times, n+1, the London Review of Books, and Foreign Affairs, among other publications. Her new book is Black Square: Adventures in Post-Soviet Ukraine published by Norton.
Echo and the Bunnymen, “The Killing Moon,” Ocean Rain, 1984.
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By Sean — 5 years ago
Yesterday, I suggested that Ukrainian protesters are fetishizing Europe. My single point was that in doing this, Ukrainians’ favoring the association agreement with the EU might turn that relationship into a false promise. The response to the post was overwhelming. Many found it insightful. Others charged that dreaming of Europe was better than the status quo under Yanukovich. Perhaps. I don’t follow Ukrainian politics enough to say, and I certainly wonder how an association agreement with the EU will make the short term situation any better. That said, the protests have moved from a join EU revolt to a get rid of Yanukovich revolt. What will ultimately happen is in the stars. Yanukovich is digging in his heels. Today, the oppositionists in the Rada failed muster the 226 votes needed to dismiss the government of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov.
As for the status of the association agreement, in a statement on Sunday, Yanukovich said, “I will do everything possible to advance the process of Ukraine’s rapprochement with the European Union, but without any serious losses for this country’s economy or deterioration of the citizens’ living standards. We must be only guided by national interests and be responsible for our own future. We should defend Ukraine on the political map of Europe and the world as a great and absolutely independent state.”
This will hardly placate people in the streets who are calling for his head.
It does, however, raise the question as to what Ukraine will get by signing the EU agreement. Does it threaten Ukraine as Yanukovich’s statement implies? Few have devoted much discussion to the actual content of the agreement. The main provisions are available here. What do they portend for Ukraine? Jozsef Borocz has outlined them in an insightful post on LeftEast, Terms of Ukraine’s EU-Dependency. In a nutshell, there seems to be little benefit for Ukraine in this agreement.
On the economic front, Borocz writes:
As the EU’s own publication suggests, the business linkages between the EU and Ukraine are quite skewed already. Ukraine exports EUR 14.6 billion worth of goods to the EU and imports EUR 23.8 billion, producing a 9.2 billion trade imbalance. In the area of investment, the imbalance is outright grotesque: EUR 2 billion from Ukraine, EUR 23.8 billion from the EU to Ukraine (resulting in a fairly breathtaking, EUR 21.9 billion, imbalance). Given those figures, even without the DCFTA (Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area), the economic linkage structure between the EU and Ukraine offers itself as a textbook study in external trade and investment dependence.
The draft agreement is absolutely adamant that the key purpose of this exercise is removal of all remaining tariffs and other trade barriers for EU capital:
“The DCFTA, linked to the broader process of legislative approximation will contribute to further economic integration with the European Union’s Internal Market. This includes the elimination of almost all tariffs and barriers in the area of trade in goods, the provision of services, and the flow of investments (especially in the energy sector). Once Ukraine has taken over the relevant EU acquis, the EU will grant market access for example in areas such as public procurement or industrial goods” (p.3.)
The expected benefit of the removal of “almost all tariffs and barriers” is that “The DCFTA once in force will provide tariff cuts which will allow the economic operators of both sides to save around 750 millions euros per year in average (most of the customs duties being lifted)” (p.4.)
Given the disparities between the two would-be contracting entities (1.5 to 1 in trade, 11 to 1 in investment and 40 to 1 in economic power), it is not difficult to imagine what percentage of that EUR 750M, resulting from the lifting of trade barriers, would go to the EU and what part will go to Ukraine.
But that is, really, small change compared to the liberalization of investment. In addition to liberalizing trade, the DCFTA also envisages a significantly more open investment “climate.” This is so much so that the agreement not only emphasizes investment, but even specifies what it has in mind: “investments (especially in the energy sector)” (p.3.) Just in case this was not clear enough, the document repeats, “New trade and investment opportunities will be created and competition will be stimulated” (p. 4.). But it’s not over: “Through the Neighbourhood Investment Facility (NIF), to which Ukraine is eligible IFI investments could be leveraged. The NIF aims at mobilising additional funding to cover the investment needs of Ukraine for infrastructures in sectors such as transport, energy, the environment and social issues (e.g. construction of schools or hospitals).” This is all very nice, except there is absolutely no mention of the terms under which all this investment in human infrastructure would take place, who would do them, from what funds, etc. None of that.
