A FAREWELL TO UNCERTAINTY? (October 26, 2012)—The forthcoming October 28 parliamentary elections in Ukraine gave the EU a perfect chance to drastically change its previous policy toward the country, which, according to Stefan Meister of Berlin’s DGAP think-tank, was far too focused on Yulia Timoshenko to be effective.
A few days before the election, DGAP and the Eastern Committee for German Economy, said that Germany, as the key European actor in Eastern Europe, has to resume the interrupted EU “association process” with Kyiv. The panel discussion “Ukraine and the EU: Election, Integration and Economic Perspectives” gave floor to those voices that prefer “realist” vision of EU’s Ukrainian policy.
Alexander Kwasniewski, the former president of Poland, took the lead in explaining why the EU has to rethink its current estrangement from Ukraine. On a general note, he said that due to historical reasons it was inappropriate from the outset to expect from Ukraine the tempo of Europeanization, which Central European countries demonstrated in 1990s: “forty years in the socialist camp is not the same as seventy years within the Soviet empire.” Besides, Ukraine’s peripherality within the Soviet Union left its long-standing imprints. Even for Gorbachev, the independence of Ukraine was perceived as artificial, said Kwasniewski, but ultimately the Ukrainians made it.
Then Kwasniewski preempted possible criticism by those who could say that the EU has made many proposals to the Lukashenko regime, but all in vain. In Kwasniewski’s opinion, comparisons between the two countries are inappropriate: Ukrainian identity is much stronger than Belorussian, and political systems of these two neighboring Slavic countries are different.
The Polish ex-president expects that the forthcoming election in Ukraine should be at least not worse than the campaign of 2010. The most he anticipates is more clarity in Ukraine’s attitudes toward Europe: on which side Ukraine is? For Kwasniewski this is the most essential issue against the background of the alleged clarity of the Kremlin’s intentions to redress the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century”- the fall of the Soviet Union. For the Kremlin-designed post-Soviet reintegration Ukraine is more important than Belarus and Kazakhstan. But for the EU Ukraine too is one of the most crucial countries, along with Turkey.
Although Kwasniewski was against drawing parallels between Ukraine and Central Europe, his own country appeared to be an exception. He recalled that the Polish government also had to face its “noisy” opposition to Europe, and then rephrased Pope’s maxim “Poland needs Europe, Europe needs Poland.” Now this appeal should sound as “Ukraine needs Europe, and Europe needs Ukraine.”
Konstantin Grischenko, the Ukrainian foreign minister, remarked at this point that since the Pope nowadays is German, perhaps he ought to say something similar to his compatriots to convince them in European prospects for Ukraine.
Yet, of course, apart from rhetoric, what matters more is a set of legal acts voted in the Ukrainian parliament that anchor Ukraine in the European legal order. But “some forces,” in Grischenko’s words, want to push us in an opposite direction, since they do not believe in Ukraine’s European future.
In a very revealing statement, he mentioned that should Ukraine be eager to partake in the Eurasian integration supervised by Moscow, it won’t be that deeply concerned about improving business climate and legal matters. In the official view of Kyiv, the real test for Ukraine’s European commitments is not the Tymoshenko case (which, as one speaker said, sent a strong signal to the society that democracy is grounded in responsibility), but the legal approximation and fair election. Let us look at the whole picture strategically, Grischenko concluded: the European model of success is being challenged in the world, but we do believe in it.
Günter Verheugen, former Vice President of the European Commission, deplored that the EU for such a long time did not take Ukraine on its own merits and rights, but rather as a part of a strategy aimed at containing Russia. During his time in office, the EU couldn’t give promises to Kyiv because there was no political decision. In Verheugen’s words, nowadays “we have to rid ourselves of ambiguity and say: we want to have Ukraine within the EU as soon as the conditions will be fulfilled. We should not allow the Tymoshenko case to decide the shape of Ukraine’s integration with the EU. Moreover, people in Ukraine itself are less excited about the conviction than we are, because they know that Timoshenko is not an icon of democracy and rule of law,” he argued, and added: “Perhaps, the European Court on Human Rights can decide on the case in accordance with the European law.”
As for the pre-conditions for Ukraine’s EU membership, Verheugen said “they don’t look worse than in some other Central European countries.” In an optimistic scenario, the membership can come true in 2020. Of course, this scenario is not void of geopolitical considerations. Verheugen made it clear that strategic partnership with Russia does not work. “An economic empire sustained by the resources of Gazprom and Transneft is not a promise, but a threat to us. We shouldn’t allow Putin make a choice between dealing with the EU or addressing the key capitals, especially Berlin,” he said.
