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19 December, 2013

What Happened to Ukraine?

The EU should apply a softer and wiser approach to Ukrainian society in terms of freedom of movement. No Ukrainian citizen should feel a poor cousin in EU countries

What happened to Ukraine? Nothing that might have come as a shock. Russia applied a classical strategy, yet we would hardly know whether the sticks dominated over the carrots, or the other way around.

To put it simply, this would be the question as to whether the Kremlin promised to ruin Ukraine’s economy – provided the Verkhovna Rada should have decided to pass all the necessary pieces of legislation needed to send a message to the EU and to Germany in particular that Ukraine qualified for the club the Vilnius Summit would be much of a formality, or whether it pledged its old allegiances to Viktor Yanukovych reassuring him that he remains the only choice of Russia’s political elite or, to be more precise, of its power structure - the siloviki or law enforcers.

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Whatever the case, this slap in the face of the EU as well as this blow to all European friends of Ukraine dealt by the Parliament and President of the country would never have been possible had the EU been more flexible, proactive, aggressive, and realistic. The humiliation that Russia inflicted on the EU was preceded by zero judgment and zero policies with regard to Ukraine from Germany, France, Italy, and Spain, to name just a few major players of the club.

The fact remains that we in the EU did nothing. Our complacency and vanity merited the words of the French philosopher and writer Pascal Bruckner who described the EU as a vain and lazy political entity that lives in a fairy-tale refusing to confront the facts and to look reality in the eye. That Germany and France have no policy on Ukraine is too obvious to need emphasis. That the Eastern Partnership program was initiated primarily as a German compromise after the Russo-Georgian war is also quite evident.

That without the Baltic States (especially Lithuania with its presidency over the EU Council and passionate advocacy of the Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine), Poland, and Sweden, the whole program would have been little more than sheer formality, is also a banal truth. The question arises then as to why on Earth the EU should have been so disappointed and shocked by Viktor Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the Association Agreement?

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No matter how strongly we feel against selective justice and corruption in Ukraine, the idea to make the entire Ukrainian nation a hostage of the Yanukovych-Tymoshenko war confining Germany to the decision of the Verkhovna Rada concerning the release of Yulia Tymoshenko from jail to undergo her medical treatment in Germany appears as a naughty joke or at best as a foolish political game with indifference of the public opinion in Germany with regard to Ukraine, merely simplifying the whole matter to a seemingly Manichean divide between good and evil, which itself is nothing but nonsense. Nobody is and nobody ever was an angel in this story of hostility, rivalry, and political vengeance.

That the EU overlooked and missed an historic opportunity to foster the real rapprochement with Ukraine straight after the Orange Revolution when Ukraine was more European in its faith and value orientation than any other European nation in the so-called Old Europe, is obvious to anyone. However, there is little wisdom in self-flagellation and bitter self-criticism when a concrete action is needed right away. What is to be done then? Here is comes – an old good (or cursed if you will) Russian question.

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The EU must immediately warn Russia that no Eastern Partnership country is its property or zone of influence in the old sense of this concept. Russia must reject its geopolitical fantasies to restore the Soviet Union without the Baltic States (or with them in the EU as a fast lane to deal with EU funds and projects). Failing that, the EU must question the status of Russia as a member of the Council of Europe. Otherwise, the future of Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Armenia and other Eastern Partnership countries will always remain uncertain due to frozen conflicts, intimidation, blackmail, and other means with which Russia tends to torpedo any disobedient neighboring state.

At the same time, the EU has to apply different strategies and even vocabularies to Ukraine’s political elite and civil society. Whereas the elite and the government need to be pressurized by the EU concerning their European commitments and obligations, Ukrainian civil society, intellectuals, writers, academic, and students should benefit at last from visa-free regime and exchange programs. Future leaders and interlocutors of Ukrainian politics have to spend as much time in Europe as they want and can.

We should apply a softer and wiser approach to Ukrainian society in terms of freedom of movement. No Ukrainian citizen should feel a poor cousin in EU countries. That’s the only way we can overcome the internal divide of the country which is split into those who are craving for the EU, and those who are skeptical (and not without reason, to say the truth) about their chances to pass for fellow Europeans in the EU.

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Up to now we have no Eastern European policies. The old German Ostpolitik was about the Kremlin, rather than Russians, Ukrainians, or any other nation that suffered under the duress of Soviet oppression. Germany is still emulating that same worn-out politics whose essence always was how to get as close to the Kremlin as once was Harold Wilson, Prime Minister of Great Britain.

Yet the time has come to reveal Ukraine, instead of trying to win the favor of the Kremlin.    


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