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15 January, 2014

International experts on Western responsibility in Ukraine's crisis

The role of the West in Ukraine's political crisis as seen by European and American experts

“A game like this requires two sides to play and so far only Russia is playing”

 Taras Kuzio, Non-Resident Fellow at the Centre for Transatlantic Relations, School of Advanced International Studies, John Hopkins University

The current political crisis in Ukraine is not the US or EU responsibility as Ukraine is not a member of NATO or the EU. What could they have done to prevent Yanukovych from signing the Russian agreements? Yanukovych was never a real partner for Europe because he has not even one percent of European values. My biggest criticism would be that of Western naivety as they saw what they wanted to believe. Putin was never so naive about Yanukovych.

I would criticize Ukrainian politicians and so-called experts who held an exaggerated opinion of Ukraine's geopolitical importance. What Yanukovych did was to deepen already deep levels of Ukraine fatigue in the West. 

The only step the West can do to prevent Ukraine's triple crisis from ending in bloodshed and a split in the country is to impose targeted sanctions on the president, government, officials, Party of Regions’ leaders and oligarchs. This would encourage internal divisions in the regime and its disintegration from within. 

Only the US can lead here but sadly President Obama is not a leader. The EU cannot lead because it has turned a blind eye to corruption in Ukraine and Eurasia and in the process benefitted from the impoverishment of the Ukrainian people and export of capital to Western Europe and its offshore zones. 

A game like this requires two sides to play and so far only Russia is playing. The EU is a virtual geopolitical actor with different regional interests for different countries. The US under Clinton and Bush Jr. were players in the game - Obama is not. 
Putin does not offer free lunches and his “pelmeni” are expensive. Yanukovych had to give away the pipelines this year and Ukrainian sovereignty next year by agreeing to join the CIS Customs Union in exchange for Putin's support for his reelection. Russia will therefore play the game in 2015 but I am not convinced that the West will.  

READ ALSO: Western Role in Ukraine's Turmoil

The main mistake is, that the EU still thinks, change would come from the leadership of Ukraine but not through the pressure from below. The EU needs to think about how to involve society in the rapprochement process with Ukraine”

 Stefan Meister, Senior Policy Fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR)

The main responsibilities of the EU and Germany in the current situation with Ukraine are that it overestimated its offer towards the Ukrainian leadership, underestimated Russia’s ability to influence the situation and miscalculated the interests of the Ukrainian president. From the beginning it was wrong to focus on Yulia Tymoshenko as a test case for the democratic progress in Ukraine and to focus on the signature and not the implementation of the DCFTA. This is a complete misperception of post-Soviet elites. They will never change the rules of the game just for a signature under an agreement, which will lead in the end to the decline of their power. The main mistake is, that the EU still thinks, change would come from the leadership of Ukraine but not through the pressure from below. The EU needs to think about how to involve society in the rapprochement process with Ukraine.

What we observe now is, that the EU had no plan B for Ukraine, and did not expect these scale of protest. There is not much with what it can influence the current developments in Ukraine. It makes sense to be the honest broker and negotiate between both sides, but it should do it with one person which matters (even if it is Angela Merkel) and not with many voices. The EU member states still haven’t decided if they really want to integrate Ukraine and they are not willing to pay the price it will cost. But as long as this decision is not made, Ukrainian leadership can play both sides, Russia and the EU.

READ ALSO: I Shall Not Give Up!

Finally, the main problem is not Russia or the EU it is the Ukraine itself. It was president Yanukovych who decided, that he will not sign the agreement because Russia but not the EU can solve his budget problem in short term. He never had the goal to sign the agreement, he only wanted to have a better price from Russia and the EU was the bargaining chip. The EU by rhetoric now uses Russia’s geopolitical language but is not prepared for that game. Brussels is strong in its normative approach and in engaging with the people, therefore its future strategy should be only to sign contracts with post-Soviet leaders, if the civil society of the country is involved in the implementation and monitoring process. As long as there is no will in post-Soviet societies, to change the situation in their country and on the EU side to help to empower society as a relevant player in their relations with the elites, reform processes will not be sustainable.

“The EU could have negotiated and promoted the Association Agreement more effectively, and deny the Ukrainian authorities an excuse for not signing it”

 Kataryna Wolczuk, Reader in Politics and International Studies, Centre for Russian and European Studies, University of Birmingham

 Roman Wolczuk, honorary research fellow, University of Wolverhampton

The EU is not responsible for the political crisis (in Ukraine – Ed.). However, the EU could have negotiated and promoted the Association Agreement more effectively, and deny the Ukrainian authorities an excuse for not signing it. In addition, the negotiations were too secretive, with little support offered to Ukraine to absorb the costs of reduced trade with Russia. The EU, while a powerful pole of attraction, failed to present its case well in Ukraine, while Russia conducted a powerful media campaign and ‘trade war’ in August.  The EU did too little, too late to promote the AA.

