Last week the German publication Die Welt carried a notable article, “Ukraine in a Three-Front War,” by Gerhard Gnauck and Silke Muelherr about the Ukraine-EU summit. As one of the authors, Gnauck, knows the situation in Ukraine very well, it is worthwhile to discuss the three items he focuses on. They are about obstacles on the way to Ukraine’s integration with Europe.
The first one is more or less clear – it is the factor of the north-eastern partner. “Russia is doing its utmost to stop the expansion of EU influence onto the east and, hence, the promotion of democracy and principles of a rule-of-law state. All the signals coming from Russia reveal a course towards post-Soviet reintegration,” the journalists say. During the abovementioned summit, Ukraine not only confirmed for the fourth time its Euro-integration course, but also pledged to meet a number of conditions to be able to sign the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union. This is planned to be done in November this year at the Eastern Partnership summit to be held in Vilnius. As is known, Russia opposes a rapprochement between Ukraine and the European Union. What steps can Moscow take to thwart the signing of the Ukraine-EU agreement?
“Ukraine may be subjected to gas blackmail,” Moscow-based independent journalist Semen Novoprudsky comments. “Yet it seems to me Gazprom will find it very difficult to exact 7 billion dollars from Ukraine for failure to buy the contracted gas. I think everything will depend on the degree to which the European Union will be prepared to cooperate with Ukraine. If the Kremlin feels that this agreement poses a threat, a new gas war may break out in all probability because the Kremlin begins to understand that it will be unable to force Ukraine to join the Customs Union or the Single Economic Space.”
“It is also possible that some diplomatic moves will be made to influence the EU,” Novoprudsky continues. “But as the relations of Russia with the EU and the Western world as a whole are not all too good – perhaps even worse than at the end of the Medvedev presidency, – Russia has rather slim chances to use its diplomacy. Nevertheless, Russia will try through its diplomatic channels to discredit Ukraine it the eyes of European diplomats. Russia’s delegations in the Council of Europe and OSCE will receive instructions about, among other things, ‘the Tymoshenko case.’ As we know, the Kremlin is formally taking a different attitude to it, in comparison with the Ukrainian leadership. I think these are the main methods – I can’t see any other in Russia’s arsenal.”
What the article authors call another obstacle is a skeptical attitude of the European Union which doubts that Ukraine will be able to satisfy the partners’ demands as far as the state and law are concerned. Indeed, Kyiv’s previous policies provided ample grounds for this. Suffice it to recall the “Orange period.” Europe’s great expectations in 2004 gave way in the course of time to great disappointments – also in Ukraine itself. There were also other events that complicated our relations, so Europe was not exactly eager to deal with our problems – besides, it was necessary to persuade all the 28 countries of Ukraine’s desire to integrate with Europe. For it is not the same to deal with our former-Soviet-camp partners and the “old Europe.”
“For Ukraine to become part of the European community, the Ukrainian leadership must, first of all, break down the EU’s prejudice against our state,” says Oleksii Tolkachov, president of European Association of Ukrainians. “I must say that not only the Ukrainian side has taken some blameworthy actions, such as, the imprisonment of Tymoshenko and Lutsenko. In reality, there are also more than enough political persecutions in Europe, but they receive low-key coverage. The real point is in a deliberate informational political campaign against Ukraine and against its EU membership. This campaign is spearheaded by Germany at the request of Russia. My personal experience of working in Europe shows that Germany is a most powerful, but not self-sufficient, player. Russia has long been keeping Germany on the hook, and the latter is taking a pro-Russian attitude in many questions. As is known, Russia would not like Ukraine to realize its Euro-integration ambitions. The Ukrainians may also be having their own ‘agents’ in the EU, the Poles, but the current leadership has not yet managed to build constructive cooperation between the two countries. It is its gravest problem.”
As far as the No. 2 item is concerned, it is worthwhile to recall the well-known British foreign-affairs journalist Lancelot Lawton who emphasized the importance of the “Ukrainian question” for Europe as long ago as in the early 1930s. In his opinion, it was extremely necessary for British policies in the East to include Ukraine in the system of Western Europe. “Without an independent Ukraine, European progress and peace in the world is impossible,” he wrote.
I think the absolute majority of European politicians have a certain immunity to critical information about Tymoshenko,” political scientist Volodymyr Fesenko says. “But this does not mean they view Tymoshenko as a political angel. They are aware of her numerous problems, mistakes, and sins. One of the reasons why Europe recognized Yanukovych’s victory so fast was disappointment with Yushchenko and Tymoshenko. Nevertheless, Tymoshenko is so far regarded as victim. And the ‘Shcherban case’ is unlikely to radically change the attitude to Tymoshenko. So far, the case evidence and witness testimonies raise more questions than give answers.
And, finally, the third obstacle, which will surprise many Ukrainians. “The third ‘stumbling block’ is the Ukrainian opposition, namely, the arrest and trial of the former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who has now had one more criminal case opened against her – this time it is complicity in contract murder, – and persecution of other opposition politicians,” the Die Welt journalists write. “Even if public prosecutors fail to prove the ex-premier’s guilt, the political reputation of Tymoshenko will be ruined.”
Indeed, this item deserves a closer and more profound examination. For the opposition and the government seem to have made a joint statement about Ukraine’s Euro-integration aspirations on the eve of the summit. Why do the article authors believe that the opposition is a problem on the leadership’s way to Euro-integration? What does this mean?
“I do not think the opposition is the main obstacle on the way to integration with Europe. Yet there is really a problem. For example, there are some problems that should be solved in parliament to meet the so-called ‘Fuele criteria.’ A compromise will have to be reached here. Is the opposition prepared for this? What will prevail – the desire to work for European integration or the desire to work for purely oppositional or even narrow-party interests? It is an open question. Nor do I see any preparedness for a compromise in the key matters linked to election law reform. No compromise will mean that one of the key criteria will not be met. What we need is constructive cooperation between the government and the opposition.
“I think the absolute majority of European politicians have a certain immunity to critical information about Tymoshenko,” political scientist Volodymyr Fesenko says. “But this does not mean they view Tymoshenko as a political angel. They are aware of her numerous problems, mistakes, and sins. One of the reasons why Europe recognized Yanukovych’s victory so fast was disappointment with Yushchenko and Tymoshenko. Nevertheless, Tymoshenko is so far regarded as victim. And the ‘Shcherban case’ is unlikely to radically change the attitude to Tymoshenko. So far, the case evidence and witness testimonies raise more questions than give answers. This case has only brought back the ex-premier’s 1990s attitudes and involvement in corruption (the United Energy Systems of Ukraine affair), but Europeans know this in any case. Tymoshenko has not repented, which is also a problem. The Europeans may be entertaining some more doubts, but they have not radically changed their attitude.”
Our society is inclined to believe that the government is bad and the opposition is good, one should side with the latter. But if the opposition continues to disregard the key problems, such as, for example, the high-profile “Gongadze case,” this may lead to a situation when the opposition will hinder the plans of Euro-integration and Viktor Yanukovych will come up as chief Euro-integrator and unifier of Ukrainian lands. This is quite possible.