The Eastern Partnership: Raheem Kassam and UKIP are wrong

Daniel Hamilton @danielrhamilton

Over on Breitbart, Raheem Kassam has opened up a rather trad series of UKIPesque attacks on the Prime Minister and his European policy – or, more precisely, the decision to divert £20 million towards the Eastern Partnership’s Good Governance Fund.

Unlike (seemingly) most people, I actually like Raheem, have long enjoyed his mischievous observations on the state of British politics and don’t doubt the sincerity of his views, yet feel it’s important to respond to the specific attacks on the Eastern Partnership policy and explain why it isn’t merely another EU slush fund but an important part of wider western efforts to bring lasting democracy and stability to parts of the world at risk from Russian aggression.

While the policy may be being carried out under the auspices of the European Union, its aims are explicitly supported by NATO, the United States and Canada. Indeed, the suggestion that a Britain outside of the European Union would not still continue to contribute to programmes designed to boost allies in fledgling democracies and/or areas facing external security threats is fanciful.

As a global power (and I understand UKIP wishes for the UK to remain as such), it will always be in the interests of the United Kingdom to divert a portion of our tax revenues to overseas projects – political, military and humanitarian.

I’m happy to address the three specific examples of Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine – and why I think the £20 million the Prime Minister has pledged for these projects is well worth it.

In the Georgia, the country has been a long-term strategic ally and an active contributor to the ISAF coalition in Afghanistan, where the country has provided more troops per capita than any other nation to the struggle against the Taliban. On a domestic level, the internal policing and judicial reforms that begun under the Saakashvili administration and have continued apace under the present Garibashvili government have made the country a safer and more prosperous place, where British firms have found significant commercial opportunities. The country’s physical location – next to Russia, within spitting distance of Iran and on the Black Sea – make it invaluable from military and intelligence perspective.

The west has, however, made a huge number of promises to Georgia that have hitherto not been honoured – particularly in the field of NATO membership and visa-free travel to the EU. The failure to honour explicit pledges has opened up a small, yet sadly growing support base for Moscow-aligned figures such as Nino Burjanadze – who can be expected to enter Parliament at the next election. Continued British and western funding is crucial for the continuation of Georgia’s political realignment – a win for them, a win for us.

In Moldova, three successive governments have demonstrated their commitment to eschewing their past Soviet legacy and pursuing a pro-western path. The country is under the most severe pressure from Russia imaginable; with Russian agents purposefully fermenting ethnic unrest in the autonomous, ethnic Turkic region of Gagauzia and troops continuing to be stationed in the breakaway region of Transnistria which had, until recently, been enjoying a period of detente with Chisinau. Is it seriously in the United Kingdom’s interests to see the undermining of Moldova’s democratically-elected government and its replacement with a puppet administration run from Moscow that will allow the expansion of Russian military installations in the Carpathians? I would argue not – and would suggest Britain taxpayer money is wisely spent in helping to create the appropriate conditions to avoid such a situation.

The reference to Ukraine as a “buffer state” ought, to anyone who has even the slightest smidgen of belief in the power of self-determination for countries, to be met with both insult and derision.

Ukraine has an absolute right to determine its own foreign policy path, independently from both the European Union and broader western alliance and the Russian Federation. The fall of the Yanukovych government – which was removed in an entirely constitutional fashion following a free vote in the Rada – was directly caused by the President’s decision to abandon an established and accepted domestic consensus on closer EU links and pursue, at the last minute, a tawdry trade deal with Vladimir Putin.

The constitutional dismissal of the Yanukovych administration has been followed by two democratic events that have reaffirmed the country’s decision to choose west over east – the election of President Petro Poroshenko and a separate poll which installed a coalition headed by the reformist Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. In the latter of the two polls, both the country’s far-left and far-right were shut out of Parliament and remnants of the Yanukovych clique scored only 9.4%.

Beyond the grim headlines that seem to characterise Ukraine’s global reputation at present, the country’s long-term prospects are strong. The Eastern Partnership has already had a tremendous influence in opening up trading opportunities for Ukrainian and British firms in the mining and textiles sector. Early judicial reforms have led to the arrest and jailing of scores of corrupt bureaucrats and politicians; making this country of 44 million people a more stable and attractive investment destination. Energy market reforms, forged in conjunction with Norway and the EU, will soon see the realisation of “reverse flow” technology for gas supply that will diversify the country away from its dependence on Russia for energy provision – another win-win situation for Ukraine and the west.

In reality, the work has just begun and continues to be complicated by the illegal occupation of Crimea and parts of the east. Measures such as the Good Governance Fund are a crucial part of keeping the reform process on track.

Ukraine has made its choice – and it is for a pro-western path. Talk of “buffer zones” and respecting Russian “spheres of influence” ought to be met with scorn and derision. Whatever happened to UKIP’s much-lauded commitment to self-determination?

Further to this, it appears to have become de rigueur amongst members of the UK Independence Party to allow a perfectly legitimate view that the UK ought to leave the EU to morph into a frankly bizarre sense of paranoia about the organisation’s motives in the Ukraine. The EU is, many of them claim, pursuing a “neo-colonial” agenda and “expanding its military power base” – yet they seem strangely lacking in fist-pumping indigence over Russia’s actual military incursion onto Ukrainian soil; in gross violation of just about every international law, norm and treaty going.

I would ask UKIP members – many of them decent and sincere people – to look at how preposterous they sound when they side with a former KGB official and his violent dictatorship over the EU. As ineffective, bloated, bureaucratic and out-of-touch as the EU is; Juncker isn’t Putin, Mogherini isn’t Lavrov and Tusk isn’t Rogozin.

The UK has always been an outward-looking and overwhelmingly constructive nation on the global stage. Those who believe it must remain so simply cannot allow the conspiracy theories and isolationist tendencies within UKIP to undercut programmes such as the Eastern Partnership and Good Governance Fund. This has nothing to do with the EU and everything to do with democracy.

The £20 million is a good use of British taxpayers’ money. Quote me on that. So be it.

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