The West has offered immense moral support, but little more. However, as Ukraine has a democratically elected government and president, the West’s input could only be highly circumscribed. Also, despite immense sympathy for Maidan within the EU, the EU conducts relations at the intergovernmental level. So its main interlocutor is the Ukrainian leadership which is severely lacking in credibility. While the EU is still keen to conclude the AA with Ukraine, it just cannot work with Yanukovych and his team any more. So Ukraine will remain a massive challenge for the EU, whose foreign policy machinery moves slowly, coming to a halt later this year due to changes in EU institutions and the European Parliament.

In the early days of protests, EU engagement and the apparent threat of sanctions from the US prevented serious bloodshed - no small achievement. The standoff between the Maidan and authorities is now clearly focused on the presidential elections due in 2015. The West can do the following in 2014: challenge the political targeting of the opposition; send explicit messages about the unacceptability of fraudulent elections; improve the conditions of Association Agreement; introduce speedier decision making from the EU, and commence a dialogue with Russia on economic aspects of integration.

READ ALSO: Dangerous Liaisons: So what are the December 17 with Russia? A victory or a defeat? 

The concept that Ukraine is a bargaining chip has been propagated by the Ukrainian authorities. Since 1991 Ukraine’s foreign policy has consisted of the balancing of the West and Russia. Neither the EU nor Russia have conceptualised Ukraine in this way: each has sought closer ties with Ukraine, though their motivations differ. For the EU, ties with Ukraine are one, albeit important, pillar of the Eastern Partnership (EaP). Conversely, Russia has only recently become alert to the implications of the EaP and has offered an alternative to Ukraine with the Customs Union. The pressure imposed by Russia on Ukraine to not sign the AA exposed the weakness of the EaP with its technocratic focus on regulatory convergence. First, it failed to take into account the economic dependencies between Ukraine and Russia. Second, it failed to offer compensatory measures. Thirdly, the AA was a take it or leave it offer. Fourth, it offered long-term benefits at the expense of short term costs (to be borne by Ukraine). Fifthly, the lack of a membership perspective meant that the incentive to implement painful change within Ukraine was missing. A more effective EP would have to address these weaknesses. Amongst, these the greater engagement with Russia to underscore the extent to which relations are not a zero-sum game will be the most difficult. Nevertheless, the lessons learnt by the EU will likely benefit Georgia and Moldova in the coming year.

“It is easy to blame others for Ukrainians’ choices, whether those others are outside powers, corrupt authorities, or disappointing political leaders”

 Matthew Rojansky, Director of the Kennan Institute, Wilson Center

I think it is critically important for Ukrainians to understand that they are the masters of their own fate. This is a matter of Ukraine’s basic national identity, and of its future as a prosperous unitary state, though it is not necessarily an easy or an obvious conclusion for people who have been subject to the whims of powerful outsiders for centuries. Of course, old habits die hard, and it is easy to blame others for Ukrainians’ choices, whether those others are outside powers, corrupt authorities, or disappointing political/civic leaders. 

I hear complaints from my Ukrainian friends today—that the Russians applied so much pressure it could not be resisted by the weak and selfish authorities, and that the West did not “ride to the rescue” with a better offer or to force the Ukrainian leaders to choose Europe—yet these are simply attempts to avoid the real problem, which is that Ukrainian society failed to take responsibility for its own future.  This failure occurred not in November when hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians protested in the Euromaidan—bravo to them for going out in the cold and speaking with loud voices—but the failure occurred much, much earlier.  It occurred for decades after 1991, when Ukrainians paid small and big bribes, so they could avoid the hassle of a complex and time-consuming bureaucracy.  It occurred when Ukrainians kept quiet about theft of state property in fraudulent privatization and corporate raider attacks on successful private businesses. And it occurred when Ukrainians failed to value their own democratic rights and responsibilities at the highest level, turning out to vote in small and unconvincing numbers, and allowing those with money and power to buy the country out from under them.

READ ALSO: Gintautas Mažeikis: In Ukraine, the “small dog” of civil society has appeared next to the “big elephant” of the revolution

As long as the reaction of Ukrainians to all that I am saying here is to point to somebody else whose fault it must be—the Russians, the corrupt officials, the indifferent and inconstant West, or maybe me, the messenger of such bad news—then I am sorry to tell you that Ukraine cannot hope for a better future.  It is only when Ukrainians hear this message, and they know it is true, and they take the decision to change things on their own account, that there will be a ray of light in the distance.  Change will not come quickly, indeed it probably should not.  It will begin not with big dramatic actions, signing big declarations and making big statements, but rather with small actions—like doing the right thing even when it costs a bit more money or it takes a lot more time, and staying to take care of things at home when it is much easier to turn away and find a sympathetic ear abroad.  There are too many Ukrainians who have become too dependent on the country’s bad habits, and they will need to be slowly weaned off them.  But they, too, are part of this place called Ukraine, and they, too, must participate in its future. The first step, I tell my Ukrainian friends and I tell you now, is to take responsibility. It is time for Ukraine to do so.


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