Ukraine: dazed and confused

Posted on 07. February 2012

by Ulyana Vynyarchuck

ulyana-vynyarchuck-modifiedDazed and confused, in my opinion that’s the way Ukrainian society feels these days. And frankly speaking it’s not all about the woman, namely Mrs.Tymoshenko – the former prime minister of Ukraine. The major concern of the average Ukrainian has more to do with the nation’s self determination in the international arena.

Unlike Switzerland, as an emerging economy with a population of 48 million and with imperial Russia as its Northern neighbour, Ukraine cannot afford the luxury of being politically and economically neutral. Under these circumstances it would mean political suicide for any country. And our partnership options…they aren’t so many.

For the past twenty years, since the renewal of Ukrainian independence, its international strategy resembled a yo-yo most of the time and was formally documented as a “multi-vector” policy. It would have gone on this way for ages if the so called Orange Revolution had not taken place and the new government headed by the above mentioned Mrs. Tymoshenko had not entered into office. Turning a blind eye to financial matters, it really seemed like it was the voice of each and every citizen that made a difference for a while. Strong adherence to European values and integration aspirations were officially declared for the first time. And thus it all began.

An association agreement, free trade area and visa free regime – these were the issues on the table long before the Eastern partnership initiative of 2009.  At the time the initiative started and offered the same cooperation model to 5 more countries in the region (Belarus, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Moldova), Ukraine was able to proudly boast being a front-runner. Few amendments to this optimistic EU-integration scenario were introduced by the next presidential elections in 2010 and the Yanukovich government, which de jure acted in line with the policies defined by its predecessors, still de facto tried to defocus state foreign policy, mostly in the Northern direction.

The big day was expected on December 19th, 2011 during the EU-Ukraine Summit. Both parties were expected to initial the text of the association agreement and I was getting ready to write a blog post on this great success of Ukrainian diplomacy. However the summit is over now. Mr. Barosso and Mr. Van Rompuy are safe and sound back in the “Brussels bubble” and, instead of great advances, Ukrainian media reports of a huge step-back.

Thus I am feeling dazed and confused right now, together with my fellow countrymen. Firstly, because of the momentum lost and secondly, because of my blogpost failure.  No choice left, I decide to do some aftermath reporting on the success that never happened.

Officially, the initialling of the text of the agreement has been postponed due to the violation of civic rights, mainly of those of the former government members. As stated in the Statement by Herman Van Rompuy after his meeting with Ukrainian Civil Society representatives, “The parliamentary elections to be held next year will be a litmus test” of the quality of Ukrainian democracy.1 According to MEP Mr. Marek Siwiec, translating these quotes from Herman Van Rompuy into practice – “until the elections in Ukraine the situation will be frozen.  If they are held at the acceptance of international observers, there is a chance to return to the association agreement”.2 At the same time, the forecast of Ukrainian Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of January 26, 2012 sounds more optimistic saying that we are just weeks away from the initialling of the very agreement that took 4 years (20 rounds) of negotiations and involved 400 officials.3

While political messages are still confusing, the vacuum of EU-Ukraine relations would be a nice opportunity for Moscow to push forward its Eurasian Union idea, which it is hoping to start around 2015. But Russia has little to offer its neighbours except for cheap energy resources. This kind of large scale Union would definitely require some ideological pillars in addition to the economic arguments.  It cannot be built on a puddle of oil and a gas pipe. Luckily, Putin’s Russia seems unable to generate essences and ideas that could lay the grounds for a continental union.

Having said that, I must admit there is a slight chance of the scenario of Ukraine joining the Eurasian Union. It will become a reality only in the case of the total failure of the present regime in Kyiv. Keeping in mind the Belarusian bad practice, any kind of governing power in Ukraine would try its best to escape the same developments.  Moreover, the government representatives specialized in lobbying Russian interests would also prefer to keep the distance between the two countries – otherwise why would Moscow need them.

To wrap it up, I would like to express the hope that our dazedness and confusion will be substituted by clear policies even sooner than the parliamentary elections in autumn this year, if not for the sake of accession, then for the reason of economic integration and standards synchronization with EU.  Despite its internal turmoil and current troubles the EU should not turn its back on the Ukraine but keep its “doors open”.  I’m not alone in thinking so. This vision is also shared by the Head of European Security Department at Washington RAND Center Stephen Larrabee,4 and verified in the Stratfor Annual forecast,5 defining Ukraine’s cooperation with the West as its main tool to resist the institutionalization of Russia’s influence in 2012.

Footnotes

1. Statement by Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, after his meeting with Ukrainian Civil Society representatives, Kyiv (19/12/2011) http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/en/ec/127065.pdf 

2. by (20/12/11) http://mareksiwiec.blogactiv.eu/2011/12/20/ukraine-scenario-for-2012/

3. “Western experts: after the failure of Ukraine – EU Summit nothing has really changed”, BBC Ukraine (26/12/ 2012) http://www.bbc.co.uk/ukrainian/politics/2012/01/120126_eu_ukraine_forum_sd.shtml

4. “Western experts: after the failure of Ukraine – EU Summit nothing has really changed”, BBC Ukraine (26/12/ 2012) http://www.bbc.co.uk/ukrainian/politics/2012/01/120126_eu_ukraine_forum_sd.shtml