Friday

24th Feb 2017

Opinion

Waking up to reality on Ukraine

  • The outcome of the Ukrainian crisis will have serious international repercussions (Photo: snamess)

A few days ago Leonid Kravchuk, the first post-independence president of Ukraine, said the country is gripped by revolution and that irresponsible decisions may lead to civil war.

I heard something like this at almost every meeting on my recent visit to Kiev. The coming weeks and months will show where it all will lead. Right now, one thing is clear: It will not be possible to resolve the situation without major political change.

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It appears that Ukraine is at the centre of a conflict of values.

The question is: Can it break free of a system soaked through with Soviet-type mendacity and kleptomania, and move, step by step, toward European norms?

President Viktor Yanukovych's decision to halt EU integration provoked the popular uprising. But the roots of the conflict go much deeper.

Ukraine is a complicated country. Its internal divisions do not follow geographic or national borders.

But its period of independence, even though it is just 20 years long, has created a broad conviction that sovereignty is not something to be given up easily.

Ukrainians understand perfectly well that the outcome of the crisis, will, first and foremost, affect their own lives.

But they also understand that, as a European country with a population of 45 million people, the outcome will also have serious international repercussions.

Post Sochi

It is small wonder that Russia is doing everything it can to stop the spread of Western values in Ukraine.

Moscow says it will not interfere in Ukraine’s internal affairs. But nobody believes it, and expectations are that its interference will magnify after Russian President Valdimir Putin puts behind him the PR show in the Olympic games in Sochi this weekend.

In Kiev, I heard much talk about the influence of Russian intelligence services on the immediate circle around Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Many people think he is not free in his decision-making and see the hand of Russia behind the authorities’ escalation of violence.

The brutal logic is that the worse things get in Ukraine, the more the West will turn its back.

The EU over the weekend signaled that it is putting together a new financial offer with the US to tempt Yanukovych to make concessions.

It is high time for a Plan B.

The EU’s passionless and bureacuratic Plan A fell apart spectularly last November when Yanukovych refused to sign the EU association and free trade agreement in Vilnius.

Up to now, we have seen the EU unable to come up with an adequate response to events.

The EU must step up its performance quickly.

It is understandable that former Communist and former Soviet EU countries care the most about the Eastern Partnership, the EU blueprint for reform in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova.

But a more robust EU policy with genuine backing by all 28 countries is badly needed.

I would like to highlight three issues.

Democratic Ukraine

First, the EU should take a more visible political position, while at the same time mediating between protesters and authorities to prevent violence.

As part of this, EU states should consider implementing sanctions against certain regime members. Everybody knows who they are.

Second, the EU should stop its hypocrisy on Ukraine’s EU membership perspective.

Under the EU’s own rules - article 49 of the EU treaty - Ukraine is clearly a “European state.”

If it fulfils the Copenhagen criteria for accession, it should be eligible to join the EU if it wants to, and the EU should say this publicly and clearly.

Third, Western powers should convene a conference to create a loan package to stabilise and modernise the Ukrainian economy, which, as things stand, is a hair’s breadth away from total collapse.

This could involve the EU, the US, Canada and the International Monetary Fund.

The only precondition should be to find a political situation to the crisis that guarantees the proper use of these funds.

The European Union could be also more flexible in revising the use of development aid funds.

Meanwhile, member states should follow the example of Lithuania and, on the basis of individual requests, provide medical assistance to persons injured in the disturbances.

It has always been a vital interest of the EU to support the efforts of the Ukrainian people to achieve national unity and to build a liberal democracy which respects the rule of law.

But European leaders are waking up to reality in the 11th hour.

This should be the central axis of EU foreign policy today.

The writer is chairman of the foreign affairs Ccmmittee in the Riigikogu, the parliament of Estonia

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