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18th Aug 2018

Column / Crude World

Why the Dutch referendum on Ukraine is a joke

  • "Make the difference," read GeenPeil flyers to vote No to the EU-Ukraine agreement. If they do not care about Ukraine, the Dutch government should ignore the results of the referendum altogether. (Photo: GeenPeil)

On 6 April the Netherlands will vote on the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement.

It is a treaty of the kind the EU has with many countries: think Moldova, Jordan, Chile, and many others. None of these countries is an EU member, nor will they become one anytime soon. Interestingly, not a soul raised a finger back when these agreements were negotiated.

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For that reason, it is ever more curious as to why the people behind the upcoming referendum are making such a fuss about the agreement with Ukraine. With astonishment do I look at the arguments presented as truths by the ‘no camp’. Increasingly, these ‘arguments’ are identical to those posed by Russian state media.

Recently, the organisation known as ‘GeenPeil’, one of the chief organisers of the referendum, stated in a campaign flyer that “Ukraine is a country suffering from a civil war where fascist militias roam the streets”. It is for this reason that the people from the Netherlands should vote against “open borders with a country in a state of war”.

I invite you to google the websites of RT (the former Russia Today) and Sputnik News for an afternoon. Believe me, you will come across many similar statements. Surprising? Not really.

It is interesting to see that two years after Russia’s annexation of Crimea that both GeenPeil, as well as the Kremlin appear to suffer from amnesia. After all, the forceful annexation of part of a sovereign nation’s territory by another state is quite clearly an example of an interstate conflict.

The suggestion that Ukraine suffers from a civil war is therefore not only factually incorrect, it is also a grave insult to all those people who lost their lives in the past two years.

The remark about “open borders” is dubious to say the least.

Yes, Ukrainians will get visa-free travel. The maximum duration however will be 90 days only. Work visas will still be required and will be processed separately. Therefore the claim of "open borders" is a clear lie.

Kremlin fabrication

The remark about “fascist militias roaming the streets” shows immediate parallels with what Russian state media churned out at the time of the Crimea referendum in March 2014.

The people were given a choice: do you want a Nazi dominated peninsula (with matching map in blood red colour adorned by a swastika)? Or, would you rather have a peaceful and happy peninsula under Russian control (set against a loving baby blue background)?

The suggestion that Ukraine is overrun by fascists is ludicrous and a known Kremlin fabrication. Tellingly, at Ukraine’s last parliamentary election the far-right Right Sector party managed to win only a single seat.

Another trump card of the GeenPeil campaign is that Ukraine is a corrupt country, and for that reason we should not conclude an agreement.

Ukraine is indeed corrupt; this is nothing new, and the release of the Panama Papers puts Poroshenko in an illustrious group consisting of Russia's Vladimir Putin, Azerbaijan's Ilham Aliyev and other post-Soviet rulers.

Absurd policy

However, one should not forget that the prime reason behind the Maidan protests was that ordinary Ukrainians, above all young people, are tired of precisely this way in which their country is run. They desperately want change.

The Association Agreement helps to strengthen the rule of law, to improve human rights and to fight off this kind of corruption. Also, for the EU it would be a welcome change if a country on its border would be better governed and more stable.

The arguments brought forward by GeenPeil in fact demonstrate that they want Ukraine to remain a corrupt and poorly governed nation. To willingly want a neighbouring country to remain corrupt is, quite frankly, a policy bordering on the absurd.

Unsurprisingly, this stance resonates perfectly with what Putin wants. Surely you do not believe that Putin wants a Ukraine that is better governed and pro-European?

After all, it was Putin himself who offered the former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych a sack of money if he would turn down the Association Agreement.

Do not forget that a better governed Ukraine with rising living standards implies millions more critical eyes on the decisions made by Putin and his cronies back home. Ever since Maidan occurred, Putin and co. have done their utmost to sow chaos and division within Ukrainian society.

Self-proclaimed guardians of democracy

The Dutch, of all people, should be well aware of the consequences of such tactics as so many of our countrymen lost their lives on that fateful day in July 2014. If you choose to vote against the agreement, it basically means you want Ukraine to remain in a state of chaos.

Last week several of the people behind the referendum were interviewed by NRC Handelsblad, a Dutch daily.

In the interview they stated that they “could not care less about Ukraine”. The real motivation for the referendum is to create momentum for the Netherlands to one day leave the EU altogether.

Of course this did not come as a shock to me. But still, from an organisation that has ‘save democracy!’ as its motto it is appalling how they not only lied to the whole nation, but are willing to thwart the future of 45 million Ukrainians in the process.

What is more, the fact that 28 of the 29 nations involved stand ready to implement the agreement and only a small group in one country is against, can hardly be described as something representative of democratic decision-making.

Illustrative of their character and willingness to stand up for what they believe in, these self-proclaimed guardians of democracy did not even have the guts to have their picture taken for the interview.

The result of the referendum is not binding. It would merely advise the Dutch government on which course of action to take.

Knowing that the organisers of the referendum willingly lied about their intentions and are not the least bit interested in Ukraine, the referendum as such is not about Ukraine at all.

That also means that the organisers should have no interest whatsoever in whether the agreement with Ukraine is ratified - after all, they said so themselves that they do not care.

If I were the Dutch government, I would therefore give them exactly what they ask for and ignore the results of the referendum altogether.

The Crude World monthly column on Eurasian (energy) security and power politics in Europe’s eastern neighbourhood is written by Sijbren de Jong, a strategic analyst with The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies (HCSS), specialised in Eurasian (energy) security and the EU’s relations with Russia and the former Soviet Union

The Dutch rooting for a No in the Ukraine referendum

Next week, the Dutch will cast their opinion on the EU-Ukraine association agreement. While the Yes side is fairly uniform in its composition and logic, the No side is a motley crew. Who are they?

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