The title of my commentary hardly accounts for anything other than sheer rhetoric. Does Ukraine need the EU? Of course it does — simple as that. The next question, then, would be whether – and if yes, to what extent – the EU needs Ukraine. Quite frankly, the EU needs Ukraine now more than ever.
I remember how Andrei Piontkovsky, a noted Russian political essayist and commentator, once commented on Ukraine and its membership in NATO and the EU as an existential chance for the West. He made this statement during a TV talk show which I hosted on Lithuanian TV. He suggested that Ukraine's joining the EU and NATO would change Russia forever.
In fact, he argued that such a move would once and for all strip Russia of her obsession with political hostility to, and civilizational rivalry with, Western Europe and North America, first and foremost with the USA. Russia cannot be a global player and a rival to the West without Ukraine as its satellite state or, at best, as a strategic partner. More than that, Ukraine’s becoming part of the Western world would impose on Russia the necessity to take on that same path.
This is to say that Ukraine’s accession to the EU and NATO would be nothing short of a fundamental change in world politics. As Piontkovsky put it himself, it would signify the arrival of the new epoch in Eastern Europe and the end of the Byzantine phase in Russia’s history.
However challenging and perceptive, Piontkovsky’s remarks did not include an aspect which I find key here. The more pro-Russian Ukraine becomes, the stronger the argument for Putin’s Russia existing as an alternative to the EU. The only condition which makes this geopolitical fantasy feasible is Ukraine’s presence, in one form or another, in a non- or even anti-European economic and political alliance guided by Russia.
If this pattern fails, Russia would immediately be forced to seek a pro-Western maneuver and even historical reconciliation with Poland and the Baltic States. Ukraine, for her part, would be put by Russia into the category of the weakest chain of the EU and NATO with which it would be vital to find a new modus vivendi.
I do not think that this status would violate Ukraine’s political and regional ambitions, as it is a thousand times better to be regarded as the weakest link in the EU and NATO than the apple of the eye and the pride of Russia’s satellite world. In terms of football, it is incomparably better to be on the bottom of the premier league playing against Manchester United and Liverpool than to be on top of the second or third division.
What is extremely important for Russia is the fact that Moscow would be left at a crossroads to decide whether to join Ukraine in the congregation of new European democracies – a move that would eventually make Russia if not a member, then at least a strategic partner of the EU and the USA – or whether she should try desperately to sustain the league of semi-failed states or sheer tyrannies like Belarus and Central Asian countries. This could possibly lead to a more secure and predictable world.
So much for geopolitics and security. In terms of the rule of law, democracy, liberal values, and human rights, Ukraine would benefit immensely. By no means is the EU merely a potential and prospective donor and investor; no less important is the fact that the EU provides the standard of judgment in politics. Hopefully, Ukraine would recover from such malaise as selective justice, not to mention corruption.
I am not daydreaming; nor am I offering a remote and irresponsible vision. We have seen in Lithuania how it was possible to adopt a European perspective on liberal democracy, human rights, and other modern moral and political sensibilities. To be fair, we are still a long way from reaching the degree of transparency and human rights record seen in the Nordic countries. We are no better than any other nation which has been isolated from Europe for decades. Therefore, as a political union of democracies and values, the EU is at its best when it provides a framework for the defence of human rights and democratic politics.
Last but not least, the EU itself would greatly benefit from Ukraine’s accession. Despite of some regrettable tendencies in the country’s political life, Ukraine has always been and continues to be the unquestionable leader in the EU Eastern partnership program. This should eventually lead Ukraine to a strategic partnership with the EU, which may speed up and facilitate political changes in Russia shaping Ukraine’s politics for the near future. For the EU, such a move would signify nothing less than the triumph of democracy in Europe.
No country compares to Ukraine in terms of the bridge between Eastern and Central Europe. If Ukraine would unambiguously choose the EU and NATO as political ends and main ambitions, this could become a turning point in the history of Eastern Europe. One of the largest nations in Eastern Europe would make up European politics for decades and would significantly strengthen the position of Poland and the Baltic States in Europe.
With her magnificent multicultural legacy, Ukraine would blaze a trail for other nations that seek liberty and European existence. Something tells me that the division of Europe as well as the legacy of the Second World War would be finally overcome.