And on the requirement that Ukraine begin to adopt EU institutional and regulatory standards, a much idealized prospect for many Ukrainians opposed to Yanukovich’s refusal to sign the agreement:
The draft agreement also envisages that Ukraine will gradually “approximate” the acquis communautaire, i.e., the EU’s body of laws and regulations. This is an apparently completely neutral and technical provision. However, beyond the technical and the apparent neutrality, there are two key points to be remembered here.
First, clearly, the diplomatic frame of the draft agreement (two contracting parties come to an agreement) is highly deceptive: What is actually going on is the full adoption of a set of external legal materials by a smaller, economically weaker, actor, under political pressure by a bigger, economically stronger and politically superordinate party. I have analyzed the structure of such a grossly asymmetrical relationship in my paper, “The Fox and the Raven. . .”, available here or here with respect to Hungary’s EU-accession negotiations 15 years ago. . .
Second, keep in mind: In a fairly fundamental way, the main (some would probably say, the only) purpose of the EU’s community laws and regulations is removal of all the institutional mechanisms that the EU’s member states had developed over the centuries for the protection of their internal economies from exogenous crises, unfair competition and unforeseen fluctuations of all kinds. So, when we see a reference to adoption (or, as in the case of Ukraine, “approximation”) of the acquis communautaire, we need to remember that the acquis is, by definition, a neoliberal tool, designed to increase the global sway of transnational capital based in western Europe. That’s what it is, no less, no more.
Finally, there is the question of what EU-parlance calls (from a sociological perspective, quite imprecisely,) ‘mobility’ (i.e., the freedom of movement for not just goods, services and investment, but also of people, including the right to settle, to work, to study and to participate in democratic political life without exclusion or diminution). This is important for three reasons. First, it goes to showing the depth of the EU’s commitment to embracing Ukraine as a society, not just an economic area; second, it is a deeply emotional expectation, very much on the minds of all people, especially east Europeans outside the EU, and, third, it is at this point that the EU-Ukraine rapprochement runs into the hard realities of west European quasi-racism vis-a-vis east Europeans, something I have called, in a paper entitled “Goodness Is Elsewhere. . .”, the rule of European difference (available here or here, see esp. pp. 125-134).
To put it bluntly, the draft agreement is extremely vague about movement of Ukrainians in Schengen-land. Savor this language: “The importance of the introduction of a visa free travel regime for the citizens of Ukraine in due course, provided that the conditions for well-managed and secure mobility are in place is recognised in the Agreement.” (pp. 1-2.) And, again: “The EU and Ukraine commit through the Association Agreement to increase their dialogue and cooperation on migration, asylum and border management. The importance of the introduction of a visa free travel regime for the citizens of Ukraine in due course, provided that the conditions for well-managed and secure mobility are in place is recognised in the Agreement” (p. 3.)
In other words, there is absolutely no commitment on part of the European Union, or its Schengen common migration management system. Even the visa requirement, currently in place, will not be lifted for a while. When exactly? Well, “in due course.” This is the absolutely vaguest diplomatic language. It binds the EU to nothing, not even to easing the visa requirement, let alone abolishing it (which would allow citizens of Ukraine to travel to Europe as they please) let alone the right to stay, study, or work there. Absolutely none of that is mentioned here.
People familiar with the EU-”enlargement” process will, no doubt, point out that that–i.e., free movement of persons, the right to settle, work, etc.–will come later, with (actually, usually seven or so years after) full membership. So, that brings us to the question, what about it? What does the agreement say about full membership?
Here it is: 0.
The word “membership” appears in the document once, referring to WTO membership. This should be absolutely clear: Ukraine will not be a member of the European Union; not in the foreseeable future.
Again, I understand the idea of being in Europe. As many argue, it certainly beats being in Russia’s orbit. So maybe the lack of immediate benefits is worth the long-term risk. If the majority of Ukrainians cherish the symbolic importance of the EU, then godspeed. But I think there is a false choice here as much as there is a force choice. Ukraine’s desire to be in the EU should be separated from the problems with Yanukovich. But because of its dire economic situation, Ukraine is being forced to make a decision—cast its future with the EU or with Russia. But people must understand that the EU path—and frankly the association agreement doesn’t appear to be a path to membership. It is an attempt at neoliberalizing Ukraine—isn’t going to necessarily bring the promised land. As Borocz concludes what Ukrainians are really demanding is “significantly increased exposure of their economy to capital from a forty times bigger and much richer economic area; demolition of the tariff barriers that might prevent the full siphoning-off of their resources, and absolutely no promise of equality, citizenship, democracy, or even an increased freedom of movement.”Post Views: 1,653
By Sean — 3 years ago
Karl Qualls, Professor of History at Dickinson College and author of From Ruins to Reconstruction: Urban Identity in Soviet Sevastopol after World War II.
