Two months ago, Ukraine celebrated its tenth anniversary as an independent state. Experts, analysts and journalists have tried to sum up the achievements and failures of the years passed after the collapse of the Soviet Union and define Ukraine's role and place in the current system of international relations.
For the majority of people inside and outside the country, the prevailing feeling about Ukraine throughout this period has probably been that of uncertainty: discussions about where Ukraine is actually heading—back to Russia, which dominated Eastern Ukraine for more than 300 years, leaving Russian as the "first choice" in languages for over 50 percent of Ukrainian citizens, or towards the European Union, which will soon incorporate Central East European countries (CEEC), where Western Ukraine used to belong, having been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before it was divided between Poland, Romania and Czechoslovakia and becoming part of Soviet Ukraine after 1939—are still urgent today as they were in the beginning of 1990s.
While Ukraine was defining its foreign policy priorities—a process which has been painful not least due to the legacy of the past, or, more precisely, the absence of a common collective historical memory and single national identity—its western neighbors, former Communist countries, made their choice and have been successful in approaching the European Union. Today, as the European Union is enlarging eastwards, new threats and opportunities appear for Ukraine, which is not among the accession countries and will soon have to deal with the consequences of this process.
Among Ukrainian think-tanks focused on the analysis and research of the foreign policy of Ukraine, especially on its relations with the European Union, its economic development and trans-border cooperation, the Kyiv Center of the EastWest Institute (EWI), a European-American NGO, is well-known and respected in terms of its impact on the public policy process. Dr Oleksandr Pavliuk, Director of the Kyiv Center of the EWI and expert on security, foreign policy and regional cooperation of Ukraine and Professor Ihor Burakovsky, Senior Economist of the Kyiv Center of the EWI and expert on international economics and EU integration issues shared with CER their views on the development of relations between Ukraine and the European Union, as well as on the foreign policy of Ukraine.
Central Europe Review: Since Ukraine gained independence, its behavior has been quite inconsistent. As early as the beginning of the 1990s, it claimed that it wanted to become a full-fledged member of the European Community. In 1998, Ukraine adopted a National Strategy of integration into the EU, which states that Ukraine's long-term strategic goal is full membership in the EU. Recently, the former Ministry of Economics of Ukraine was transformed into that of Economics and European Integration.
On the other hand, Ukraine has failed to fulfill its commitment to economic reforms and violated provisions of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA), the document which provides the legislative framework of cooperation between the two parties. It has also behaved in the way incompatible with principles of the World Trade Organization (WTO), future membership of which is part of Ukraine's European aspiration.
But can we also say that the EU, which rapidly developed mechanisms of integrating CEEC into its structures, has lacked a coherent strategy towards the former Soviet Union space and the so-called Newly Independent States, thus reinforcing a kind of hesitation in Ukraine?
Ihor Burakovsky: Yes, this statement is true, but it has to be elaborated on and a number of both objective and subjective factors have to be considered. First, the development of political relationships with new independent states presupposes two phases. The first stage can be named as a period of establishment of preliminary political contacts, and cooperation at this stage is usually limited to declarations and the signing of agreements—within internationally recognized principles of interstate relations. The second stage presupposes the establishment of concrete mechanisms of cooperation, including those of economic cooperation.
Whereas the first stage normally proceeds quite smoothly, at the second stage, when parties are required to make commitments, many problems and misunderstandings arise. It is at this stage that both partners are to clearly define their goals and expectations related to mutual cooperation.
Second, after the collapse of the Soviet Union it has long remained unclear what direction the successor states of the Soviet Union were moving. Although post-Soviet countries officially committed themselves to undertaking economic transformation, they have largely failed to conduct the necessary economic reforms and to secure economic growth comparable to that of the CEE countries.
Third, the post-Soviet space has been a terra incognita for western policy-makers. It can be well argued that, immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union, they were hoping for the reintegration of the former Soviet countries. They were largely unable to grasp the new configuration of the international environment and opted for a "strategy of wait-and-see," trying to understand what role Russia would choose for itself in the new environment.
Throughout the past ten years, the EU has failed to differentiate between Russia and Ukraine. The policy tools were, in fact, the same for both countries and similar to those for the Central Asian countries. Also, the EU largely neglected Russia's—often aggressive—intentions with regard to the "near abroad."
IB: The EU's common foreign policy consists of a set of concrete mechanisms and instruments, thus one cannot expect different mechanisms towards Ukraine and Russia. On the contrary, the fact that the EU signed separate Partnership and Cooperation Agreements with the two countries and adopted Common Strategies toward both of them is evidence of the attempt on the part of the EU to differentiate between the former Soviet countries.
Controversial foreign policy
Ukraine's foreign policy has been characterized as quite controversial. On the one hand, Ukraine has been actively seeking rapprochement with Western organizations, including the EU; on the other hand, Ukraine's relations with Russia, especially during the past year, have become extremely close. Officially, Ukraine adopted the so-called "multi-vector" policy, which has recently been substituted with that of strategic partnership with the EU, USA and Russia. This kind of policy is often perceived as balancing between the two poles and an inability to establish clear priorities.
