Being an optimist, I am convinced that Ukraine will after all find its incarnation as a sovereign, independent, democratic state. My optimism is fed by the growing amount of Ukrainians becoming more and more aware that Ukraine is not the private property of a political elite, but that it is the Ukrainians themselves who form, represent and build the state. The Orange Revolution was and is proof of that, despite the fact that their leaders in a disastrous way did not live up to the expectations of the people. But this spirit of change and this determination to form ones own identity without interference from outside is as vivid as in 2004. I count most of all on the young generation, well educated, intensively interlinked within the common information space, and keen to take over responsibility for the welfare of all.
This is more than a vision on the horizon!
To bring stability, accountability, prosperity and welfare to the country and its people will take still quite some time and the problems to overcome, are enormous. The economy plunged into deep recession. The liquidity fell to a dramatic low level. Corruption, raider attacks, pursuit of particular interest to the detriment of the interest of the state had an extremely negative impact on foreign investment. To play off Brussels against Moscow and vice versa led the Ukrainian leadership into that trap, they tried to get out by rushing into the cold embrace of Russia.
Present times are a huge challenge!
The Ukrainian leadership has to assess its own political, economic, financial and social mismanagement and draw conclusions. President Yanukovych proposal to compensate Ukraine with an amount of 160 billion Euros, reveals a strange understanding of integration. You can't sell it nor buy it. Moscow definitely will Ukraine not bail out either with such a sum. Despite Moscow’s blackmail and neglect on the side of the EU, to understand the complex situation of Ukraine, the basic question is where Ukraine sees its future within a more and more interdependent world driven by globalization. There is the open door into an integration of equal countries united by common values and goals. That is the idea and reality of the EU. On the other side there is President Putin’s vision of an Eurasian integration, which very much follows the idea of a Moscow driven and Russia oriented integration. Dependency and not equality would be the perspective.
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Is it that what Ukraine wants? I doubt!
That brings us to the year 2014, a decisive year with fundamental consequences for Ukraine and its future.
Kiev, Moscow and Brussels together with the member states of the EU have to come to terms very soon. Otherwise in Ukraine turmoil, chaos and unpredictable developments will be the consequences.
For a moment Kiev might buy time with the proposal of trilateral talks. But I have serious doubts whether this will bring positive results, because it will not change Moscow’s zero sum approach. The economic, financial and social problems of Ukraine need very urgent solutions. And so do the underlying political decisions not yet finally made.
The Customs Union as a first step of a politically integrated Eurasian Union is Putin’s declared goal, to shape Russia’s exclusive zone of interest. Ukraine has a key role to play in this concept. That is evident. Until now we do not know, whether or which price Russia is prepared to pay for President Yanukovych’s decision to postpone the signature of the EU agreements. Moscow is not known for advance concessions. The Kharkov agreements should have sent a warning signal. President Putin might see a real chance to push Ukraine into the Customs Union offering cheap gas and major credit lines .A clear majority of Ukrainians seems against that perspective and oligarchs should also be aware of the negative impact on their entrepreneurial future. Not modernization, access to western know how and to global financial resources would be the future but the incorporation into Russia’s outdated economy, unable to modernize in a competitive way. Putin might feel tempted to present himself as the winner in the battle for Ukraine. But that might prove a Pyrrhic victory. Ukraine is too big and too complex to be easily incorporated into an Eurasian Union.
The Orange Revolution sent shockwaves to Russia.
The signal from Brussels and capitals that the door for Ukraine to integrate into European structures remains open is important. A clear answer, that the country has a membership perspective, a claim voiced since long by European politicians like the former enlargement commissioner Verheugen, should become part of Brussels approach. Talks with Kiev should start without delay, to determine what could be done, to make the Ukrainian signature under the Association and Free Trade Agreements a realistic decision. The release of Julia Timoshenko was and is not the main stumbling block. Talks in the run off to the Vilnius summit showed that at stages a solution was very close. There are other means for the EU and I think for Kiev also to solve that case. Chances and possibilities have to be evaluated with respect to flexibility in a transition period to ease the short term consequences of the Association. Real steps towards a visa free regime should be taken into account. EBRD and EIB have to play a role, combined with an united approach of Brussels, capitals and Washington to convince the IMF to return to Kiev.
The main responsibility however has the Ukrainian leadership to get out of the trap, it sits in-Necessary is a new approach towards the country and its people. Dialog with the oppositional forces, transparent decisions, which demonstrate convincingly that the Ukrainians themselves are the main focus of the political leadership. It is out of tune in such a situation to concentrate on reelection and manipulate the state resources and the will of the sovereign, the people.
Developments in Kiev and countrywide show that it is high time for President Yanukovych to unite with the people. Otherwise dramatic developments can't be excluded with serious repercussions for the President and the country as a whole. The events of 2004 are not only part of Ukraine’s history. They are part of the Ukrainian identity.