Josh Sanborn, Professor of History at Lafayette College and author of Imperial Apocalypse: The Great War and the Destruction of the Russian Empire.Post Views: 824
By Sean — 8 years ago
Back in late 2008, when Pajamas Media was still having me write articles on Russia (they’ve since stopped asking, I think, because I wasn’t anti-Russian enough), I noted that Americans and Russians long for the return of the Cold War. Those were the days when “new Cold War” books were all the rage and Russia and American were engaging in some good old proxy warfare in Georgia and Ukraine. In America, Russia was evil again and that was a good thing. In Russia, America was evil again and that was a good thing too. Americaphobes and Russophobes rejoiced in unison.
Enter Barack Obama and Dmitri Medvedev. Two “thaw” presidents in their respective countries looking to reform their respective kingdoms in the wake of economic calamity. The former called for a “new” America, the latter called for a “modernized” Russia. Both were simply mimicking what their forefathers had strove to do, albeit in their own rhetorical ways. On their respective domestic fronts the “new” America and the “modernized” Russia continue to look like the “old” America and the “backward” Russia.
While domestics alluded them, their tone vis-a-vis each other shifted. The “new Cold War” rhetoric of 2008 quickly went from nostalgia to melancholy with the Obama Administration’s aim to “reset” relations with Russia. The US was looking for some Russian acquiescence in dealing with Iran, and the Russians were looking for investment from the West. The lovefest, while lacking much by way of anything concrete, nevertheless provided the kindle for a warmer atmosphere. The moves made Neo-Cold Warriors look as if they were barking at the moon. Obama and Medvedev consummated their matrimony with a couple of burgers and fries.
Love was in the air. That was until 11 spies were uncovered on the Eastern seaboard. Ten were busted, one flew the coop. Their mission was to gather information that according to most could have been found in the press and on the internet. Most of all, it seemed that the scandal would set the stage for Russia and the US to return to their natural place as adversaries. The Cold War seemed to be on the verge of being back, baby. Career Russophobes like Ed Lucas were off to see how often the word “chekist” could be tweeted. The more zany clocked long hours trying to map the six degrees of separation between Anna Chapman’s Facebook friends as if they revealed some deeper conspiracy. After a brief respite, the Cold War seemed back. Bolsheviks were breeding once again, this time at our neighborhood barbecues.
Then Obama and Medvedev pissed on the parade. The spy scandal was much ado about nothing, the duo assured us; especially since the US Justice Department seemed to not have enough to even charge the ten with espionage. Even the often demonized spymaster Putin laughed off the affair as business as usual.
Nevertheless, though a Cold War redux was dashed, the two-week reality show proved once again that a cultural desire for it lingered. For most people the desire wasn’t for the real Cold War taste with all its accompanying political fats and calories, but a more processed, nay, produced version to titillate our imaginations. For the Cold War gives us something the dreaded Wahabbis never can: to quote Kramer, “The high stakes game of world diplomacy and international intrigue.” Only other white people can do that, and the Russians are just “white” enough.
For a good week it was like old school James Bond all over again. Sexy spy chicks looking to infiltrate the rich and famous, deep cover agents posing a “normal” Americans, aliases, intrigue, disappearing ink, safe drops, secret cables, and spy vs. spy lingo. The American media was overjoyed. Between rerun reporting of the BP oil spill, another Lindsay Lohan meltdown, or the LeBronathon, the spy scandal was a breath of fresh air.
Even the British were eager to jump on the bandwagon. In a desperate move to appear relevant as a nation, the British struggled to worm its way into the performance. MI5 jumped into the fray with its own investigation into the extent Anna Chapman went to honey trap British officials and elites. The security agency even dropped hints that there were at least 500 spies snooping on British soil.
