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June 26, 2022

Who won Ukraine and ‘a historic mistake’

Until Sunday, two days ago, I was convinced that this week’s column would focus on the problem of Ukraine and its geopolitical reorientation. As it is known, last Thursday, on November 21, the formal announcement was made in Kiev that Ukraine will no longer sign the Association Treaty with the EU, an event scheduled to take place on November 29 in Vilnius, during the summit of the Eastern Partnership. The news made the headlines in Europe and all over the world, because it reveals large-scale tectonic shifts in the international system of states, which must be granted a particular consideration.
Especially as such moves made by important players on the international political chessboard occur at extraordinary speed and have a long-term impact, especially for the immediate neighbours of the respective states, such as Romania and the Republic of Moldova in the case of Ukraine’s change of azimuth.
Add to this another significant event that happened Saturday night on the same chessboard of international politics, whose scale is at least similar to that of the ‘volt-face’ suddenly decided by Ukraine at the last moment: The signing of the nuclear agreement with Iran, hence the solution – at least momentary (six months) – to a puzzle that repeatedly strained international relations over the last decade and recently led to intense discussions about the possibility of launching a military attack against the nuclear facilities of Tehran. Suddenly, temperature reached the boiling point in the Middle East. As a columnist, I found myself in a dilemma: Ukraine, or Mideast? I chose both, given their outstanding importance.
Ukraine meticulously prepared the signing of the agreement of association to the EU, which had been initialled one year ago. Everything seemed already set in place, nothing seemed to possibly change the normal evolution of things. Repeated statements made by Kiev leaders gave even more certainty to this opinion. It is true that, few weeks ago, the EU came with a condition for the respective accord, demanding Kiev to release from prison former premier Yulia Timoshenko, allowing her to go for medical treatments to Germany, but most analysts deemed the request as an obstacle relatively easy to overcome. The destiny of a state willing to associate itself with the EU does not depend on the fate of one person, be it a former political leader of Ukraine. But this matter apparently was underestimated equally by the EU and by Ukrainian rulers. On one hand, the EU was firm in not abdicating from its values – the rock bottom of the ties between member states – which imply the non-enforcement of a selective and politically biased justice, as the former Ukrainian premier was considered such an inadmissible case. On the other, in the Ukrainian Parliament the draft laws that would have allowed – once approved – the implementation of the condition set by the EU did not meet the necessary number of votes, despite the notable efforts of the opposition. Here a few opinions about the reason of this surprise move made by Kiev, which already sparked large-scale rallies of protest staged by the opposition and the partisans of European integration. First, there is talk about the strong pressure put by Moscow, going as far as an alliance between the two Slavic states, sealed by a secret visit made on a Russian military airport (November 9) by Ukrainian President Yanukovich, where he met his Russian counterpart Putin. Another opinion explains this decision through the decision of the Ukrainian president to secure his political survival after 2015, when his term will end, which would be easier in case of a Russian azimuth. Another thesis focuses on the fact that Russia could offer things which were impossible to the West, more precisely money, but not for the Ukrainian state, but for certain groups of interest from this country. Finally, a fourth thesis emphasises Kiev’s inability to fulfil Brussels’s demand about the Timoshenko case, which decided the way to go. A positive element is the quasi-general opinion in the West that this surprise measure is only a road accident and Ukraine will move along its European way. Lee A. Feinstein, an American expert evaluated: “For now, Putin can celebrate the fact that Kyiv will not be moving closer to the EU. But in the long run, there is no doubt that Ukraine’s future lies in adopting standards and practices that would enable it to have a closer association with Europe.” In the same note, we should remark that, without Ukraine’s signature, the initialling of the association accord between the EU, on one hand, and R. Moldova and Georgia on the other will turn the confirmation of the European way of these two countries into a succes of the Eastern Partnership summit of Vilnius.
Moving to last weeks’ second event of systemic scale, the agreement concluded by ‘the six’ (five members with right of veto of the UN Security Council plus Germany) with Iran on November 24 in Geneva, the international press mentioned three main reasons for achieving it. First, because the new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani needed to certify his commitment made during the electoral campaign, about alleviating the international sanctions against his country in order to reinvigorate the economy. The sanctions enforced upon Iran by the international community had dramatic consequences for the living standards of the population, which expects a rapid improvement of the situation. The second reason is related to the fact that, according to Western experts, Iran has advanced so much with its military nuclear programme that the summer of 2014 would have been too late to negotiate its interruption, because Tehran would have been just weeks away from building the atom bomb. Finally, the third reason is that the US Congress, now dominated by a majority hostile to such an accord with Iran, has prepared new sanctions that would have come into effect after the end of this month, making negotiations impossible.
On the other side of the barricade, Israel, a firm opponent of this accord, which it considers “a historic mistake,” although it is concluded only for six months, which will allow Iran to demonstrate its good faith, claims that Tehran keeps intact its nuclear capabilities and is authorised to continue the uranium enrichment operations. This compromises the chances of future negotiations to end the construction of the future Iranian atom bomb. Israeli Premier Netanyahu said Sunday: “Today the world became a much more dangerous place because the most dangerous regime in the world made a significant step in obtaining the most dangerous weapons in the world” and specified that his country is not bound by this accord. An Israeli expert however expained that Israel is indestructibly connected to the West. It is worth mentioning that Netanyahu warned that Israel has the undisputable right to “defend itself by itself,” an allusion to the possibility of a military action against the nuclear facilities of Iran. As it is known, Jerusalem considers Iran as “an existential danger” given the statements made by Tehran officials referring to the historic creation and destruction of Israel. In its turn, Saudi Arabi, too, does not seem pleased with the signing of this agreement and experts in the problems of the region speak about the possibility of starting a nuclear race in the region, as Ryadh multiplied its links with Pakistan in view of purchasing atomic weapons.
In the case of this event, too, international opinions are divided. The important thing however is that securing the rights to existence of all states requires firm guarantees with this regard, especially in the case of the states that feel threatened (like Israel), and this must be a top priority of the international community.

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