Four Political Dimensions of Ukraines Future Europeanization

This article is based on an interview taken by Olena Tregub, a foreign correspondent for the Ukrainian news agency UNIAN, during the Canadian-Ukrainian Parliamentary Programs 3rd Model Ukraine Conference Ukraines Domestic and Foreign Affairs: Quo Vadis? at the University of Oxford, UK, on 7 April 2011.

 Dr. Andreas Umland is a DAAD Associate Professor of Political Science at the National University of “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy,” Ukraine, and General Editor of the trilingual book series “Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society” (www.ibidem-verlag.de/spps.html).

Although the EU plays a crucial role for the future of Europe, the stability and development of Europe in the 21st century do not depend exclusively on the Union’s internal affairs. The Union’s relationship to its European Eastern neighbors in the next years, above all to Russia and Ukraine, may be even more important than the EU’s finances, reform and performance. Should the EU, Russia and Ukraine be able to find a sustainable basis for their daily interactions, gradual rapprochement and eventual integration, Europe will have a secure future. If, however, Europe remains divided into law-based democracies on the on side, and more or less authoritarian countries on the other, Europe’s future will stay uncertain. The continent will continue to suffer from diplomatic rows, be haunted by agonizing political confrontation and may even run the risk of armed conflict, in regions such as the Crimean peninsula.


The development of Ukraine plays a pivotal role in the resolution of this issue. It is, among the Eastern Slavic countries, the least regressed towards authoritarianism. Moreover, it has remained consistently pro-European since achieving independence in 1991 until today. The various Ukrainian leaderships have been remarkably inept in their attempts to reform their country’s economic and social system during the last twenty years. Nevertheless, they all have stuck to the aim of attaining full membership of the European Union. Ukraine thus remains a country amenable towards influence from Brussels, and towards gradual Europeanization.

The future of the Ukrainian state will, to a great extent, also decide the future of Europe. As famously stated by Zbigniew Brzezinski in the 1990s, a sustainable Ukrainian independence means the end of Russian imperialism. A stable and Europeanized Ukrainian state would help transform Russia into a proper nation-state and prevent the re-emergence of the Russian empire. It would thus remove a major obstacle for the creation of the Common European Home, once envisaged by Mikhail Gorbachev.

The Union’s leadership will thus be wise to focus on Kyiv. The recent involvement of Brussels with Kyiv has deepened - in contrast to many EU member states’ still casual treatment of Ukraine. Nevertheless, the daily practice and public rhetoric of Brussel’s engagement with Kyiv is often all about “practical” matters. It is focused on down-to-earth issues in the interactions between the peoples and economies of both sides. Therefore, today’s debates on the Ukrainian-European rapprochement are predominantly concerned with Brussel’s planned agreements with Kyiv on deep and comprehensive free trade as well as on visa-free travel, which are to be concluded this or next year. While these treaties will doubtlessly be rather important, there are additional political aspects to the EU’s engagment with Ukraine. These larger dimensions signal a higher significance for Brussel’s cooperation with Kyiv than is sometimes acknowledged in official debates about the purposes and aims of this process. As important as trade and tourism are for the daily life of Europeans, the implications of possible failures and successes in the evolving EU-Ukraine relationship will go far beyond such issues as the free exchange of people and goods across borders.

The current rapprochement between the EU and Ukraine has, at least, four distinctly political aspects that touch upon a variety of domestic and foreign policy issues. They concern the questions of Kyiv’s embeddedness in international structures, the direction of Ukraine’s domestic reforms, the impulses that a Ukrainian Europeanization might provide for a Russian re-democratization, and the significance of the European idea for the stability of the Ukrainian state. All of these dimensions have implications that transcend the question of Ukraine’s national development, and even reach beyond the limits of contemporary East European affairs. Indeed, the answers to each of these questions have far-reaching implications for the fate of European integration and security in the 21st century.

First, Ukraine is so far a relatively isolated country within the international system. While it is a member of such organizations as the UN, Council of Europe, OSCE and WTO, it remains outside the major economic and security blocs of the Earth’s northern hemisphere. Against this background, every new step that gets the Ukrainian state closer to the EU seems beneficial. It will lead to an informal “securitization” and gradual de facto – if not yet a de jure – anchoring of Ukraine within the emerging trans-European political system. The current under-institutionalization of Ukraine’s links to the outside world should be constantly diminished - even though that can only happen via relatively small steps, for the time being. What is needed, in the near future for Ukraine, are as many as possible low and medium level agreements with the EU and its member states that would deepen, step by step, Ukraine’s embeddedness in all-European structures. In the long run, this process should lead to a full membership of Ukraine in the EU as well as in NATO.


In fact, concerning the latter controversial issue one could speculate that, a NATO membership would not be that important any more by the time Ukraine enters the EU. That is because in the coming years the EU will presumably evolve further into a supranational quasi-federation. Most probably, further European integration will consolidate the notion that the EU is a full-scale defense community that would, even more explicitly than today, provide security guarantees to its member states. In any way, most EU members are NATO members, and the majority of NATO countries are also in the EU.

A second domestic effect of European integration is equally important. Deepening cooperation with Europe could send important signals or even provide critical impulses concerning the course, conduct and speed of future reforms in Ukraine. It is universally acknowledged that Ukraine needs to fundamentally change its political, administrative, economic, social and education system. However, the question of which socio-economic model exactly Ukraine should embrace remains a matter of dispute and source of stagnation. The confusion about what exact model to follow sometimes undermines the design, instigation and implementation of reforms. Various Ukrainian political forces are not only considering the European model, but are also interested in the US, Soviet, Russian, Belarusian, Chinese, Singaporean and other models.

It is difficult to judge which models are the most appropriate for Ukraine. Often, however, the main problem seems to be not which exact model to choose, but whether or not a model is chosen at all, and implemented afterwards. Ukraine is in dire need of action - passivity is more dangerous than action. A continuing rapprochement between Kyiv and Brussels means that the European model may gradually become the dominant one. This will hopefully reduce time, costs and energy in the process of designing, initiating and completing urgently needed reforms. The European Union has fairly detailed prescriptions of what other countries have to do to further integrate their economies with the European ones. Such concrete prescriptions may be what Ukraine today needs most. We have seen enough political quarreling, heard too many semi-academic discussions, and observed sufficient “multivectoralism.” Many years and opportunities have been lost. The time has come to move forward.