The real exploiters of the spy scandal were the tabloids. They immediately latched on to Chapman transforming her from a sweet Slavic cutie who lived on Facebook and hung out in Manhattan clubs to a genuine scarlet harlot. Former lovers were coming out of the woodwork with tales of hot sex spurred on by pantyless stripteases and the sensual sounds of her Russian accent. All of this quickly culminated in the money shot: Chapman nudie pics. The Russian redhead was now an international star. Even Jay Leno and VP Joe Biden couldn’t help but mention the sexpot. The reinstalled Tonight Show host, better known for bad sickly sweet vanilla jokes, asked the VP on a recent appearance: “Are our spies this hot?” “It was not my idea to send her back. I thought they’d take Rush Limbaugh,” Biden retorted. In all, the Culture Industry couldn’t have orchestrated a better PR campaign to generate interest in Angelina Jolie’s upcoming spy thriller, Salt. A sexy “deep cover” Russian spy plotting to kill the US President? I’m there. All of it showed that almost twenty years dead, the Cold War still packed some potential entertainment punch.
As for the rest of the spy crew, after a string of articles about how the enemy lives among us, interest in them quickly faded. It turns out living a suburban life is pretty damn boring. The only thing scandalous among the suburban spies was how messed up their kids were going to be now that they found out that mommy and daddy weren’t who they said they were. To make matters worse, the US government sent the kids back to Mother Russia, which one presumes would only redouble the trauma. How things have changed! If Russia was still Communist, the young-ins would have been paraded all over the media, igniting a movement not seen since Elian Gonzalez to keep them in the righteous US . They would have been the figureheads for this century’s equivalent to the John Birch Society. But alas, in these post-Cold War times, you’re left to rot unless you’re wearing a burka, and even then you only get your fifteen minutes if an invasion of your country is in the works or a Western friendly “movement” is looking to overthrow your despotic regime.
In the end, the spy scandal had a rather twisted, metatextual but ultimately anticlimactic narrative. It was Ian Fleming, Hustler‘s “Hot Letters,” and the Coneheads all rolled into one. The script didn’t work not because of the content–all the necessary subplots and cast were in place—but because of the drama’s principle producers–the US and Russia–just didn’t pull the trigger, at least not one that would generate a captivated audience over the long term.
The trigger that was pulled was not without a Cold War “echo,” however. The best way for the US and Russia to defuse the situation, put the incident in the past, and move on was to revive a Cold War mainstay: the spy swap. There were over a dozen known spy swaps during the Cold War: actual spies, turncoats, dissidents, and missionaries were traded like baseball cards. Back then espionage was a serious and respected business with a strong code of honor and pride. The practitioners of spy trades conducted themselves cordially with a high sense of decorum, mutual respect, and even affection for each other. Former spy swapper Jeremy Smith told NPR that the negotiations between him and Wolfgang Vogel, his East German counterpart, was like a “dance of two pens” as they tapped the names on their lists of desired agents to get around the bugs in Volker’s office. Smith and Vogel developed a warm relationship despite their adversary positions. They exchanged gifts and for one Christmas, Smith even brought the tryptophan deficient Vogel Butterball turkeys because the bird was scarce in East Germany.
These echoes quickly go faint in the our world of cost-cutting, productivity and profit. There is just no time for the finesse of the past. James Bond would have been downsized a long time ago. If not, his expense account would have surely been drastically cut. Also, this week’s spy swap just had nothing substantive at stake. The integrity of both our respective civilizations was not questioned simply because we are now all part of the capitalist brotherhood. Our differences are mere quibbles compared the world historical duel of the past. The current spy scandal, therefore, was no substitute for the “real” ones of the past even if in our media laden present we are accustomed to mistaking the copy for the real.
Indeed, when it came down to it, the performance of the swap was more important than those being swapped. Just take two of the most publicly recognized figures: Anna Chapman and Igor Sutyagin, the Russian nuclear scientist convicted of spying for the US in 2004. The former turned out to be a very bad spy, while the latter was most likely not a spy at all. Nor did the exchange come amid any secrecy or setting reminiscent of the Cold War. There was no equivalent to the Glienicke Bridge. The world knew the swap was happening before it even happened. Sutyagin’s people went straight to the press when it was announced that he would be exchanged. Someone claiming to represent Chapman announced her impending release on Twitter.
It was no Cold War, though the public seemed happy to relish in the possibility. But like most media sensations the buzz was a far cry for the real thing. I even doubt that Americans and Russians really wanted the real thing. They just like the idea of Cold War. It was exciting and it made our culture, our values, and our nations more important. The world was split between us, our own personal chessboard on a global scale. So what to make of this spy scandal on a cultural level? Was there even a scandal at all? I think the answer to these questions can be surmised from what will surely become one of its iconic phrases: “99 Fake Street.”Post Views: 865