Quite a few Western diplomats, politicians and civic activists, who look with favour on the European integration prospects of Ukraine and consider it to be an integral part of Europe, often ask themselves the question: what benefit can Ukraine offer? Deep disillusion with the democratic setback in Ukraine over the last few years and the unexpected emergence on the map of Eastern Europe of yet another prototype of the Putin-Lukashenka regime after the “Orange chaos”, forces many of them to cross their arms, and even more others to express scepticism regarding the possibility of closer ties between Ukraine and the EU. The Yanukovych regime has failed to fulfil the promises to the EU, apart from the pardon of Yuriy Lutsenko and Heorhiy Filipchuk, and some other indecisive steps. It has continued its purposeful pressure on the opposition, civic society and freedom of speech, and the imitation of reform. As a result, the long-standing and increasingly noticeable weariness of the West as regards Ukraine is escalating. As a result, Ukraine is losing the support of many European and American friends. Many are asking themselves: how could this happen and why have all efforts directed towards democratic reform and the establishment of the rule of law in Ukraine come to nothing?
This situation has clearly been partly caused by the West’s superficial and simplistic perception of post-Soviet reality in Ukraine, and the lack of understanding of its deep post-colonial traumas, insecurities and problems. Instead, many Western politicians still continue to look at Ukraine exclusively through the prism of their own glasses and problems, not seeing the root of what is really holding it back on its course towards civilised development.
First and foremost, Western leaders should be aware that the difference between Ukraine and other Central European countries lies in the impact of Russia’s pressure on Ukraine, including through Bolshevism. While Central European countries, including the Baltic States, enjoyed twenty years of their own statehood during the inter-war period, Ukraine experienced a devastating genocide and massive destruction of alternative elites and environments where new ones could soon appear. The restoration of Ukrainian independence in the early 1990s was accompanied by the continued dominance of the old Soviet elite in the country. Bred and carefully selected in the USSR, it had no qualities required for governing an independent state. Nor have fully-fledged government institutions been established in the last two decades. Those that were, served one or another head of state, bud did not fulfill their statist functions. And most important of all – Russian-Soviet values continue to determine social awareness, mindsets and behaviour models for a significant share of the Ukrainian political elite and population. It is in the totalitarian and colonial past that the problems of the post-Soviet development of modern Ukraine actually lie. If they are not resolved, it will be impossible to truly embrace European values in Ukraine. There is no point in planting the seeds of democracy on lands that have not been cleared of the barriers and scrap of the communist past.
In order to avoid continued manipulation by the Ukrainian government, the West should focus on direct contacts with Ukrainian society more, and thus form its own concept of the processes in Ukraine. After all, the majority of this society continues to stand behind a European democratic course – it simply has to be separated from the Yanukovych regime and more actively engaged in the European mindset. The current Ukrainian authorities on the one part, and most of its citizens – are worlds apart. In this context, the Civic Society Forum, which was established in 2009 within the framework of the Eastern Partnership programme, should be welcomed. The Ukrainian National Platform has been a part of this since 2011, participating in summits and negotiations between the EU and Ukraine, and has the right to formulate its own recommendations. However, unfortunately, this structure has so far been unable to implement any successful projects and transform itself into a true mouthpiece of the interests of civil society in Ukraine and the driver for its European integration.
It is also worth taking into account that in view of post-Soviet specifics, many NGOs in Ukraine that are sponsored by the West, have become blatant grant-guzzlers who have nothing but profanity for democratic values, rather than being the actual driving force behind society’s democratic progress. For this reason, it is necessary to be more critical of existing NGOs, which often take advantage of the lack of knowledge among their Western benefactors and their own monopolistic positions, which both deliberately and inadvertently create an erroneous impression of the situation in Ukraine, playing up to already established stereotypes. It is not only necessary to give money for certain projects, but to also duly control their use and the execution of what has been reported. First of all, it is necessary to rely on those that will be of specific social benefit under Ukrainian conditions, not on those that have a fairly abstract task, for example, democratic development. At the same time, in addition to contact through somewhat ineffective NGOs, it is necessary to search for opportunities to establish thousands of horizontal connections between civil society in EU member-states and Ukraine, as well as help Ukraine develop its own. Only then can a new elite and a strategy of changes be expected in Ukraine.
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The partial liberalization of the visa regime with Ukraine (for certain categories, especially students, journalists, civil activists), is, without doubt, a positive step, which will promote the formation of a new, critically-minded elite in Ukraine. However, much more is needed to overcome the deep mental divide between Ukraine and Europe. First and foremost, it’s worth trying to uproot the disdainful attitude in European countries towards Ukrainian people as second class citizens. This largely pertains to employees working at the embassies of EU member-states in Ukraine, who often discriminate against Ukrainian applicants for Schengen visas. It is worth simplifying the visa regime for young people willing to study abroad, and trying to uproot the disdainful attitude in European countries towards Ukrainian people as second class citizens. Meanwhile, the more Ukrainians visit EU countries and see a life that is completely different from the post-Soviet reality in Ukraine, the sooner will a critical social mass be formed to implement pro-European transformations within the country. Note that nearly 70% of Ukrainians have not been abroad, so many of them hardly have a concept of the difference between European and Russian civilization choice. In this context, it is vitally important to overcome the intellectual iron curtain and obstacles in communication between representatives of educated social strata in EU countries and in Ukraine, since they are the ones that must become the driving force of all future changes. European integration in Ukraine should be conducted simultaneously, starting at both the top, via negotiations with the authorities, and the bottom, via the expansion of contacts with civil society.
Regarding the tactic for the behaviour of Western politicians and diplomats towards representatives of the Yanukovych regime under current tense and intensive negotiations on the signing of the EU Association Agreement and the Free Trade Zone, it might be sensible to try not to give the Ukrainian government the opportunity to take advantage of these negotiations to legitimize itself in the eyes of both the West and Ukrainian society. Otherwise, the quasi-authoritarian regime in Ukraine will stay, even if it makes concessions on some issues of the Füle list.
Another important move is to significantly restrict the practice of Western governments and international organizations to allocate funds to the Ukrainian authorities for conducting reform and the battle against corruption. After all, as reality shows, most of these funds are not used effectively or according to designation. According to the latest data of the Ukrainian office of Transparency International, the Ukrainian government wastes 95% of funds allocated for its anti-corruption programme.
At the same time, there is no real point in Ukrainian prosecutors and judges going abroad for training, since it is difficult to change the professional approaches of these people to issues, that were set forth in Soviet education and post-Soviet practice, even more so when most of them are directly dependent on the governing hierarchy, built by Yanukovych and his Party of Regions.
New circumstances require a more active position of the West on the issue of Ukraine, since what is at stake is the fate of a battle for an important region, from the geopolitical point of view, in which Putin’s Russia is striving to build up its own privileged sphere of influence. To counteract this, the EU has to demonstrate all the soft power tools it has at its disposal, and prevent the inclusion of Ukraine in the integration projects of the Kremlin, that fuel destabilization in the region, guided by their imperialistic objectives – some of them peaking in military conflicts, as in the case with Georgia.