January 12, 2009

What Will a New Ukraine Be Like?

“Ukraine is too big, too poor and too Soviet to integrate with Europe” – this was a widely held view among EU mainstream politicians. It is time to replace this gloomy paradigm with a positive one.

“Ukraine is too big, too poor and too Soviet to integrate with Europe” – this was a widely held view among EU mainstream politicians. It is time to replace this gloomy paradigm with a positive one.

What Will a New Ukraine Be Like?

Grygoriy Nemyria
“Ukraine is too big, too poor and too Soviet to integrate with Europe” – this was a widely held view among EU mainstream politicians. It is time to replace this gloomy paradigm with a positive one.
Viktor Yushchenko is the new President of a new Ukraine. This is the main outcome of the unbelievable thirty-five days of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution that changed the country. The Ukrainians reinvented themselves as a nation; Ukrainian society rediscovered itself as a civil society. It is not a Sleeping Beauty anymore, waiting to be awakened. Homo sovieticus has died peacefully in Ukraine.
Having closely followed the developments in Ukraine during the last two months, the West has already received answers to the questions, “Who is Mr Yanukovych?” and “Who is Mr Yushchenko?” The next question that needs an answer is: “What will a new Ukraine be like?”
The unfinished revolution in Ukraine in the early 1990s resulted in an unhealthy continuity of the elites. The Ukrainian leadership became a strange mix of old nomenklatura and red directors with a twist of national democrats and oligarchs. This marriage of apparatchiks and dissidents gave birth to the independent state of Ukraine – a child in poor health, vulnerable to the cold winds of authoritarianism. It took some time – almost fourteen years – to grow up and to develop a taste for democracy and immunity to the viruses of post-Soviet authoritarianism.
The legacy of the past (location on the periphery of empires; the “younger brother” complex; Soviet political culture; the Chernobyl trauma) came into conflict with some very meaningful achievements of the present (violence has been avoided; the Crimean problem has been solved peacefully; liberal language policy). Civil society with a potential for self-organization and solidarity has emerged together with a previously unknown phenomena of a young middle class that is willing to defend its interests.
Ukraine’s outgoing President Kuchma chose Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych as his successor, thereby indicating his wish to maintain the status quo. In terms of foreign policy, the status quo meant pursuing the so-called multi-vector policy, which was a product of Kuchma’s favourite strategy of “milking two cows” – the West and Russia – at the same time. In his turn, the presidential candidate – to ensure his electoral victory – invented what might be called the “Yanukovych cocktail” that had three main ingredients: first, administrative resources; second, the harassment of NGOs, the media and the opposition; and third – and this is where Mr Putin comes in – a helping hand from Russia. This typical post-Soviet “drink” had an immediate effect on the Ukrainians – it outraged them.
It seems that President Putin with his awkward gesture of prematurely recognizing Yanukovych as the next President of Ukraine overestimated the attractiveness of his own personality and the significance of Russia’s help for Ukrainian voters. And, even more importantly, he grossly underestimated two other factors: the ability of the West – the EU and the United States – to respond quickly and coherently with one voice and, last but not least, the maturity of Ukraine’s civil society. At a critical time during this political crisis, it was Ukraine’s vibrant civil society that proved to be more mature and able to bring democratic change than the governmental institutions and the ruling elite.
An in-depth analysis, however, would reveal even further differences in the very fabric of society. The Ukrainians do not feel the neo-imperial/superpower appeal, while in Russia those sentiments play a crucial role in Mr Putin’s nation building project together with Russia’s need to dominate its “near abroad”. Ukraine does not advocate the “security vs. democracy” discourse that is fuelled by Russia’s Chechnya syndrome. In Ukraine, people have more trust in political competition.
So, Huntington has been defeated in Ukraine. It is not the clash of civilizations that matters. It is rather the clash of (mis)perceptions. While the debate among Europeans over the issue of Turkey centred around the claim that it is “too big, too poor and too Muslim to integrate with Europe”, Ukraine’s problem was its image. It was perceived as a country that is too big (with its territory of 603,700 sq. km. and 48.4 million inhabitants, Ukraine is larger than France and the fifth country in Europe by population), too poor (its GDP per capita is slightly more than a third of the average for the ten new EU member states) and, of course, too Soviet to be considered a serious candidate for EU membership. This is why there have been, until recently, many different approaches to Ukraine’s future, ranging from strategic partnership and fulfilling the role of a buffer zone to complete indifference. Ukraine has firmly occupied a peripheral place in the mental map of EU bureaucrats who have been suffering from the so-called Ukraine fatigue. In general, European mainstream politicians have comfortably reconciled themselves to the increasing institutionalization of Ukraine’s peripheral status, treating it as a country that “muddles through” on the margins of Europe. The Orange Revolution undermined this pattern, making it totally irrelevant. While still being big (actually, it is the largest European country, excluding Russia, which is also a Eurasian power) and relatively poor, Ukraine is not Soviet anymore. Furthermore, it creates a healthy dynamism that could reinvigorate not just Ukraine itself together with its neighbours – Belarus and Russia – but the broader Black Sea region and the entire former Soviet space as well.
