What Europe gains and Russia does not lose

| Euroatlantica

Expert view of Yuriy Matsiyevsky, Fulbright scholar at Kennan Institute, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, DC


I don’t want to seem cynical but it is all about Ukraine. More precisely, the anticipated initiation of the Association Agreement and Free Trade Zone between the EU and Ukraine, which is supposed to be signed on the 19th of December in Kyiv. But the EU leaders may not sign it. After another serving of remarks V. Yanukovych publicly announced that if the EU doesn’t want the deal, then he is prepared to make a full break as well. This thinly-veiled insult is designed not only to show his personal toughness and consistency, but to test the mettle of the Europeans as well.  The President could hardly have stated anything worse, but given his previous words and deeds this does not seem out of place. This time the ball is in the Europeans’ court and the decision, whatever it will be, will have to be made in Brussels.


Before considering what Europe will gain if it signs the agreement, let’s take a look at what makes the signing it in Kyiv so inconvenient for eurocrats.


1. In spite of the obvious political nature of the trials involving opposition leaders, it is hard for Brussels’ elite to accept not just the permanent playing with rules or the “deterioration of democratic standards” but the fact that the decision should be inherently geopolitical.  The EU along with its experts and statesmen like to claim that they are not guided by geopolitical considerations in foreign policy. “The decision whether Ukraine wants to be in EU should be made in Ukraine” or “We cannot decide for Ukraine” is what European statesmen and experts say when it comes to the signing of the agreement with Ukraine. This means that liberal values are obstructing Europeans from signing the agreement.


Actually, there is no contradiction between geopolitical considerations and liberal values. The majority, if not all decisions about the enlargement of the EU were geopolitical, especially those that concerned the entry of Romania and Bulgaria. Of course, as with the case of the ten new members who joined in May 2004, those decisions were “packaged” in a liberal wrapping. Candidate states applied, they were given some conditions and they fulfilled them or moved in the direction of fulfillment, their leaders showed political will and Russia couldn’t prevent either “old” or “new” Europeans from unification. The case of Ukraine seems to be different, as the influence of Russia on Ukrainian key players and some part of Europeans is much bigger. Russia is successively making some moves in the direction of reintegrating much of the post-Soviet area and on all levels is trying to persuade the West that the red line between “the area of responsibility” lies on the western border of Belarus and Ukraine. The question is where does that border lie in the mind of EU key players? The majority of newly-joined members of the EU don’t mind it lying on the eastern border of Ukraine and Belarus, but in Berlin and Paris this idea has found less support.  If it is the case that, as the head of Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Ukraine Niko Lange assures us, that “Russian policy of Germany is far from making a deal against Ukraine”, then it is high time to demonstrate it.


2. European statesmen don’t want to give Yanukovych the opportunity to designate for himself the title of “euro-integrator” and pose for photos with EU delegates while Tymoshenko is in jail. One American professor wrote about it very clearly. As he argued, the agreement can be concluded without all the glitter by holding the summit as a mere working meeting.


To overcome their doubts European officials should do one simple thing, namely separate the person from the problem. The problem is not about Yanukovych or Tymoshenko. The problem is really about Ukraine and the future of 46 million people, but the dialogue is being dominated by Yanukovych and his milieu. Psychologically this can be tough even for experienced statesmen. But once Europeans recall this simple rule of conducting negotiations, the reality will change and the decision will not seem that difficult.


Thus, if in the main European capitals they will dare to acknowledge that it is beneficial for Europe to see Ukraine “tightened” to the EU, while falling far short of full EU entry, then they will solve three tasks, none of which contradict liberal values.


First of all, the EU will get the opportunity to influence the behavior of the current regime at least to some degree. The initialization of the agreement opens the way for ratification, but only if the resolution of the European parliament from 27th of October 2011 is realized. Yanukovych will be forced to seek a way out of the trap he found himself in after Tymoshenko’s lawsuit. In case Yanukovych does not do his “homework”, or the conducts “dirty” elections, there won’t be ratification. Then the temptation to assign to him the role of euro-integrator will fade, and he will lose internal support and have a bad start on the 2015 elections.


Secondly, the initialization of the agreement may help Europeans define the borders of Europe and more importantly, the “red line”- and possibly to get rid of it completely.  In joining Ukraine to the mental map of Europe, European conservative elites will overcome their own stereotypes and show the unity with their nations in attitude to Ukraine and Ukrainians. The surveys that are held in EU countries from time to time show that the majority of Europeans don’t mind Ukraine’s entry to the EU.


Thirdly, economic benefits, which the EU will get from Ukraine’s entry in FTA, are mentioned in the agreement. Besides, in the case of gradual institutionalization of political and economical rules of the game in Ukraine, Europeans will receive access to a large market and the opportunity to soften their own demographic problems with the help of educated Ukrainian-Christians who share European cultural values.


In such a way the initialization of the agreement costs nothing to the EU, doesn’t contradict liberal values but imposes a duty on Yanukovych. The Europeans should try their best to push Kyiv to their own orbit. If successful the political gravity of the EU will become more tangible in Kyiv and in 10-15 years the EU and Ukraine may be ready for full integration.


