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Ukraine

Ukraine Tries To Subtly Shift Westward Without Upsetting Russian Bear

Kiev doesn't want to risk its ties with Moscow, but can't afford to pass up economic opportunities in Europe. And where does that leave jailed opposition chief Yulia Tymoshenko?

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso
Cathrin Kahlweit

MUNICH — It was two years ago that a Kiev court sent Yulia Tymoshenko to prison for abuse of power. Ukraine's former prime minister had been running short on good press for some time as her lengthy power struggle with former president Viktor Yushchenko had tarnished her positive image as a symbol of the Orange Revolution.

But Tymoshenko's image would start to change yet again after her arrest. The political trial that followed, along with a series of politically motivated accusations, and a serious illness, rehabilitated her in the eyes of the West. From prison, she gradually became the face of the movement for those who wanted Ukraine to move closer to the European Union.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the EU looked on its eastern neighbor with an almost maternal affection. Reform was slow in coming, as corruption hampered Ukraine’s development. Meanwhile, the elite were too friendly with Russia for the EU’s taste and the country’s industry was hopelessly antiquated. But the world’s attention was drawn back to Ukraine after the protests about rigged elections in 2004 led to the Orange Revolution.

The country was keen to cement ties with the West but didn’t want to lose its close relationship with Russia — an approach that Kiev’s foreign ministry calls “equidistance.” Viktor Yanukovych’s government tried to find a pragmatic solution to the country’s greatest dilemma: How could Ukraine reconcile its economic relationship with Russia and dependency on that country for energy needs, with greater openness to the European market?

When compromise means victory

Now Brussels has made an offer Kiev cannot refuse: an association agreement that could eventually lead to EU membership. Western standards, products, innovation and investment all come as part of the agreement, which should profit both parties, although the Europe's advantage may be mainly in transmitting western values to a post-Soviet country.

The Ukrainian people generally back the agreement, as do the majority of businessmen and opposition politicians. The agreement offers President Yanukovych — who will stand for re-election in 2015 — the chance to create a lasting legacy from his time in office. But it also conflicts with offers from Moscow: entry into the customs union, and eventually a Eurasian economic union.

The stakes are high for both sides. The Russian government is shaking its fist and issuing threats, but it is also making efforts to entice Ukraine towards stronger ties. If Moscow were to be pushed out of its former sphere of influence, it would set a precedent and therefore undermine the dream of a Eurasian union. However, Russia’s efforts are merely strengthening Brussels’ determination. Now the EU hopes that the long wished-for transformation will finally take place. Ukraine will be stabilized, democratized and pulled away from Moscow.

Yanukovych is in a good bargaining position. If the association agreement does not succeed, it would be a political debacle for the EU. Brussels' conditions for the agreement include reforms of the justice system and electoral law — but it seems likely these may be swept under the carpet in order to secure Yanukovych’s signature, perhaps by the end of November.

There is too much at stake for the EU to turn away. The human symbol of the negotiations, Yulia Tymoshenko, may have left the country by then to be treated for her spinal condition — although the president has not yet indicated whether he will issue a pardon. Brussels would have to content itself with this compromise, and Yanukovych may celebrate another small victory, as it is highly unlikely that his opponent will be able to stand against him in 2015.

Brussels and Kiev are heading towards an agreement, a victory for political realism. But there is still some hope left for the idealists. While this agreement would not transform Ukraine overnight, it would give the EU more influence and set Ukraine on the road to establishing democratic values in everyday life. And that, in the long run, would certainly be a significant victory.

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Ideas

How U.S. Airlines Are Doing Cuba's Dirty Work On American Soil

American and Southwest Airlines have been refusing to allow Cubans on board flights if they've been blacklisted by the government in Havana.

How U.S. Airlines Are Doing Cuba's Dirty Work On American Soil

Boarding a plane in Camaguey, Cuba

Santiago Villa

On Sunday, American Airlines refused to let Cuban writer Carlos Manuel Álvarez board a Miami flight bound for Havana. It was at least the third time this year that a U.S. airline refused to let Cubans on board to return to their homeland after Havana circulated a government "blacklist" of critics of the regime. Clearly undemocratic and possibly illegal under U.S. law, the airlines want to make sure to cash in on a lucrative travel route, writes Colombian journalist Santiago Villa:

-OpEd-

Imagine for a moment that you left your home country years ago because you couldn't properly pursue your chosen career there. It wasn't easy, of course: Your profession is not just singularly demanding, but even at the top of the game you might not be assured a stable or sufficient income, and you've had to take on second jobs, working in bars and restaurants.

This chosen vocation is that of a writer or journalist, or perhaps an artist, which has kept you tied to your homeland, often the subject of your work, even if you don't live there anymore.

Since leaving, you've been back home several times, though not so much for work. Because if you did, you would be followed in cars and receive phone calls to let you know you are being watched.

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