The West and the EU would therefore be acting in a misleading way, if they continued to pursue the same vision, strategy and policy with respect to the former Soviet space, seeing it as a predominantly homogeneous area of uncertain prospects, an area that requires “special” arrangements and does not fulfil any membership requirements. We are calling for a re-examination of the approach towards the countries of the region and their current and future roles in shaping a new united Europe.
Mr Yushchenko will need to strengthen the social drive and momentum for domestic political change. In order to do that, he must make sustained efforts to further the rule of law, to fight corruption and to speed up the modernization of Ukraine’s economy. At the same time, we must push ahead with a painful overhaul of the government and fasten the pace of the Constitutional reform. Mr Yushchenko’s foreign policy strategy will centre on the following goals: integration into the EU and NATO and strategic partnership with Russia. As a result, Ukraine will, at long last, abandon its counterproductive “multi-vector” foreign and security policy. On the basis of innovative ideas, it will elaborate active and consistent policies both towards the Euro-Atlantic community and the Russian Federation.
This means that in current circumstances the challenge for both the West and Ukraine is to successfully manage the overlapping areas of integration, which include: (1) the enlargement of the EU and NATO; (2) Russia, the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Single Economic Space; and (3) the re-definition of the Black Sea region. Needless to say, the next two or three years will be critical for the long-term positioning of Ukraine.
One of the by-products of the Orange Revolution was that the United States, the “core” EU countries and the new EU member states effectively seized the opportunity to contribute to the joint efforts to improve transatlantic relations. In addition, it was Ukraine’s Orange Revolution that allowed the EU to exercise its “soft power” in a timely and effective manner. It was the EU that played the leading role in the international mediation of Ukraine’s political crisis together with other legitimate actors, including the OSCE, the United States, Poland and a reluctant Russia. It was one of the very rare occasions when the EU managed to pursue its common foreign policy successfully.
Now, paradoxically, it is the new post-revolutionary Ukraine that is better positioned than any other country in the region to contribute to a much needed constructive rethinking of the EU’s approach towards Putin’s Russia, which is becoming ever more authoritarian. For a long time, Ukraine was seen – especially by France and Germany – as a negative rather than a positive factor in the EU’s vision of Russia and its place in Europe. The negativism was partially due to the Ukrainian leadership’s haphazard efforts in the early 1990s – efforts that rightfully failed – to make Ukraine the West’s bulwark against Russia. At the same time, the West has generally considered Russia to be a country that is too close to the West to be neglected, too nuclear and too rich in oil and gas to let it be irritated. In the new context of positive and peaceful domestic political changes, Ukraine has every chance of re-gaining a constructive image rather than becoming a destructive factor in the pan-European vision and strategy towards Russia. Accordingly, it would be best if their bilateral relations were based on a strategic partnership between “a democratic and prosperous Ukraine and a great Russia”, provided that the “greatness” would not include a veto power over each other’s foreign policy choices. Naturally, under these conditions, the Ukrainian-Russian relationship will become a complementary factor, if not a component in the strategic partnership between the EU and Russia for the next decade.
In addition, this new Ukrainian-Russian relationship will be a step towards a new beginning in the Ukrainian-EU relationship. Ukraine was the first post-Soviet country to sign a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the European Union (in June 1994). The Strategy of Ukraine’s Integration into the European Union adopted in June 1998 stipulates: “The national interests of Ukraine require identification of Ukraine as an influential European country, a full-fledged EU member.”
As the enlargement of the EU has become imminent and the debate over a wider Europe has started, several possible scenarios for “Ukraine’s return to Europe” and for further development of the relationship between Ukraine and the EU have been put forward.
