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What Failure In Ukraine Reveals About European Weakness

Europe represents the freedom from political dictatorship. But at what cost?

Pro-EU protests continue in Kiev
Pro-EU protests continue in Kiev
Claire Gatinois

PARIS — Once again, Europe has disappointed. In the southern countries, the European Union is stirring up the anger and the disgust of its population. In the East, people are also protesting. With one massive difference though: The Ukrainians, who have been taking to the streets of Kiev since Sunday and in other cities, are marching to express their love — not their hate — of Europe. Such an event is rare.

Yet, these protests are also signs of a stinging defeat for Brussels. Thousands of excuses, most of which are valid, can explain the flop in the negotiations over the "Eastern Partnership," supposed to bring Ukraine and the European Union closer together. Some see it as an abhorrent economic blackmail on the part of Russia, the result of Vladimir Putin's crafty forces of persuasion.

One could also mention the calculations of the Ukrainian authorities: The country is in a very difficult economic situation and President Viktor Yanukovych, paralyzed by fear of not being reelected in 2015, desperately needs money. The financial benefits offered by Europe were dismissed as "pathetic" by Ukranian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov. Finally, the government fears a comeback from Yulia Tymoshenko — a potential rival of the current administration — and wants to find a way to definitively disarm her.

Still, what the failure in the negotiations also shows is the patent impotence of Europe when it comes to bringing countries together. Jose Manuel Barroso, whose mandate as head of the European Commission comes to an end in 2014, will leave a very poor legacy behind him. During his 10-year tenure, Europe has failed on two fronts: with the crisis-ridden southern countries, and now on its eastern front.

Pro-European Ukrainians saw in this potential agreement with Brussels a way out of Russia's grip on the country, as well as a fast track toward better justice and toward the liberation of their braided muse, Tymoshenko.

Economic tyranny

Their opponents, the pro-Russian population, only had to say this: Along with Europe come economic efforts, austerity and other constraints, and on top of it a dishevelled liberalism for a more than hypothetical reward. Such criticisms of a future in the arms of Europe are hard to counter. At least in the short term, any rapprochement would imply its share of "structural reforms," efforts to reduce the debt as well as budgetary rigor. Angela Merkel made it very clear, and she was right in doing so.

In the end though, her message only strengthened the image of a "Europe of austerity" eclipsing that of the Europe of democracy. Ukrainian leaders and Putin have no doubt used this excuse, and Europe certainly showed some ingenuity. Seen from Kiev, the failure of the negotiations has more to do with diplomacy than with the economy.

But it's a fact: In Lisbon, Madrid or Athens, the image people have of Europe is that of an organization that replaced political dictatorship with economical dictatorship. Thousands of angry Ukrainians are reminding us that Europe is more than that.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

How The Kremlin Has Shut Out Wagner Fighters From War Hero Status And Veteran Benefits

They were offered high salaries, promises of honor, and state welfare. But Wagner Group fighters say Russia treated them like pariahs after they returned from the war in Ukraine.

Photo of a Wagner mercenary in full military gear standing on a rooftop in the Ukrainian city of Artemovsk, near Bakhmut, back in May

A Wagner mercenary stands on a rooftop in the Ukrainian city of Artemovsk, near Bakhmut, back in May

Irina Dolinina

Reports late last month have confirmed that soldiers from the Wagner Private Military Company have returned to the frontlines in Ukraine. Inside Russia, despite the deaths of its leaders, Yevgeny Prigozhin and Dmitry Utkin, the group continues to recruit mercenaries. The new leadership of Wagner entices potential recruits with familiar tactics — offering high salaries, patriotic discourses and dreams of heroism.

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And yet a deepening disillusionment prevails among former Wagner Group fighters, who have faced difficulties obtaining the benefits they were promised. Many have returned from Ukraine with injuries and have been unable to secure disabled status, veteran's certificates, state-funded treatment, or other entitlements pledged to all war participants.

"I returned home in April,” says 38-year-old Alexander from the Bryansk region, whose name has been changed for security reasons. “I stayed at home for a month because I was afraid to go outside. I was wounded, they took out some of the shrapnel and sent me to the front again. There are still fragments in my hand, it is rotting.”

Alexander says he went to the military registration and enlistment office to explain that he had earned a medal for courage, which should give him the right to obtain a veteran’s certificate. "They told me that there are no regulations for obtaining veteran status. I asked: 'What about the presidential decree?' They told me: 'Come on, get out of here.' So I left."

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