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26 September, 2013 16:18   ▪  

Adam Reichardt: Shedding the Soviet skin is a long and painful, but Ukraine should do it

Opening up European markets to Ukraine and vice versa could be potentially a game-changer in the Eastern European region, Adam Reichardt, editor-in-chief of New Eastern Europe, urges in his article.

“We should not treat the countries of the former Soviet Union the same way that we treated the countries of Central Europe (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia). There is an alternative for the Eastern European states. It is an alternative based on contemporary history and culture, but also on geopolitics and realpolitik”, - Adam Reichardt, says. This is because of  public opinion. In many of the Eastern Partnership countries Eurasian Union as well as the EU has a support. The other important issue is Euro-skepticism which is on a rise at the time of economic crisis in Europe, in this case a ‘reintegration with Russia may not look like such a bad idea’.

 

“The biggest Elephant in the East remains Ukraine, the largest of these countries. For both Europe and Russia, Ukraine is still considered to be the big prize …Opening up European markets to Ukraine and vice versa could be potentially a game-changer in the Eastern European region”, expert says  

“It is true that many inside the Kremlin still see the region through the prism of the old Soviet Union; while others fear the PR backlash of “losing” Ukraine and other former Soviet States to Europe and the damage that this would cause to Russia’s global position (or its efforts to reposition itself as a leader of Eurasia). However, Russia stands to lose economically if it cannot convince Ukraine to join its customs union”, Adam Reichardt admits.

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Hence, “Ukraine has painted itself into a corner with only two options: choose Europe and expect (maybe) long-term growth, but at a cost of conforming to European norms, including stronger democratization and more human-rights protections, while at the same facing fierce reprisals from Moscow; or don’t sign the pact, join the Russian customs union with very few strings attached, but brace for serious political and social backlash by those pro-European (or at least anti-Russian) Ukrainians. The regime and the oligarchs of Ukraine pragmatically understand this choice and have weighed their options. In all likelihood we will probably see the Tymoshenko case resolved, albeit somewhat grudgingly”, polish experts says and believes that agreements will be signed in Vilnius.

“The ball is now in President Viktor Yanukovych’s court. Should he decide to take Ukraine one baby-step closer to Europe, we may be looking back on 2013 as a pivotal moment”, - Adam Reichardt urges.

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However, he says we must remember that “for the elephant in the East, a lot of work will remain to be done. The agreements will need to be ratified by the Ukrainian parliament as well as by all parliaments of all twenty-eight EU member states. Considering the current political and economic environment throughout Europe, this could prove no easy sell. Implementation of the agreements on Ukraine’s side will be long and difficult, requiring serious reforms in the business and political sectors as well as in public administration. Presidential elections loom for Ukraine in 2015. Therefore, we should not expect 2014 to be a year of painful reforms, many of which will affect a society that still remembers the old Soviet-style social-support system.”

“Shedding the Soviet skin is a long and painful process, and in many cases what is revealed underneath may not be any better than what was before. Let us hope that Ukraine will take the first step out of this old skin and into a new one by signing the agreements with the EU”, the expert says.

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