Yesterday I had my regular lunch with Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation.
We mostly talked on how the oil price inflates corruption, and we focused on which sport he wants to enter in the next Olympic games: judo, swimming, horseback riding, shooting, or some other sport that he hasn’t shown us yet that he excels in. We curtly discussed the Dutch referendum of next Wednesday April 6 2016 on the EU – Ukraine Association Agreement.
TC: “Vlad, you have been remarkably silent on this Dutch referendum. I had expected to see the Russian Ambassador on Dutch TV campaigning for a No, but I haven’t seen him.”
VP: “Well, I want to invade the Eastern Ukraine this Spring, and this treaty is a welcome cause of war. I would be dismayed when the Dutch people would say No to the treaty and thus block it. Besides, I have asked the Ambassador to undergo a sex change operation to be more agreeable to the Dutch gays.”
TC: “When you ask the Dutch to say No, they will likely become obstinate and vote Yes. Then you have your casus belli and can also claim that you have done your best to prevent it. Or am I trying to out-smart you ?”
VP: “That would also be seen as meddling in internal national affairs. Russia doesn’t meddle. We spy or invade. I trust that the Dutch government will ratify the treaty, even when the population says No. I have promised your prime minister Mark Rutte a good job at Gazprom later on, and he seemed very happy to sit up and eat the cookie.”
TC: “Thus by July 2016 Russia will have occupied the region East of the Dnieper, and Kiev will be divided by a Wall. The EU can have its treaty with the West, and can start trying to feel happy with the mess they created.”
VP: “There is something very alluring to a permanent stalemate, like the division between North and South Korea. A permanent state of war will be very invigorating to Russia’s youth.”
TC: “Ah yes, I understand what you are thinking. Marches and parades. Battle songs. Soccer stadiums filled with ballet dancers in clockwork performances. Adrenalin is better dan meldonium. The European Union will not understand what hit them. You are brilliant and a real father for Russia.”
Vlad turned to me with a surprisingly modest expression: “Don’t give me credit. I got the idea from Garry Kasparov. Let me give you his Memo. I don’t mind when you publish it and let your Dutch friends read it too. Kasparov always loses from me in chess or politics, and he is a lousy house cleaner and waiter, but his Memo deserves some credit.”
I read the Memo in the plane, and was happy that there was plenty of Stolichnaya for the remaining three hours of the flight back home.
Memo by Garry Kasparov for Vladimir Putin, April 1 2016
Normally I try for a straight argument and end up into convolutions. Now I won’t even try.
The EU – Ukraine Association Agreement (henceforth treaty) text is here and on wikipedia (or in Dutch here and here and wiki). The wikipedia article shows that the treaty is ratified in all countries except that Holland has a referendum on April 6 2016 that might still block it.
Wikipedia actually has an article on this Dutch referendum. The Dutch referendum allows citizens only to advise the government. The government might still choose its own way – which likely is a Yes. Hence we are mostly discussing chimeras.
My main concern is the risk of war, whence I am against the treaty as it stands. Article 7 on Foreign and security policy involves the EU in a “timely and coherent manner” in the defence of Ukrainean sovereignty. The Ukraine might claim that the Crimea has been stolen by Russia, must be returned, and that the EU is legally obliged to help to get it back in “timely and coherent manner” . This is Article 7 with my emphasis:
1. The Parties shall intensify their dialogue and cooperation and promote gradual convergence in the area of foreign and security policy, including the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), and shall address in particular issues of conflict prevention and crisis management, regional stability, disarmament, non-proliferation, arms control and arms export control as well as enhanced mutually-beneficial dialogue in the field of space. Cooperation will be based on common values and mutual interests, and shall aim at increasing policy convergence and effectiveness, and promoting joint policy planning. To this end, the Parties shall make use of bilateral, international and regional fora.
2. Ukraine, the EU and the Member States reaffirm their commitment to the principles of respect for independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of borders, as established in the UN Charter and the Helsinki Final Act of 1975 of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, and to promoting these principles in bilateral and multilateral relations.
3. The Parties shall address in a timely and coherent manner the challenges to these principles at all appropriate levels of the political dialogue provided for in this Agreement, including at ministerial level.
Professor Richard Sakwa (page at Kent) advises a No. His book is here and reviews are here and here. He agrees that the Ukraine already is a sovereign nation and has the right to engage into the current treaty with the EU. The EU has the right to engage into such a treaty too. However, it would not be wise to do so. The EU is sleepwalking again, like the sleepwalkers of 1914-1918.
Sakwa was on Dutch TV on March 20 2016 explaining – in English with Dutch subtitles (minute 41) – that the EU should look at the whole region, including the position of Russia. He was challenged by the Dutch vice-prime-minister Lodewijk Asscher with the argument that including Russia in the picture would violate the notion that the Ukraine is a sovereign nation. Asscher is a lawyer and wields a legal argument in a discussion on geopolitics and war. When Hitler invaded Holland, Asscher would say that this was illegal. Asscher has been doing all kinds of silly things but he has a quiet and soft presentation that Dutch people seem to take for wisdom.
Thus the reasoning is:
- There should be a peace agreement with both Russia and Ukraine.
- There should be a trade agreement with both Russia and Ukraine.
- This current Association Agreement does not satisfy these conditions. In fact, it reduces the freedom of the Ukraine to enter into trade agreements with Russia. The Ukraine becomes the outer border of the European trade area. Trade between the Ukraine and Russia will be hit, and this will cause unemployment in the Ukraine, similarly to the unemployment that occurred in Eastern Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall (see here).
- The EU should stop the policy that association with the EU means association with NATO.
- The EU should use “Europe” as a term in geography and not as synonymous with EU.
- Hence No to the current treaty.
PM 1. Arno Wellens (in Dutch) finds it curious that Asscher was not at the discussion table, and was asked for his opinion while sitting in the audience. Wellens suggests that Sakwa anticipated a 20 minute focus on his analysis, but was surprised to find himself in a discussion with the vice-prime-minister. Perhaps this is the case. Still, it is useful to see the clash between geopolitics (Sakwa) and legalism (Asscher).
PM 2. Another English source is Mark Almond at Oxford, but perhaps a bit less outspoken as Sakwa.
PM 3. For Dutch viewers there is a nice discussion of March 27 between Jeroen Dijsselbloem (Yes) and Arjo Klamer (No). Klamer’s main concern is that the Ukraine has too much corruption, so that the EU’s neoliberal policies will benefit the oligarchs and be disastrous for the common people. This is partly correct. It is strange that Klamer doesn’t give a better economic analysis, but see here (in Dutch).
PM 4. There is some information on a EUR 11 bn Ukraine state building project financed by the EU. This is about EUR 250 per Ukrainean, or one-time 12.5% of the annual GDP per capita of EUR 2000. We may guess where this money is going to land. Perhaps it is an acceptable bribe to get better law and police in the long term. That said, there is still the issue of war. It would be foolish to pay a bribe to get involved in fighting.