It is also worth noting that Russia, which according to liberal values should be associated with millions of democratic citizens and not with oil, gas and Putin, will also benefit from the success of Ukraine. The success of its “older sister” will help the “younger” define its identity, borders and its role in world politics.


The above-mentioned benefits are not essential for the EU, especially in the short-term perspective. In its current state the Union may not care about Ukraine. But if emotions prevail again and simplified approach overshadows the prospective gains, then the losses may prove more tangible.


The pause in the dialogue with Ukraine may witness an increase of activity of the current Kremlin’s leaders, who are not bound by any values in providing for their own survival. Not signing the agreement in Kyiv will be a gift for Putin, who will need fewer facts to tempt Yanukovych with entry to the Customs Union. In case of Ukraine’s slipping into Russia’s orbit, the authoritarian regime in Russia will become more powerful as will authoritarian tendencies in Ukraine. In such an event social dissatisfaction strengthened by political frustration from the absence of progress in internal and external policy can run out of the control of the government and a prolonged decline can become full-blown chaos.


The need for establishing order in an undemocratic country of many millions on the borders of the EU may become a very tangible reality in Central and East-European countries. The influx of illegals, smuggling, criminals or anything else that is defined as a threat to “soft security” is easier to prevent than repress. In the latter case the borders of the EU will have to become more closed, which will obviously contradict universal, liberal values.


The increase of pressure will cause resistance that can end with the isolation of Yanukovych and a nudging to Lukashenko’s way. The hostage in this situation is Ukraine, the Ukrainian nation, which is a post-genocidal society and suffers from the infirmity of the Ukrainian government and the inflexibility of West.


Despite the fact that the business interests of the “donetskiye” or the group of business people who fill the ranks of Yanukovych administration, contradict the political interests of the Kremlin, the Eurasian style of communication is closer to Yanukovych than the European. The only thing that prevents Russians and Ukrainians from communicating on the highest level are complexes. The Russians cannot get rid of an only slightly hidden contempt, arrogance and cynicism in their dealings with the Ukrainians, and the latter cannot get rid of their inferiority complex in their relationship with the Russians. Perhaps it is merely a Napoleonic complex of the current owners of the Kremlin, or the vestiges of a great-power tradition of dealing with the Ukrainians. So if the tension between Yanukovych and Europeans is on the level of values then with the Russians it is on the personal level, which seems to be sometimes lulled with the help of a shared cultural code and pressure to the weak places of every politician.


It seems like the game we are watching lately, is not being conducted between Yanukovych, the West and Russia but rather between the West and Russia in which Ukraine is merely a trophy, with Yanukovych as the ball. Being unable to separate a person (Yanukovych) from the problem (Ukraine), Western politicians turn a blind eye to the “golden” rule of negotiations. They should keep dialogue with Yanukovych, no matter how unpleasant he is, in order not to give Putin the opportunity to take the initiative. Dragging Ukraine, firstly, in the Customs Union, then in the Eurasian Union, Russia will receive access to a huge market, the control over strategic communications and a straight exit to the West, while Putin will attain the mantle of “land gatherer” and a life-long presidency. The center of decision- making will successively move from Kyiv to Moscow, Russia will acquire more geopolitical significance in its relationships with China while prolonging its own decay by another 30-50 years.


And what about the West? The West together with Russia’s oil and gas will receive enormous unstable territory close to its borders that in other conditions could play the role of a geopolitical valve. A stable and controlled Ukraine could absorb not only Russian pressure but also threats to European “soft security”. For Baltic countries, Poland, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria those invocations are becoming especially tangible, which will demand new expenses for the thickening of borders and more.


What should the West do in order not to lose Ukraine?


1. Separate the person from the problem, which means to keep the dialogue with Yanukovych, no matter how hard it looks.

2. Initiate the agreement about the political association with Ukraine, including the strict list of the criteria of ratification. Then use the agreement as a means of pressure on Yanukovych and his current government before the parliamentary elections of 2012.

These two steps are incentives or “carrots”.  If the Ukrainian government continues to pull the European’s leg, there still is plan “B” or “sticks”. But the sticks or sanctions should be applied not against the country but against the temporary Ukrainian government.



European statesmen can directly say to Kyiv that in case of “dirty” elections:


1. The agreement won’t be ratified and all the responsibility will fall on the President.

2. Ukrainian officials, the owners of diplomatic IDs will lose the opportunity of visa-free travels to the EU and the IDs will be valid only for statesmen.  This step, as the same American professor stated, should be taken with a clear understanding by the Ukrainian government. Moreover the citizens of Ukraine should have a simplified procedure and pricing for receiving a Schengen visa.


In making demands about keeping to democratic standards, European statesmen don’t want to understand that Ukraine is not Poland, Estonia or even Romania. After years of communicating with Kuchma, Yushchenko and now Yanukovych they should have understood that when in Kyiv they say “yes” it may not actually mean “yes” and in fact may actually mean “no”. But inflexibility in relationships with Yanukovych may cost an arm and a leg to the Europeans themselves.