Romano Prodi, former head of the European Commission, was in full consent with this view. In his careful assessment, the Tymoshenko trial is only a “difficult time” in relations between Kyiv and Brussels. “We shouldn’t leave Ukraine in a vacuum. Think of Poland outside of the EU now. Is it imaginable?” he exclaimed pathetically.
Mevlut Cavusoglu, former head of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), added an important argument to the debate by claiming that this institution is satisfied with the monitoring process at the Ukrainian election campaign. This situation is in a sharp contrast with the crisis in Russia’s relations with PACE as exemplified by the Duma speaker Sergey Naryshkin’s refusal to travel to Strasbourg a few weeks ago.
And, of course, economic arguments do matter. Cornelius Granig, head of “Siemens“ office in Ukraine, reminded us that hundreds of German investors are already in Ukraine, and they do have their business strategies, as exemplified by pilot projects in energy, urban planning and other spheres. But German investors need more – guarantees and further improvements in the business climate.
Alexander Kwasniewski reacted immediately: “There is a correlation between the membership in Western institutions and the attractiveness of a country in international investment markets, as the case of Poland demonstrated.”
And, finally, a couple of voices from Ukraine. Alexei Plotnikov, a member of parliament from the Party of Regions party once again confirmed that European integration is “absolutely our main direction,” and membership in the Customs Union with Russia is out of the agenda.
Kirill Kulikov (“Udar” party) explained why Russia is not an option: “Russian guys know how to put their hands on the budget, energy resources, etc.” Ukraine wishes to be different. The EU adherents of Realpoitik are keen on delivering this message to the whole of Europe.
The Kremlin wanted their partners to become more pragmatic? So they did.
FROM DISILLUSIONMENT TO PRAGMATISM? (October 21, 2012)—A parliamentary panel on Ukraine convened at the Bundestag by the Green Party was one more illustration of Germany’s vivid interest in the forthcoming Ukrainian elections to the Verkhovna Rada.
What unites most German political experts is the comprehension of the lack of due strategy of their country in Eastern Europe in general and in Ukraine in particular. German speakers suggested that Berlin needs to foster continuity and coherence of its policy toward Ukraine, in order to avoid starting from scratch later. Of course, Yanukovych wants to play with the EU the same game Lukashenko plays – “should Europe turn out of us, we’ll fall into Russia’s hands.” Germany loathes to play up to the Ukrainian President and his “Donetsk clan, and in the meantime, as a member of the European parliament Werner Schultz made clear, won’t develop its “own” policy toward Ukraine beyond the EU. The last statement could be interpreted as a call for a value-based approach to Ukraine and avoidance of any interest-based deals with the Yanukovych regime.
Yet what may work better – anchoring Ukraine by the Association Agreement, or – vice versa – putting it on the shelf? Irina Solonenko, an NGO expert from Kyiv (actually in residence at the Vedrina University in Frankfurt) vehemently claimed that the EU should not sign the agreement with Yanukovych. Argument one: this might jeopardize the reputation of the EU as a normative power. Argument two: this will question the “more for more” principle the EU is eager to adhere to in dealing with its neighbors. Argument three: concessions to Ukraine may demoralize Moldova and Georgia where positive changes are much more substantial. Solonenko’s advice was straightforward: “Go ahead with Moldova and Georgia and finalize all paperwork with them until next summit of Eastern Partnership in September 2013. This would be a good sign to reform-minded groups in Ukraine.” This would be a strong political message to Russia as well, I should add.
Another suggestion was to use stronger wording in communicating with Yanukovych. Instead of “factors” under which the Association agreement can be finally signed, the EU should put on the table its “conditions” among which free election and release of political prisoners apparently play the key role.
Yet many Germans want to be pragmatic. They enthusiastically deploy their observers all across Ukraine – but distortion of electoral process may take rather sophisticated forms, mostly developed well before the election day and most likely invisible for outsiders. They agree that apart from Yanukovych and his people, there is a plethora of other interlocutors in Ukrainian civil society for whom Europe is perhaps the most important gravitation point. They expect that the Ukrainian oligarchs will ultimately dislike competing with their Russian counterparts inside their own country. They argue that Ukraine – perhaps – can be a partner of Germany in developing renewable energy sources.
