Four years ago, the semblance of an election in Ukraine would have attracted considerable attention from European mass media and even American media. As it stands, yesterday’s first round of a Ukrainian presidential election passed with little notice in European mainstream media and hardly any attention in the United States. Russia’s internationally media was almost as muted with domestically aimed Russian media being the only mass media to give the election coverage outside of Ukraine.
The absence of media attention in Ukraine may be down to reportage fatigue. As the events of Ukraine beginning in late 2013 were the story in European mass media, perhaps people have just become tired of the issue as is prone to happen in an age of overs-saturated 24/7 satellite and online news channels. But when it comes to Ukraine, there appears to be something more at hand.
Just as Donald Trump hopes to turn the DPRK into a showpiece of reformed market economics within the framework of a once explicitly anti-capitalist and anti-American political system, so too did the European Union hope to transform Ukraine from a post-Soviet ultra-corrupt oligarch/mafia run basket case into a functional state that would resemble some of the relative economic success stories of the most dynamic post-communist EU member states.
But five years after the pro-EU coup in Kiev, Ukraine retains all of the problems it had before the coup and has gained many new problems including an even worse economy, an even bigger population drain, civil war (the Donbass conflict), more expensive energy prices, more violence in politics and no significant European cash injections to rectify the mess.
Thus, while the two front-runners in the election are both deeply pro-European, neither the discredited Petro Proshenko or comedian turned political newcomer Volodymyr Zelenskiy are offering genuine alternatives to the status quo. Poroshenko literally is the status quo and Zelenskiy is something of a fresher mask on a similar face, albeit one that has projected slightly less hostility to native Russian speakers vis-a-vis Poroshenko, a man who insists on speaking Ukrainian even though it is an open secret that he is more personally comfortable speaking Russian.
For Europe, no matter who wins the second round of votes later this month, nothing will change. Europe will still offer largely empty statements of support for whomever wins, but no economic miracles will be coming Kiev’s way via Brussels. First of all, Brussels has its own financial problems to consider as the overall EU economy slows down. The EU also has Brexit to worry about. Secondly, many in Europe privately know that throwing money at Kiev will do little to transform a political system where cash injections do little other than entrench the existing class of oligarchs, many of whom have assets in both Russia and the EU. Perhaps oddly, neither Moscow nor Brussels appears to care about this seemingly contradictory reality. It is as those mutual lethargy has set in on either side of Ukraine’s borders.
When taken as a whole, it appears that Europe has simply lost interest in Ukraine beyond a taking point used to justify the de rigueur imposition of sanctions against Russia. That being said, as the west now has other excuses at its disposal when it comes to placing more sanctions on Russia (Venezuela, US election issues, the Sergey Skripal saga), Ukraine is even losing its purpose as the go-to excuse for more sanctions on Russia.
After the failure of the Eurozone to elevate southern Europe out of comparative poverty, after the failure of the EU to stop Donald Trump from economically isolating Iran from western markets and after a Brexit process that continues to leave much egg on many faces, the EU self-evidently needs something to hold up as a success. The fact that EU officials are not even pretending that Ukraine’s election is symbolic of an EU owned and authored success story is symptomatic of just how little enthusiasm the EU has for a country on its borders that it helped to transform from bad to worse.
Finally, while Ukraine used to be a political prize to be won either by Brussels (and the US) or Moscow, now both Russia and the west seem to be losing interest for the simple reason that neither side wants to plough money into a black hole. This is why Russia has largely abandoned Donbass to its own devices and it is why the west has abandoned Kiev in all but name.