European politicians feel that Ukrainian authorities are mucking them about
Andrew Wilson, political analyst and Senior Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, talks to The Ukrainian Week about the Ukraine-EU Summit and Yanukovych's tactics in negotiations with Brussels
“Things are so bad now that even a pro forma meeting with photographs and handshakes would be progress,” says Andrew Wilson, British analyst of Ukrainian history and modern politics, as we talk about the visit of President Yanukovych to the February 25 summit in Brussels.
EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Stefan Füle visited Ukraine on February 7-8 to discuss the agenda for the Ukraine-EU summit. He tried to persuade Kyiv that it is running out of time to meet Ukraine’s commitments. The Ukrainian Week talks to Mr. Wilson about the summit and Yanukovych’s tactics in negotiations with Brussels.
UW: Do the latest developments in Ukraine, including the new case against Yulia Tymoshenko, give you an impression that Kyiv is doing everything to undermine the Ukraine-EU summit?
Yes. In fact, one Ukrainian newspaper even drew up a table of previous Ukraine’s meetings and how the Ukrainian side had tried to sabotage virtually every one of them. Perhaps not everyone in the Ukrainian government does so, just a faction. But we have recently seen new charges against Tymoshenko. She is accused of being involved in the murder of Yevhen Shcherban which is an extra factor that places the upcoming summit in doubt. But I don’t think that anybody in Brussels is looking forward to that meeting. The other big factor, however, is that Ukraine is one of the six states in the Eastern Partnership programme. There is a storm of criticism of Georgia at the moment: ironically, the Ivanishvili government is accused of “ukrainization”, i.e. the use of politically motivated persecution as in Ukraine, although whether this is fair is a big question. Moldova is making a great progress but there is a big question as to whether Moldova can sign, finalize or put into practice the Association and FTA Agreements without Transnistria. What I mean is that while progress is not possible with Georgia and Moldova, the EU may be a bit more forgiving with Ukraine.
UW: Do you think Brussels has found itself in a situation where it has no choice?
European politicians want a success story. They want at least one out of the six Eastern Partnership programme countries to be making progress they could mark at the Vilnius summit in November this year. But, clearly, they feel that Ukrainian authorities are mucking them about.
UW: Do you see Yanukovych as a really smart and skillful manipulator? Or does his policy concerning European integration look like he is not really doing anything in that direction?
A lot of the irritation on the EU side comes from broken promises. Yanukovych gave various signals of compromise at different points but never delivered the result. So, there is a personal sense of frustration among the leading EU politicians.
UW: Why is he doing that, in your opinion? Does he want to spoil his reputation in Brussels?
No, he just doesn’t understand how the EU works. He thinks that everything will be decided by realpolitik, while the EU is just making a lot of noise about Tymoshenko and other human rights cases but doesn’t really believe in it. He thinks realpolitik is all that matters, but actually the EU does believe in some of these things. So, his modus operandi pushes him the other way.
UW: What is realpolitik for Yanukovych in this situation?
Yanukovych’s calculation seems to be that he can play a kind of classic neo-Titoist bouncing game and the EU will ultimately let him have the Agreement because it will buy the argument that he will make a deal with Russia instead. In fact, however, he is showing that Ukraine is isolated and corrupt, while oligarchs do not really want to work with either side.
UW: Let me suggest another scenario: what if Yanukovych is not manipulating or balancing, but just is not interested in European integration? So, he is putting Ukraine on the path to total dependence on Russia but does not say anything about it in public. Those who believe in this scenario point at the fact that Yanukovych understands Russia and Russian politics, and does not understand European politics, and is surrounded by many Russians or people directly linked to Moscow in his government.
Well, I never said that he was a good manipulator. Moreover, on the personal level, some European politicians have grown very annoyed with his tactics. Still, despite of what you said, I think Yanukovych needs Europe, even if not the EU. He needs another anchor in negotiations with Russia. Otherwise, he gets very bad deals from Russia. It is true that there are a lot of people, especially in top law enforcement offices, that are linked to Russia. On the other hand, though, some Ukrainian oligarchs also have strong links with Russia as their businesses depend on it. Yanukovych has to pretend at least that he looks after the interests of the national oligarchy. No Ukrainian oligarch wants to be swallowed up by a Russian counterpart.
UW: That is a widespread opinion. Yet, almost all Ukrainian oligarch are openly anti-Ukrainian as they earn their windfall profits using Russian fuels. Do you actually believe that they care about national interests?
No, they care about themselves. Clearly, the cultural background may be a factor. But if you look at trade patterns, they are one third for the EU, one third with Russia, and one third with other countries, roughly speaking. Despite of what you say about cheap gas and so on, Ukrainian oligarchs should remember that two thirds are more than one third if they look at their own long-term interests. If signed, the Association and FTA Agreements will boost Ukraine’s trade with the EU, and it may then sell more processed food for instance to Egypt provided that it’s got the EU certification.
That is not to say that the oligarchs know their own interests. And, although some of them run charitable initiatives, they are not charitable individuals, just following their own interests. Yet they are not as pro-Russian as you would think.
UW: Who do you think decides on Ukraine’s course? Is it politicians who are public to some extent at least or oligarchs of whom we never hear, and never know what they think or do?
Indeed, the lack of transparency in ownership, corporate governance and governance itself is a big problem. Ukrainian audience is familiar with the Family and “familyzation”. I think there are many signs of tension between the Family and old oligarchs. There are many whose interests are threatened by the Family’s expansion, but of course no one wants to be the first and protest against it. Valeriy Khoroshkovsky has just got into trouble and sold his TV channel. But at least we know who the Family literally are, and we can draw a map of the current government with the key power seemingly in the hands of the Family and the opaque circle around it, with only Akhmetov’s people as sort of the key oligarchic group. So, the old oligarchs may be losing power to this shadowy miasmic group. But the fact that we know so little of them is part of the problem.
UW: To what extent are officials in Brussels ready to compromise with Yanukovych? What can we expect of the February 25 summit?
The first steps for the EU would be to get more precise on what its conditions were. The way the key condition regarding the progress on selective prosecution is phrased leaves some room for compromise. But the opinion in the EU is that the Ukrainian side should demonstrate substantive change.
UW: The Brussels summit could be just a formality, a very important one, but a formality still…
I think you are right: both sides are now too far apart. But things are so bad now that even a pro forma meeting with photographs and handshakes would be progress. Actually, the summit is not a real deadline, just an attempt to channel things towards something substantive before the Vilnius summit. That’s the key objective everybody wants. But the art of diplomacy is to make every deadline not really a final one, to adjust the goal posts in many ways. But the EU-Ukraine summit is clearly the key event by which people want to see progress.
Andrew Wilson is a British political analyst, Senior Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, and formerly a Reader in Ukrainian Studies at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies at University College London. His fields of interest include comparative analysis of democracy, corruption and political tactics in post-Soviet states. Mr. Wilson published a number of books: Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2005; Virtual Politics: Faking Democracy in the Post-Soviet World in 2005; The Ukrainians: Unexpected Nation in 2000 and 2002; and Ukrainian Nationalism in the 1990s: A Minority Faith.