Ukraine: the EU’s soft power vs. Russia’s brutal pressure

Posted by anatoliymartsynovski on 19/08/13

After failure its  diplomatic efforts to stop an EU-Ukraine Association agreement signature Russia began trade war against Ukraine. The game in diplomacy is over – Kremlin starts to use more traditional instruments.

There is nothing unexpectable or new. The same approach was used regarding Baltic states when they were on the way to NATO. But Ukraine is more important for Russia and worse situated to resist.

The European integration is strange and incomprehencible matter for the current Ukrainian authority. President Yanukovich and Ukrainian foreign ministry are keeping silence during almost week after Russia began its hard pressure. Normally they were to make political  appraisement of the situation and stress on the determination to sign an Association agreement with the EU – since it is a reason for Russia’s attack.

But the EU is keeping silence as well, and it is also unnatural stance. Europe can not make a look that is it a deal only between Russia and Ukraine. Actually Brussels is a part of that war, and Ukraine’s loss will mean its loss too. Widelly, it is the war between the EU’s soft power and Russia’s traditional brutal pressure.

So the EU was to provide political support to Ukraine from the beginning of the story. And now has to think about further steps in close consultations with Ukrainian authority. Of course, if president Yanukovich and its entourage are still going to resist against Kremlin pressure and to sign an agreement with the EU. We do not know about that – but some EU leaders can call and ask.

Two good news on the EU-Ukraine association prospect

Last Saturday in Kyiv Russia’s president Vladimir Putin  was describing longly the benefits  what Ukraine got in Russia and Soviet empires. It was really funny to watch that nothing changed in the mind of Kremlin leaders.

The rhetoric used in communist times remains the same in nowadays. “No man  putteth new wine into old bottles”, said in New Testament, but Mr.Putin does not listen to that. Even despite the fact that he visited Kyiv to celebrate 1025 anniversary of the Kyivska Rus’  mass baptism.

Russia always uses religion as argument on the “historical unity” of two nations. For the time being orthodoxy is one of the means to drag Ukraine into a new Russia’s controlled integration body. Being in Kyiv Kremlin leader again implied that Ukraine should join Customs union of Russia, Belarus’ and Kazakhstan.









But for the time being Moscow’s  tactical task  number one  is to prevent an EU-Ukraine Association agreement signature. Situation with that remains highly uncertain, but there are two good news before next summer breake.

Paradoxically, but the first one is that situation remains highly uncertain. In the case of worst scenario we could know already that the agreement will not be signing on November.  Everything went to such sad final in the first months of the year: new criminal proceeding against ex-premier Yulia Tymoshenko;  in fact unrealizable EU’s demand to fulfill all conditions required till May; deprivation of MP’s credentials of Mrs. Tymoshenko’s defender Serhiy Vlasenko etc. But miracle or half-miracle has happened and we still have some hopes.

The second good news is that the question of the joining to Customs union is not on  Ukraine’s agenda.  We do not know if it is forever – but for the time being it is not obstacle for the AA signature. Some time ago seemed that highly aggressive Russia’s pressure could bring fruits and Ukraine will be enticed to Russia’s  integration body. But it did not happen.  Kyiv told that it does not have plans to join Customs union and now just trying to sweeten  Kremlin’s disappointment and anger.

But there are number of other obstacles which Ukraine should  remove till October. The case of Yulia Tymoshenko and serious legislative changes in the field of judiciary are among them. It is impossible to predict final result. But time to know it is not so far.


The EU-Ukraine summit: breaking point or funeral ceremony?

Will Ukraine be fulfilling the Council’s conditions for signature of  its Association agreement with the EU – or will not? That is main question for the next EU-Ukraine summit scheduled for Monday, 25.

As for today the  answer sounds “no”. Ukraine does nothing. More that, president Yanukovych does not demonstrate real intention to fulfill the conditions. The EU demands Ukraine to put an end to politically motivated persecution and conduct a number of reforms.

