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Ukraine’s Sudden Pivot Away from EU Causes Consternation from Brussels to Washington

Released: 12/4/2013 2:00 PM EST
Source Newsroom: American University
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WHO: Keith A. Darden, associate professor American University’s School of International Service

WHAT: Ukraine’s decision to spurn EU trade agreement in favor of Russian strategic partnership, continuing protests, Russia’s interests.

WHEN: December 4 - ongoing

WHERE: Via telephone, in-studio, or at American University

Washington, DC (December 4, 2013) – Why did Ukrainian President Yanukovych reject a pro- Western EU set of accords that took six years to negotiate in favor of deepening relations with Russia? Was it a strategic gambit or Russian President Putin’s signals of cutting off the Ukraine striking a blow to its fragile economy? Did the prospect of higher Russian natural gas prices with the onset of winter cause Yanukovych to cozy up? Or did onerous EU conditions prove to be difficult to implement? Was there more of a threat to Ukrainian democracy from pro-Russia protestors than pro-Western protestors? What does it mean for Ukrainian’s brand of democracy going forward? Is this part of a greater Russian strategy to erect barriers to the Westernization as well as to form new political and trading blocs to provide a counter balance in the region? American University associate professor Keith Darden is among the U.S.’s leading experts and scholars on regional institutions formed among the post-Soviet states. Darden is also an expert on the Ukraine. Specifically, he can discuss regional and national divides along what he calls the “imperial footprint.”

According to Darden the “imperial footprint” can explain why 19th century imperial boundaries are an important factor in 21st century decision making especially in the Ukraine where areas north of the imperial boundary were annexed from Poland are decidedly pro-Western from their fellow Ukrainians to the south and east who favor closer ties to Russia due to tsarist colonization and assimilation of Ukrainians to Russian culture, education and language in the 19th century. Ukraine is a fundamentally divided country across these distinct cultural boundaries.

Darden’s book Economic Liberalism and Its Rivals: The Formation of International Institutions Among the Post-Soviet States (Cambridge 2009) also explains why former Soviet republics joined different trade institutions some making new ties to the West while others choose to align themselves in the Russian customs union with Kazakhstan, Armenia, and Belarus.

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