Geopolitics

EU Or Russia? Ukraine's Future Can Lead One Way, Or The Other

The first question in European capitals remains: freedom for Yulia Tymoshenko

The Museum of the Great Patriotic War in Kiev
The Museum of the Great Patriotic War in Kiev
Maksim Yusin

KIEV - Ukraine is being pulled in two directions -- on the one hand, towards Russia and its so-called Customs Unions, on the other towards the European Union. Time is running out for Kiev to decide which path to take.

According to Christopher Weil, the German ambassador in Ukraine, freeing Yulia Tymoshenko would be extremely welcome to EU members, and would likely be a major step towards an agreement between Brussels and Kiev -- a precursor to Ukraine’s integration into the European Union.

Weil said that if Tymoshenko is released, an agreement could be signed as soon as November, during a planned summit of the “Eastern Partnership,” an organization of former Soviet-block countries that are potential candidates for EU members.

This would only be the first step in a long process towards membership in the European Union. It’s not clear how many years, or decades, eventual membership might take for Ukraine. Right now, Europe is only offering initial observer status, rather than full participation in the elite club, and with uncertainty about the longterm conditions of joining. On the other hand, if Ukraine were to sign on to Russia's trade pact, it would immediately have the same rights and standing as all of the other members.

It might seem natural to opt for the latter, but there are good arguments in favor of Europe, starting with the fact that the total market of the EU is nearly ten times as large as that of the Customs Union, which is made up of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Still, there is no existing market for Ukrainian goods in the European market, and the country’s large agricultural sector would likely come under strict control, while there are still economic connections that date back to Soviet times between Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. Finally, Russia has made it very clear that entering its Customs Union is absolutely necessary if Ukraine wants lower gas prices.

While all this is going on, the country’s economic situation grows desperate. Although politicians strike an optimistic tone in public, in conversations with Kommersant, local and national leaders all admitted the dire situation.

“There is no money in the country. Pretty soon the government won’t have the resources to pay salaries or pensions," said political scientist Konstantin Matvienko. "Neither the IMF or Russia is in a rush to provide a line of credit. The European Union also has its own problems to worry about. The situation is looking like a dead end.”

Dictating conditions

Viktor Yanukovich continues to negotiate between Moscow and Brussels, looking for the best conditions. But the problem is that nobody is that excited to be negotiating with Kiev. Both Russia and the EU are just dictating their conditions -- the Kremlin wants Ukraine to enter the Customs Union, the EU wants political liberalization and freedom for Yulia Tymoshenko.

According to experts, mercy for his most important political competitor is not part of Yanukovich’s plans. Instead, he is already looking ahead to the next national elections, which aren't until 2015. “In a situation where the standard of living is falling and discontent is rising, the only way to win the election is to shatter the opposition, weaken it, and bring the most odious of the opposition representatives to the second round of voting, so that next to him or her Yanukovich will seem like the lesser evil,” says Ukrainian political scientist Dmitrii Ponamarchuk.

Of all the opposition figures, the most “odious” is obviously Oleg Tyagnyibok, the head of the ultra-nationalist movement called "Freedom", which got more than 10 percent of the vote in the parliamentary elections last October. With his extreme anti-Russian sentiments, Tyagnyibok undoubtedly will repel most of the electorate in the Russian-speaking southeast, as well as a large part of the Ukrainian-speaking center.

Freeing Tymoshenko, as the EU insists, could spoil everything. The "Princess" of Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution is still the most important symbol of opposition to Yankovich and his partners. If allowed to run, she has a decent chance of coming out ahead of Tyagnyibok, making it to the second round and winning over Yanukovich. That is why Ukrainian President is unlikely to play by the rules Berlin and Brussels are dictating. Alternative solutions include Yanukovich agreeing to let Tymoshenko off, but delaying her release until after the elections are over.

Either way, we can be sure that Europe will be watching -- and Russia too.

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Society

Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.


The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.

Hollandse-Hoogte/ZUMA

Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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