A new case against former premier-minister Yulia Tymoshenko looks like peculiar answer for  the EU’s demand to stop selective justice. Ukrainian government has adopted a Plan of priority measures on European integration for 2013 – but everything related to reforms required is too general and looks like imitation of the intentions.  Ukraine’s foreign minister Leonid Kozhara has stated there are not the EU’s conditions – there is just the EU’s “desire”. Certainly, that also means Ukraine does not have  to fulfill it.

All above mentioned looks like de-facto  refusal to  sign an agreement under Council’s conditions. For the optimists next summit will be a possible break point or last chance to change the situation. Pessimists consider it like funeral ceremony for the Association agreement. Who of those are realists? We will understand it very soon after summit.


Füle’s clear messages and Kyiv’s general statements

Last week EU Commissioner on enlargement and European neighbourhood policy Štefan Füle has spent two days in Kyiv. His visit was the last high-level contact with Ukrainian authority before next EU-Ukraine summit, scheduled for February, 25 in Brussels.

Naturally, an Association agreement was  the main  issue  of  Füle’s visit. It is almost on the table – a technical works with the texts are finishing.  So there comes a time when to take decision. Accordingly to Council conclusions made in last Deсember, in order to sign the agreement Ukraine has to fulfill a number of conditions.

Füle’s visit was valuable by number of clear messages:
- there is no progress in fulfillment of the conditions yet.
- the deadline for Association agreement’s signing is next November, at Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius.
- if the agreement not to be signed in Vilnuis, the deal will be postponed for  years – probably till 2015 or 2016.
- Ukraine’s progress in fulfilment of the conditions should be tangible much before November – the European Commision will start its evaluation in few months, tentatively in May.

Everything looks clear. But what about the same clear  messages from Ukrainian side? They are absent. Only general statements about wish to sign the Association agreement as soon as possible and Ukraine’s  attempts to remove an obctacles for this.


Yanukovych’s new message to Brussels: no conditions or no agreement

Posted by anatoliymartsynovski on 22/01/13

Former Ukrainian PM Yulia Tymoshenko can get imprisonment  for life. Ukraine’s  prosecutor’s office has officially accused her  of murder of MP Evgen Shcherban on 1996.

Certainly, the accusations are highly doubtful and are a continuation of opposition leader’s persecution. But in the same time it is demonstrative message to the EU – president Yanukovych is not going to fulfill Brussels’ conditions needed to sign  the Association agreement. The main one is to stop so called selective justice.

It is not first such a message. The current Tymoshenko’s sentence – 7 years of imprisonment – she has got on October,11, 2011. It happened just for few days before president Yanukovych’s planned visit to Brussels. That visit was annuled.

Now story is repeating. The EU-Ukraine summit is scheduled for February, 25. New case against Tymoshenko called to demonstrate that all Brussels’ attempts to push president Yanukovych will be unsuccessful. More that, it looks like his ultimatim to the EU: no conditions or no agreement.

Ukraine’s choice 2013: European or Eurasian Union?

The manoeuvring between West and East was common Ukraine’s business for many years. So called “multi-vectorial foreign policy” meant to keep distance from Russia and to speak about European integration as top priority for the country.

Practically, Ukraine did not make a choice yet. Country was indeed avoiding both integration processes led by Russia and reforms needed for real, not declarative European integration.

Seems in 2013 Ukraine will be forced to make a choice. It will be very difficult or even impossible to continue the game.

Putin-Yanukovych meeting in Moscow, October 2012

Russia pushes hard president Victor Yanukovych to drive Ukraine into its Customs union -  an element of wider Russia  initiated  process aimed to creation of the Eurasian Union. Kremlin does not demand democracy in Ukraine, promises cheap gas for the participation in the Customs union and threatens  with restriction of Ukrainian export if not. All these things are highly sensible for Ukrainian political elite and oligarchs: they need cheap gas, want sell more production of their plants to Russia and do not like democracy.  However joining the Customs union will mean loss the significant part of Ukraine’s economic sovereignity, what is also considerable threat for Yanukovych and his surroundings.  Certainly, participation in Russia’s block  will make impossible signing the Association agreement with the EU.