Do you think this kind of policy is rather a necessity (taking into consideration Ukraine's geopolitical location) or a disadvantage?
IB: One should see the difference between the "multi-vector" policy and the attempt to establish a presence in different international niches. It is necessary to define those places where our political and economic interests can be best represented. According to principles of modern economics, nowadays, any country should cooperate with three recognized centers of economic development: the EU, the USA and Eastern Asia (with the center in Japan). Ukraine's cooperation with Russia is predetermined by the former Soviet Union's economic system, of which both countries were parts. Those economic links still play a very important role for the economic development of both countries and should be maintained and developed.
Among analysts of Ukrainian foreign policy, two conflicting views prevail. According to one approach, Ukraine should strive for integration with the European Union and refrain from a rapproachment to Russia that it is "either Europe or Russia." A second group of analysts argue that closer cooperation with Russia will support Ukraine in its aspiration to join European structures—that is, "towards Europe together with Russia." Do you think Ukraine's rapprochement with Russia necessarily contradicts Ukraine's "European choice"?
Oleksandr Pavliuk: In fact, the process of European integration pre-supposes that neighboring states work to normalize their bilateral relations. From this perspective, Ukraine's movement towards the EU would help strengthen Ukrainian-Russian relations, making them more equal, balanced and predictable. Bilateral relationship between the two countries would get even better if Russia chooses to move in the same direction of European integration.
It is, however, important to understand that the final goal of that move might well be (and actually is) different for Ukraine and Russia. While Ukraine aims at getting membership in the EU in the future, Russia sees itself rather as a political, economic and security partner to the EU. Given the obvious difference in geographic size, economic potential and international weight, the model of the Russia-EU relationship is not appropriate for Ukraine's relations with the EU. Therefore, what in theory might seem to be a nice slogan of moving to Europe "together with Russia" in practice imposes a serious limitation on Ukraine's relations with the EU.
IB: I know only one example of collective entrance into the European Union—as it happened with the Benelux countries, who established a customs union in 1947 and then became founders of the European Economic Community in 1957. Thus, if we talk about Ukraine joining the EU at some point, the statement "together with Russia" does not make any sense. Gaining membership in the EU is a matter of individual efforts. Moreover, there exist no mechanisms which would assist Ukraine and Russia to coordinate their efforts in eventually becoming members of the EU. This does not mean that Ukraine has to refrain from broad economic cooperation with Russia.
After EU enlargement?
At the last EU-Ukraine Summit, which took place in September in Yalta, the consequences of EU enlargement for Ukraine were discussed. This was probably the first attempt to discuss during official dialogue the issue of how bilateral trade and economic cooperation, travel and human contacts, the development of national minorities and cross-border cooperation between Ukraine and its immediate western neighbors will be effected after stricter visa regimes and border controls are introduced in the course of enlargement. What do you think of those consequences?
OP: For any country left "on the other side" of a new EU border, the impact of the enlargement process might be twofold: On the one hand, the new position of a direct/immediate EU neighbor opens new possibilities for closer cooperation and more intense interaction; on the other hand, such a situation raises new problems and even poses security risks for the EU and its new neighbors.
Which tendency might ultimately prevail depends on both the EU and the neighboring countries themselves. It is important that both sides work to minimize potential negative implications and maximize the opening opportunities. In the case of Ukraine, the country needs to deliver on domestic political and economic reforms, adapt its legislation to EU standards, and ensure proper control on its eastern borders.
The EU, in turn, should take care that a new wall does not emerge on its new eastern border, that Ukraine does not become overlooked and marginalized in the enlargement process, and that the door stays open for Ukraine as well. It is equally important that future new EU members—current accession countries stay active in their "eastern policies" after they join the EU.
Recently, the trends of Ukraine's rapprochement with Russia have become evident. There are frequent meetings between the presidents of the two countries since the summer of 2000 and active penetration of Russian capital into Ukrainian markets (privatization by strategic Russian businesses of the Ukrainian economy, mostly in the field of energy). Those, coupled with political crisis in Ukraine in winter-spring this year and Ukraine's energy dependence on Russia, give grounds for analysts to talk about the possibility for Ukraine to follow the example of Belarus.
OP: Yes, we can indeed observe Ukraine's certain shift towards Russia. This policy shift has come as a result of a combination of a number of interrelated factors. The first has had to do with the increased coherence and assertiveness of Russian foreign policy after Putin's accession to power as Russian president. The political consolidation of the presidency in Russia that coincided with the completion of Russian big privatization has allowed Russia to define more clearly its goals and conduct a more focused and coordinated foreign policy.
Secondly, domestic political crisis in Ukraine in early 2000 weakened the state and increased its vulnerability to outside pressures. Ukraine's domestic instability and the increased activity of Russian business in Ukraine made parts of the Ukrainian elite look for support in and accommodation with Russia. One can also mention Western policy vis-ŕ-vis Ukraine, which was not always adequate in the past years.