This is exactly what comes to my mind trying to assess EU policies vis-à-vis Ukraine and Viktor Yanukovych. What happened in Ukraine? That’s obvious: Ukraine and the EuroMaidan are hardly anything less than a Deus ex machina manifestation of pro-European passion and faith. This is more than a timely emergence of such a sentiment, as the EU expects and fears – and rightly so – the European Parliament to be elected in May 2014 that is highly likely to be richly represented by far Right and Euroskeptics.
This is to say that faith and confidence in the EU come from Eastern Europe – probably for the first time in its rather short history. We are accustomed to conventional wisdom that suggests Western Europe and North America to have long been (and to continue to be) exemplary high trust societies as opposed to seemingly low trust societies of Eastern and Central Europe. Things seem to have changed beyond recognition. Over the past ten years, it was the New Europe rather then the Old Europe that injected much optimism in the European project.
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Nearly from the very beginning of their prospects of accession to the EU, the Baltic States, along with Poland and other newcomers to the EU – with the exception of the Czech Republic which was or less shaped by the course of its former Euroskeptical President Václav Klaus – firmly believed not only in the EU enlargement but also in the sustainability and meaning of the project itself. For now, this critically important faith comes from Ukraine.
And how about the EU? Does it reciprocate this European sentiment and impetus emanated by Ukraine? On the first glance, we could say that something has really changed in the EU – clearly assuming by the EU Western Europe. German and French members of the European Parliament, who would have had next to nothing to say about Ukraine a decade ago, have came to Kyiv all the way down from Brussels to speak passionately about what they have discovered as the profoundly European spirit of EuroMaidan. Or it suffices to have a look at some veterans of old good German Ostpolitik (firmly taken as the establishment of silent diplomacy and small ways in the Kremlin) and Realpolitik, who dropped their former cynicism overnight and began talking about Ukraine as if they were Polish and Lithuanian MEPs.
Yet all these signs poorly masquerade the fact that the EU did not have a policy on Ukraine. Not did it have any sustainable and rational policy vis-à-vis Viktor Yanukovych who was the main cause, instead of the effect, of the Orange Revolution saga and all its repercussions. The real drama of Ukraine appears the political and moral void within the EU, rather than Russia’s stratagems. Had the EU been consistent and firm on Ukraine in the way it was before accession of the Baltic States, Russia would have had no say on Ukraine now. The real cause of the whole mayhem in Vilnius was the confusion of geopolitics and values which let down Brussels: whereas the EU played values in a naïve fashion, Russia played geopolitics. C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre : c’est de la folie, as the famous French army general Pierre Bosquet once put it.
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Strategic dyslexia of the EU, rather than Yanukovych (no matter whether as himself or as a puppet of the Kremlin), was behind how the EU failed Ukraine. The EU should have embraced and accepted Ukraine immediately after the commencement of the Orange Revolution. With Ukraine, the EU would have been a geopolitical giant now; without Ukraine on board, the EU is confined to quite limited input in Eastern Europe and especially in EU policies on Russia.
And the public secret (or le secret de Polichinelle, as a French saying goes) is that the EU did not want Ukraine precisely for the reason it did not want Turkey: the power balance among Germany, France and Great Britain appears as too delicate to be disturbed and challenged by a big nation with its natural ambition to be a serious player, instead of a humble newcomer to the club. When Yulia Tymoshenko was chosen to play the role of a pivotal criterion to assess the readiness of Ukraine to sign the Association Agreement with the EU, it was obvious to anyone not devoid of the sense of reality that such a move was meant to hide the absence of policy.
Should Yanukovych have been isolated or ignored by the West after the Orange Revolution? Every nation benefits or suffers from its political class. Whether we deserve our political class is a philosophical question, but when we clearly reject its cynicism along with all its power games and manipulations, such a stance cannot go unnoticed by the world or by international community (if it still makes sense to believe that such a phenomenon exists nowadays).
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In fact, to tolerate Yanukovych or to turn him down in a democratic and legitimate fashion is a prerogative of Ukraine. Yet the EU could and should have sent a strong signal that the leader with zero respect for his nation’s political will and for his owns allegiances (as he pledged his allegiances to a gradual and unavoidable accession to the EU) is not welcome in the presidential club of the Union. This is especially relevant today when Ukraine fights for the future of the Union, which is overwhelmed by disbelief in itself. Disbelief this time generated by the West, not by the East.