On the contrary,  for Ukraine  signing the Association agreement would be  an insurance against coming back under Russia’s sphere of influence.  Also the agreement could be an instrument for Ukraine’s modernization and deep economic integration into EU’s single market. However, seems that window of opportunities for this can close this year – the agreement will not lie on the table forever.  Indicative  deadline for “to be or not to be” is November, when next Eastern Partnership summit will take place. Yanukovych should carry out a number of conditions, specified by the EU Council on  December, 2012, and mostly relative to democratization of Ukraine. So far there are not any indications   of Yanukovych’s rediness to fulfill the conditions.

Meanwhile, last polls show that Ukrainians mostly support rapprochement with the EU – 52% for joining the Union, although a big part of the population is continuing to dream about “new USSR”.

Public opinion in Ukraine on joining the EU


Besides of public opinion there are many legislative obstacles, in particular Constitutional, to bring Ukraine again under Russia’s control. True, current Ukrainian leadership is extremely skilled in various tricks and passing over the law. In any case  looks that the situation with Ukraine’s choice 2013 will be more-less clear within next three-four months. Officially for the time being Ukrainian leadership is looking for the possibility to cooperate with Customs union without joining it. But everything remains highly opaque and unpredictable.

The EU-Ukraine Association agreement has a paltry chance of being signed

Finally,  Foreign affaires Council has produced its conclusions on Ukraine. The Council has taken just about one and half month to react for Ukrainian parliamentary elections happened on October, 28 and to decide what to do with Ukraine further.

So it was unambiguously hard decision. The prospects of the Association agreement’s signature were the main subject. Shortly, Council’s conclusions mean that:

- approach based on the values has won within the EU – it is continuing stick to so called “conditionality”. In other words the agreement can be signed only if Ukraine will fulfil number of conditions – deliberation of opposition leaders, carrying out electoral and judicial reforms;
- most likely Association agreement will not be signed. Ukrainian authority and president Yanukovych in particular do not demonstrate any wish to fulfil the conditions or demands which would harm their total control over Ukraine.

The EU does not have enough influence to Ukrainian  authority to push it towards real European integration. President Yanukovych does not have political will for pro-European transformations. In the end it is Ukrainians themselves who will decide about future of their country – whether it will be with United Europe or will slipp down to authoritarianism and  return under Russia’s control. What can  the EU do in the circumstances existing  – to communicate more actively with Ukrainian society, explaining the benefits of European integration and Association agreement in particular, shaping demand for real, not declarative pro-European changes. Be more visible for the Ukrainians and more friendly regarding  visas policy. It would be valuable help.

Democracy, the EU and Yanukovych’s party lost on elections in Ukraine

Posted by anatoliymartsynovski on 05/11/12

Everything has happened even worse than expected.

“The 28 October parliamentary elections were characterized by the lack of a level playing field, caused primarily by the abuse of administrative resources, lack of transparency of campaign and party financing, and lack of balanced media coverage. Certain aspects of the pre-election period constituted a step backwards compared with recent national elections”, – stated International observation mission in its preliminary conclusions, published next day after voting.

But it turned out that voting day was not the end for bad news from Ukraine. Brutal tricks and falsifications began on number of single constituencies, where opposition candidates were winning. Police, bandits, members of election committies, courts – all together they were involved to provide victory for “right” candidates. Democracy finally lost in these elections.

Such sad development had shown also failure of EU politics regarding president Yanukovych, who carries main responsibility for the undemocratic elections with his Party of regions. The EU has issued many statements and warnings calling for free and fair elections – but it did not have any effect. Europe should recognize that its  influence to Ukrainian leadership  is close to zero and is not  sufficientcan to prevent Ukraine from slipping down to authoritarianism.  A new approach is clearly needed.

Good news is that Party of regions although seems like formal winner, actually also lost elections  accordingly to preliminary calculations. On the proportional system it has 30% of the votes while three opposition parties together – “Bat’kivshchyna” of Yulia Tymoshenko, “Udar” of Vitaliy Klychko and  “Svoboda” –  got about 53%. In a quantitative sense Yanukovych ‘s party received this time 2 mln votes less than at last parliamentary elections on 2007.  At that most of their seats  “regions” are getting from  single constituencies, with help of administrative resourses and different tricks  and fraud. But  even in such conditions ruling party is far from obtaining majority in new parliament without involving communists or so called independent MPs.  So wereas democracy actually lost on these elections the story is not over.

