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15 March, 2012

Ukraine Is On the Way to Isolation

A government must always be under control to be democratic

I am often asked how radical the West is prepared to be in exerting pressure on Ukraine in response to the curtailment of democratic foundations. I would not use the concept of pressure in this case. Democratic countries may take radical steps only if a situation emerges in a country that contradicts all fundamental principles of modern humankind. Ukraine has problems of a totally different type. Its leadership keeps saying that it wants to become democratic; but the difficulty is that the foundations of democracy are not yet in place in the country, even though there is a pretence that they exist and are developing, and that the shortcomings are just the problems of growth.

The Ukrainian political system has a great fundamental flaw – it has not been able until now to put in place even the preconditions for the operation of government-controlling bodies. The opposition, the Constitutional Court, the Audit Chamber, the judiciary and the mass media do not de facto have either the opportunities or the mechanisms necessary to carry out oversight. Meanwhile, a government must always be under control to be democratic. The entire world is now talking about German President Christian Wulff who was forced to resign over allegations of abuse of office. This is the first such case in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany. The sum that a German prosecutor will investigate is minute: a loan issued on preferential terms to purchase a house. This money does not stand in comparison with the sums that are sometimes brought up when Ukraine is swept by scandalizing rumours. In Ukraine such facts do not lead to any serious consequences, while in Germany Wulff will also have to explain why, at one point in time, his one-day stay in a hotel was paid for by someone else. I do not think that the prosecution will call his actions crimes, but he will no longer be the President of Germany. He is most likely to be succeeded in office on March 18 by Joachim Gauck, a former East German dissident, human rights advocate and Protestant pastor.

Many politicians note that Ukraine gained freedom 20 years ago, which is a fairly long time. Western neighbours have done quite a bit to help establish democratic principles here. But the situation with democracy in Ukraine is now much worse than even in the early days of its independence. One of our respected politicians, Günter Verheugen, former European Commissioner for Enlargement, used to say on numerous occasions that Ukraine could become a member of the European Union. But now he is forced to admit that Kyiv is increasingly closer to a situation known as isolation.

Instead of focusing all efforts on the interests of the country, the Ukrainian government is busy, above all, with its own affairs – what they call vested interests. It is not drawing closer to a dead end in its relations with the entire Western world – it is already there. It seems that Ukraine is in the same situation with Russia. All of this is a consequence of the short-sighted policies of your current leadership. You need to find a way out of this cul-de-sac as soon as possible. And this is only feasible if the Ukrainian government manages to find the correct solutions and is willing to implement them.

Meanwhile, no-one in the top echelons of the Ukrainian government can tell us whether honest cooperation is indeed possible between our countries. No one in the West can understand how the political government of Ukraine can do what it is doing to former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

At the Eastern Partnership summit in Warsaw last September, German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. She made it unambiguously clear to him at the time that further rapprochement between Kyiv and the EU would hinge directly on Ukraine following the rule of law and that the future of the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement depended on the trial proceedings against opposition politicians. Yanukovych said then that if Tymoshenko paid the money Ukraine lost due to its gas supply agreement with Moscow, she would be able to go free. Or did he say it in jest? Merkel was offended, because it is not customary to speak like that in the West. It was not some personal fireside chat. The summit was a political event, and a very important one for Ukraine at that. There was real hope then that urgent issues of rapprochement with European Union would be solved.

It is clear to the West that Tymoshenko was tried not over money but for political reasons – in order to prevent her from running in the future elections. In democratic countries, government representatives have immunity in connection with their political decisions. I have said on numerous occasions that the European Union is not suing former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl for having failed to set up a pan-European economic and financial space at the time when the euro was introduced. He is not being charged with that, even though it is clear now that it was a mistake, a case of political short-sightedness. What about the actions of Greek politicians when their country entered the euro zone? They manipulated statistical data and submitted untruthful information about the country's financial situation. But as far as taking those who were involved to court? No-one is even thinking about that today; it is unimaginable.

Any country that wants to join the European Union must not only sign documents about principles but also implement them in practice. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Ukraine.

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