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31 May, 2013  ▪  Alla Lazareva,  Milan Lielich

Ukraine Incognita

A poor understanding of the domestic situation in Ukraine prevents the EU from developing an efficient policy regarding official Kyiv. The numerous events dedicated to Ukraine that are taking place in Europe do not help

On May 15, the European Commission approved a draft EU Council resolution on signing the Association Agreement with Ukraine, but specified that the signing should not be expected unless Ukraine fulfills the necessary political preconditions. It looks like the consent of all member-states – Croatia will join as the 28th member-state in July – to the signing is nearing. During his latest visit to Brussels, The Ukrainian Week’s reporter found that there are fewer supporters and more skeptics regarding Ukraine in the European community. European officials often avoid talking about Ukraine, even in private conversations. In fact, only Poland and Lithuania are currently ongoing promoters of Ukraine’s European integration, even if Kyiv fails to comply with the EU’s requirements. The opinion in Poland is that the signing of the Association Agreement can prevent Ukraine from being dragged into Russian integration projects, since the latter could well result in Moscow’s increased influence on Warsaw. Lithuania, as the host of the Vilnius Summit would like to see a positive outcome of the summit.

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Other member-states are keeping mum, hoping to push Yanukovych into fulfilling as many requirements as possible. “So far, we can say for sure that Ukraine’s current steps are not sufficient to ensure a positive decision on the part of the EU,” an EC official commented, noting the long-awaited release of Yuriy Lutsenko as one of the most important steps that Ukraine has already taken. If Lutsenko had remained in prison, there could have been a risk that the EU would not sign the Association Agreement. Meanwhile, the list of requirements remains unchanged. According to officials interviewed in Brussels, a clear list was necessary to make sure that the Ukrainian government cannot pretend to misunderstand the EU’s demands. It also ensures that the EU member-states, critical of Ukraine, do not bring forth additional requirements at the last moment. The current formula, put simply, is “No Association Agreement as long as Tymoshenko is in jail”, but even if this is fulfilled, it is still no guarantee that the Agreement will be signed, although Tymoshenko’s release will make the signing much more likely. “Tymoshenko in jail is a vivid and visible manifestation of selective justice in Ukraine,” comments an EC official who among other things, deals with Ukrainian issues. “We do not demand her release because she is Tymoshenko or because we like her. You are a sovereign state. If she is accused of anything, by all means try her, but in a fair and honest court.”

Still, it seems that the EU does not have a clear understanding of the actual situation in Ukraine. Numerous events on Ukraine held in Europe and involving Ukrainian and European politicians and experts should solve this problem, but they don’t. The Ukraine Day seminar organized by the ALDE Group on the day when the EC approved the EU Council’s draft resolution regarding the Association Agreement proved this.  It confirmed that various workshops, conferences and panel discussions on Ukraine and Europe of this kind are important, but that the existing ones are largely inefficient, often used only to promote Ukrainian politicians seeking a more European image for themselves.

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The speeches at Ukraine Day, for instance, varied from inspirational to proactive, biased and self-promoting. Political analyst Olga Shumylo-Tapiola focused on the disparities between Ukrainian and European political practices, fueling the opinion that Kyiv is not ready to draw closer to the EU. Ukrainian MP Mykola Katerynchuk presented himself as the major promoter of the European idea in Ukraine and made the audience laugh, saying that his “European Party is the only Ukrainian party that influences the policy of the European Parliament through its Liberal faction”. “That’s some influence - 85 of 754 MPs!” a French journalists commented. Apparently, Katerynchuk’s formal partners in Europe (his party is a member of ALDE, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe – Ed.) appear not to oppose these statements by the politician, who sees himself as the next Kyiv Mayor and, rumour has it, is supported by the Family.

The organizers apparently consider writer Andriy Kurkov to be an expert on the reality of Ukraine and its relations with Europe, since he was chosen to represent the Ukrainian intelligentsia. “Europe has Ukraine to thank for two worldviews - anarchism and masochism. That’s why you don’t always like what we are constantly doing in politics,” he said. Unfortunately, this was arguably the key phrase in his speech.

The obvious shortcoming of such events is that they do not involve the true opinion leaders in Ukraine who actually know what the local problems are and can explain to Europe what Ukrainians need at this time.

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Instead, both pro-government and opposition politicians often use – and finance - European conferences, debates and seminars on Ukraine, to fit their own narrow personal interests. Poor understanding in Europe of the situation in Ukraine helps them in this. For instance, Natalia Korolevska visited Europe before the October 2012 parliamentary election, presenting herself as a member of the opposition. She was actually acting per instructions from the Presidential Administration, as proven by her appointment as a minister in Azarov’s Cabinet immediately after the election. Petro Poroshenko’s foundation often arranges similar events in Europe as well. The experts it invites and their cliché statements leave the impression that the opportunist oligarch uses these events for his personal political and business interests only. This overshadows Ukraine’s actual problems, including the unfinished process for establishing a national state, the oligarch-controlled economy, Russian influence, discrimination against the majority of Ukrainians, and the fake “fascist” rhetoric, to name but a few, and prevents the accurate understanding thereof.

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