– First scenario: The status quo option. The existing format of contractual relations in the form of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) will be maintained. It could be modified into a PCA+ by including in the Agreement the issues concerning security and defence policy and justice and home affairs. Inclusion of the prospect of membership in such a format is unlikely.
– Second scenario: The tactical alternative. The existing contractual relations will be modernized and after the implementation of the EU-Ukraine Action Plan, a Neighbourhood Agreement between Ukraine and the EU will be signed in accordance with the policy that Ukraine will have everything “but EU membership”.
– Third scenario: The strategic alternative. The format of contractual relations will be modernized and an Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU will be signed, whereas the Agreement will contain a clear reference to the prospect of Ukraine’s EU membership. It might be somewhat similar to the Europe Agreements. The difference would be that the preconditions and stages of integration would be set out more precisely in the form of reinforced mechanisms of monitoring and structural political dialogue. Completion of each stage would open up more possibilities to use EU resources by participating in its programmes that are accessible for EU member states and candidate countries. The last stage to be envisaged by the Association Agreement might entail the recognition of the associated neighbouring country as a candidate country with the prospect of carrying out negotiations concerning accession. The Association Agreement would thus not offer the prospect of membership in the nearest future, but would not exclude such a perspective in general. It could be signed in 2007/08, subject to the start of consultations and negotiations in 2005/06.
In any case, the problem of timing and content should be dealt with. The factor of time will depend not only on the milestones in the relationship between Ukraine and the European Union, for example, the accession of new countries (2007/08) and the expiry of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (on March 1, 2008). Some events may be just as important, even though they might not have any direct bearing on the format of Ukraine’s cooperation with the EU. Such catalytic events were the presidential elections and the Orange Revolution. When there is a lack of internal dynamics in bilateral relations, these kinds of events and personalities may either reduce or increase the chances of integration and create a climate for success. For example, let us take the opposite roles that two French presidents – General de Gaulle and Pompidou – had in the process of Great Britain’s accession to the European Community in the 1960s and 1970s or the affect of the “Meciar factor” on the European and Euro-Atlantic prospects of Slovakia in the1990s.
It is evident that the EU has been reluctant to formulate a too detailed position towards Ukraine, which would be too promising or too rigid and thus restrict its room for manoeuvre in the future. On the other hand, paradoxically, this has served the interests of Ukraine, which has been asking for more than it can chew. Ukraine’s actions have been dangerous not only politically, but also psychologically. Normally, the possibilities of any country outside the EU to influence its decisions and actions are very limited. If a problem cannot be solved now, it should be postponed. Additional efforts should be made to create better conditions for solving it in the future. It seems that Ukraine’s Orange Revolution has created the necessary conditions for upgrading its relationship with the EU. At the recent EU summit, Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, and Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the new Commissioner for External Relations, were asked to produce additional offers to show that the EU is serious about Ukraine. Some member states have already taken steps in this direction. Denmark will re-open its embassy in Kyiv. The Baltic states together with Poland and other Central and East European countries – the new EU member states – have expressed their determination to act as advocates for Ukraine in the EU and NATO. Ukraine needs to exploit fully this new window of opportunity and to strengthen its efforts to integrate with Euro-Atlantic institutions.
Independence Square or simply Maidan has become known throughout the world as the epicentre of the Orange Revolution with its tent city and 300,000 demonstrators. European Square (Yevropeyskaya) is close by, only 100 steps away. This is where the Ukrainian House (Ukrainsky Dom) is located. It used to be Lenin’s Museum and was turned into the “castle of the revolution” that hosted tens of thousands of people day and night. The visible proximity of those two squares – Independence and European Squares – is encouraging in its symbolism. The Ukrainian people have learned from personal experience that there is a clear link between the two. The achievement of independence and the following years were just the first small steps in the right direction. Yet Ukraine has a dismal record of frustrating setbacks. The five weeks of the Orange Revolution constituted a huge leap forward. And although the revolution was necessary, it was not enough. A very difficult and bumpy road towards Europe lies ahead. Ukraine needs solidarity and support at this critical juncture in its history.
Grygoriy Nemyria is Director of the Centre for European and International Studies in Kyiv.

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