The point that could reconcile German “ideologues” and “pragmatics” is the fact that EU has to raise its attractiveness in the eyes of Ukrainians, and this is something new for both Berlin and Brussels. Unlike in other countries looking for closer association with – and even membership in – the EU, the later has to engage in competitive relations with an alternative source of external attractiveness. This significantly challenges the paradigm of projecting the EU normative order in the form of spill-over effect practiced by the EU in many other countries. In fact, Russia’s role in Ukraine means a political challenge to the EU – a scenario to which the EU does not seem to be properly prepared.
EUROPE AS AN IDENTITY MARKER: AN EXPORT VARIANT (October 18, 2012)—“Ukraine has made its choice once and forever in favor of Europe. It inscribed its European orientation in its legislation. Ukraine wishes to become a full member of the EU, and this point raises no controversies in the society whatsoever.”
If you think that these words belong to Ukrainian opposition, you are wrong. I quoted an opening statement of Yurii Miroshnichenko, President Yanukovych’s representative in the Verkhovna Rada, at a panel discussion “Ukraine in Focus” jointly co-organized by the German Marshall Fund and the German Association for Eastern Europe (DGO) in Berlin.
I am not sure that Mr. Miroshnichenko and other people from the Party of Regions would be such explicitly pro-European when they travel to Moscow. Perhaps not, but this is what multi-vectoral policy is about.
The Berlin panel was meant to convince the German audience in Ukraine’s eagerness to keep integrating with Europe. This is a particularly hard task in Germany, taking into account the harsh reaction of the official Berlin to the imprisonment of Yulia Timoshenko: Angela Merkel not only supported the idea of politically boycotting Ukraine as a co-host of Euro-2012 Football Championship, but equated Ukraine to Belarus in terms of the state of democracy in these two countries.
Yet when state-to-state relations are in decay, public diplomacy may play an important political role. The forthcoming parliamentary election is a perfect chance for Ukraine to remind about itself in the West and raise its international profile. It is in Europe – not in Russia – where the Ukrainian election became a matter of strong political interest, which certainly enhances a pro-European rhetoric of Kyiv.
In formal terms, it seems that Ukraine clearly expressed its commitments to European norms in the process of drafting the Association Agreement and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement. But it turned out that these documents are not sufficient for confirming Ukraine’s belongingness to Europe in a wider axiological sense. The “European choice” is not only about technicalities, but also about adhering to certain political values that the EU demands from its partners. In fact, the whole debate at the panel was about filling the idea of “European choice with due content.
“We need a strong opposition and welcome as many Western observers as possible” – Yurii Miroshnichenko was perfectly aware that these words sound very European. The same goes for his frequent references to his political opponent Andrii Shevchenko as a knowledgeable and constructive professional.
Yet panelists representing the opposition had their own language strategy – they were keen on showing how remote from Europe stays Ukraine under the presidency of Viktor Yanukovych. Shevchenko (‘Batkivschina’ party) told a story of a deplorably un-European Ukraine. Leaders of opposition are in prison – this might indeed sound shocking for European ears. A legislation which intended to introduce criminal persecution for criticizing the government – this is also far away from European standards of free speech. Falsification of recent local elections and politicized justice – all these irregularities” and “imperfections“ add more flavor to the discourse of opposition.
The German audience expanded the list of un-European traits of Ukrainian political scene. One of the speakers upbraided the Ukrainian government for failing to promote gender equality in politics. Definitely, this was another marker of “Europeanness.”
Of course, the strongest reference point in the storyline of allegedly un-European Ukraine was Russia. In Shevchenko’s words, video cameras installed at poll stations to monitor election and vote count is a “wasteful technology imported from Moscow” which may only frighten voters off. Many Germans nodded their agreement. The hasty ratification of Free Trade Area agreement with Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus, as well as the new Language Law have nothing to do with Europeanization either.
Differentiating Ukraine from Russia was one of most important issues for many panelists. Despite many similarities, political process in Ukraine does indeed take its peculiar shape. For example, the forming of a de-facto electoral bloc of the United Opposition and Vitaly Klichko’s “Udar” party, involving deregistration of dozens of candidates to avoid undue competition, is something that Russian democrats failed to achieve for decades.
The panel debate about Ukraine and Europe was not pure talk, it held clear political meaning. As Heike Dorrenbacher (DGO) made clear, the EU message sent to Ukraine is that: no free election – no Association Agreement. As Mikola Kapitonenko (Ukrainian Diplomatic Academy) suggested, “not losing Ukraine is still important for the EU.” Some of the observers who are going to travel to Ukraine became part of the audience, and it is their assessments that will be decisive for accepting the electoral results in Europe.
Andrey Makarychev is a Guest Professor at the Free University of Berlin, blogging for PONARS Eurasia on the Russia-EU neighborhood.