The EU will face with difficult choice after Ukrainian elections

Posted by anatoliymartsynovski on 23/10/12

Next Sunday Ukrainians will be electing new parliament – Verkhovna Rada.  EU-Ukraine relations were not among most discussed issues in electoral campaign. Ukrainian politicians are traditionally stuck in the mutual accusations and shallow disputes on internal development.

But in the same time the event has huge importance for further dialog between Ukraine and Union. Free and democratic parliamentary elections would bring relations back on track and allow to advance it to the conclusion of Association agreement.

However it is difficult to be optimistic. The campaign was very far from European and international standards.

There were mass subornation of the voters and political hypocrisy; different tricks and fraud in order to confuse people; violations regarding opposition, independent candidates and journalists; all possible preferences for the ruling Party of Regions.

There were not wide direct discussions among political leaders on national TV; proper reaction of judiciary system on the facts of violations; equal access to the media for all candidates etc. Poor quality of Ukrainian electoral legislation has encouraged dishonest and undemocratic passing of the campaign. Imprisonment of opposition leaders – Yulia Tymoshenko and Yuriy Lutsenko – also put legitimacy of these elections under question.

Definitely, many in Brussels and other European capitals had hopes for at least relatively free and democratic Ukrainian elections. President Yanukovych has before repeatedly promised to ensure this. One can say it was not happen. Ukrainian leadership  seems ignoring both external demands and his own declarations.

There is very slight chance for at least “half-happy end” – voting day is ahead. But most likely the EU will face with difficult choice after elections:  to compromise with own principles and to resume dialog with Mr Yanikovych despite continued supression of democracy in the country – or to preserve present status quo  for indefinite time.


Ukrainians can not decide between Europe and Russia

Posted by anatoliymartsynovski on 11/10/12

According to the last poll conducted by Democratic Initiatives Foundation together with Oleksandr Razumkov Centre, about 44 % of Ukrainians are willing enter the EU and about 38% have a negative attitude to this idea. Of course, the question is very theoretical since Ukraine does not have membership perspectives. But the fact that only minority of the population wants join the block with so high level of life and democratic standards could seem as difficult to explain.
In the same time over 45% of Ukrainians are for integration with Russia’s Customs Union, while 35.7% are against. Those prospects are enough theoretical too since president Yanukovych and his team clearly against to share Ukraine with Kremlin – they want exploit it exclusively. But it is difficult to understand why almost half of the population want come back under ruling of Russia – authoritarian state with poor population and without any prospects for modernization.
So Ukrainians as a whole do not know where to go – to Europe or to Russia.  Of course, there are number of possible explanations for this strange mood. It is said that Ukrainians do not aware sufficiently about the EU – but even those who never been in Europe knows that life in the EU is much better than in Ukraine or in Russia. It is indicative that the highest quality of goods and services in Ukraine often have prefix “euro” – for example “Eurorepair” when comes about accomodation There is no “Russian quality” as wider term to attract consumers.
It is also said that  change of the generations is needed to break off with Soviet past and, correspondingly, with nostalgia for common inhabitation with Russia. But already more than 20 years Ukraine is independent state – it seems enough to be realists even for those who have spent significant part of their life in the USSR.
Finally, one more argument is that no presidents or governments in independent Ukraine really tried to advance country to Europe making pro-European reforms and promoting European values. Yes, it is the case and it is really important to have such kind of leadership for post-Soviet country like Ukraine. But in the same there was no strong demand for such leadership from Ukrainian society during all 20 years of independence.
But all above mentioned does not mean that EU should humble with the situation and stop to try approach “strange Ukrainians”. In contrary – it should be more open, close and understandable for the people in Ukraine. So far it is not the case, and it provokes many speculations about “closed” European doors and “widely open” doors to Russia.