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7 March, 2012  ▪  Oleksandr Kramar

The Language of True Diplomacy: the EU Put Political Correctness Aside in Dealing With Kyiv

Europe seems to finally have understood who it is dealing with in Ukraine. The Ukrainian president is taking a lot of abuse for his policies from one European official after another

The tone was set by Head of the European Commission Delegation to Ukraine José Manuel Pinto Teixeira who said that Viktor Yanukovych failed to meet commitments on reforms, particularly in improving the business climate and fighting corruption, even though he used these to justify the concentration of power early into his term. The response of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, which accused Teixeira of attempting “to present his own opinion as the position of 27 states” was met with a sharp reaction from both Brussels (High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton) and EU diplomats in Ukraine, who supported Teixeira. Among other things, this showed that his evaluation of the situation in our country and Yanukovych's actions are not merely his “personal opinion,” as the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry tried to present the affair. If need be, Kyiv may receive proof of this point on a much higher level.

Experts tend to explain the offended stance adopted by the Foreign Ministry by the fact that Teixeira’s statements were personified and utterly clear. No longer content with a general mention of “problems in Ukraine,” he identified the people personally responsible for them. It appears that the Ukrainian government simply does not want to be confronted with increasingly straightforward evaluations of the situation in our country coming from its European partners. That this will be the case is proved by the letter of foreign ministers of key EU countries published in the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times.

The letter is signed by Carl Bildt (Sweden), William Hague (Britain), Karel Schwarzenberg (Czech Republic), Radoslaw Sikorski (Poland) and Guido Westerwelle (Germany). They begin by noting that negotiations on association and free trade with Ukraine started precisely five years ago, and today, instead of celebrating a signed and ratified agreement, Europe is “at an impasse” in the association process. The authors clearly indicate that the reason is the actions (or, rather, inaction) of Yanukovych who failed to fulfil his “ambitious reform agenda” announced after he won the presidential elections. Instead, the situation with democratic freedoms deteriorated, and independent mass media and NGOs reported pressure from the authorities. Remarkably, the letter contrasts the people of Ukraine who “are Europeans and share European values” with the current Ukrainian government whose activities “in the last two years have caused us to question Kiev’s intentions with respect to the fundamental values that underpin both the agreement and our relations in a broader sense.”

The September 2012 parliamentary elections will be “a litmus test for democracy.” Keeping democratic standards in these elections will be viewed as a milestone. If the Ukrainian government resorts to massive falsifications, it may face action from the EU, rather than customary statements. Formal procedures are important to Europeans, so violations of election legislation that are confirmed by international observers will be viewed as formal grounds for a meaningful reaction, even to the point of personal sanctions. This is what the Ukrainian opposition is demanding as it informs foreign diplomats about specific actions taken by various top government officials and suggests putting them on a banned EU entry list.

In this sense, the “letter of five” may be interpreted as a clear warning to Yanukovych — sanctions are introduced by specific countries, and this letter shows that these five countries are ready to take resolute measures.

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