Sunday

25th Feb 2018

Opinion

Time for EU to get serious on Ukraine

  • The EuroMaidan does not want Western darlings with criminal pasts, who bring 'stability' (Photo: Jordi Bernabeu)

EU capitals are beginning to reassess the Ukrainian people’s European aspirations, with attitudes shifting from wary “acknowledgements” to consideration of a real enlargement perspective.

The EU is still divided, but more positive messages from Berlin and Brussels, as well as Budapest, Warsaw, and Vilnius, reflect the importance of the popular uprising in Ukraine for the future of the continent. 

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

It is high time: The EU’s language of “concern” has worn thin on the cold streets of Kiev. 

Without a geostrategic vision for post-Soviet Europe, the EU’s “wait and see” policy has aggravated the risk of instability in the region.

People’s civil liberties and human rights were sacrificed in order to protect the status quo in Russia relations.

It has been shown, time and again, that if you leave a country in Russia’s sphere of influence, there is no chance of modernisation or democracy. But the “EuroMaidan” movement also shows that Ukrainians are not willing to be a buffer zone between the Eurasian Union and the European Union. 

Former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski said in a recent interview the West underestimated Russian determination on Ukraine.

Ukrainian opposition leaders are warning that Russian interference will stop at nothing, even if it risks breaking Ukraine apart. 

How could EU governments let things get so bad on their own doorstep?

After the Orange Revolution, when President Viktor Yushchenko came to power in 2005, his genuine devotion to democracy and euro-integration was ‘rewarded’ by a cold shoulder from leading EU governments.

Surviving a failed power grab by Yulia Tymoshenko in September 2005, continuous threats of impeachment and blackmail on account of his health, and political assaults by Moscow, Yushchenko managed to steer the country to become a stronghold of democracy in the region. 

In a very short time, freedom of speech and assembly, free media, free elections, a free, transparent, and competitive politics came to be taken for granted.

Ukrainians got used to the new reality: limited presidential powers; coalition governments; political responsibility; early elections; and opposition parties winning elections.

Their economic well-being also improved dramatically.

Some failed to appreciate what they had: Ukraine’s post-totalitarian, post-genocidal, and post-colonial society finds it hard to fully digest modernity. 

But, at the same time, it would be hard for anyone outside Ukraine to imagine the onslaught on ‘orange’ democracy that we have endured over the past five years. 

From dawn till dusk, the new democratic norms have been portrayed by their opponents as chaos, disorder, Western colonisation, betrayal of traditional values, fascism.

At times, even those who claimed to support democracy made attacks on the new order.

I am thinking of the”behind closed doors” deal between the Block of Yulia Tymoshenko and today’s ruling party, the Party of Regions, to rewrite the constitution in order to establish full control - what we call the “PRyBYut.”

I am also thinking of the infamous TV appearance by the then PM Yulia Tymoshenko in which she hinted that Ukrainians desire to live in a dictatorship. 

The almost empty streets of Kiev the day she was arrested speak louder than EU capitals’ eulogies in her name. A former US ambassador to Ukraine, John E. Herbst, recently told Ukrainska Pravda, a leading independent publication, that he considers her an oligarch no different to the oligarchs of Ukraine’s lawless 1990s. 

Meanwhile, Russia, which has a very strong media presence in Ukraine, has done all it can to discredit colour revolutions lest they disturb its own stale, authoritarian atmosphere. 

Its pay-offs to pro-Russian groups, gas and trade wars, and the military intervention and occupation in Georgia, have all done their damage. 

It is hardly mentioned in European media that the EuroMaidan protests are known in Ukraine as a revolution “against-alls” - a term reflecting the fact that many Ukrainians voted against both President Viktor Yanukovych and Tymoshenko in 2010 because they do not trust either of them.

Bad samaritan

During the whole ‘orange’ period, EU leaders, for the most part, played the role of bystanders.  

Were they hoping Ukraine could make it on its own? That Yushchenko’s personal determination would be enough when its application for a Nato Membership Action Plan was rejected in 2008? When talks over the EU association agreement dragged out endlessly? When Russian pressure turned to gas and trade wars? When Russia invaded Ukraine’s fellow EU and Nato aspirant, Georgia?

EU pragmatism in the region did not reflect the Union’s values. 

Needless to say, those Ukrainians who support European integration felt betrayed. 

We must concede that the authoritarian relapse in Ukraine happened, in no small part, because EU governments declined to offer instrumental support for nascent democracy. 

And so, in recent years, European integration has become a hard sell in Ukraine.

We have watched the EU contort and eat itself in the economic crisis. We have heard nothing but the Big Lies of Russian propaganda: that the EU represents moral degradation, sin, catastrophe, conspiracy, and enslavement. 

The Eastern Partnership policy, launched five years ago, was too little too late. 

In the current situation, the EU should go beyond the rhetoric of the association treaty on Ukraine’s European identity: It should offer a clear prospect of future EU membership.

It should also show good will on visa-free travel, at least for students and civil society. Ukraine itself abolished visas for EU citizens in 2005, and opponents of EU integration have used this asymmetry to claim that Ukrainians are more welcome, that they belong more, in the east than in the west. 

EU governments should also help the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg to speed up its work. 

We are still waiting for a decision in the landmark case on Tymoshenko. Over 1,200 other cases involving Ukrainian citizens are pending. A more effective ECHR would make a big difference to their lives. 

Beyond this, the international community needs to develop a comprehensive package of measures to help transitional states hold the line against regressive forces. 

Ukraine is a model case for how national institutions fail on their own: When anti-democratic forces take power, they turn state machinery on its head. They rewrite the law to put their opponents outside the law. They use the state apparatus - be it judicial, financial, or the more vulgar force of police and intelligence services - to crush people on the other side.  

Our perverted institutions are loyal to their new masters. Ukrainians have no legal way to bring about change, and this is why some of the protests turned violent.    

Stolen from the people

Ukraine has been stolen from the people by a political mafia. 

Its independent media has published report after report, at grave personal risk to the investigative journalists who do the work, on how the elite launders its ill-gotten gains in European banks: names; figures; dates; documents; organigrammes. But we have not seen a single criminal investigation from the EU side. 

The Ukraine crisis shows the failure of pragmatism in EU foreign policy.

Its tender solicitude for Russian and EU economic interests has facilitated the rise of a neo-Soviet Eurasian Union which poses a genuine threat to European stability.  

Its attempts to pick favourites in Ukrainian politics, turning a blind eye to their abuses, has aggravated the division between the Ukrainian elite and the Ukrainian people. 

Credible news emerged in recent days of secret talks between Yanukovych’s chief-of-staff and Tymoshenko. She has denied it, but it is stoking fears of a new PRyBYut pact.

The EuroMaidan does not want Western darlings with criminal pasts, who bring “stability.” 

It wants true democratic change and a new generation of leaders. 

The EU in its essence is a Union of values. But even from a reapolitik point of view, the EU’s mishandling of the Ukraine crisis poses a threat to its own interests. 

We are talking here about a country of 46 million people. If the situation spirals into civil war, it will be very bad news for neighboring EU states. According to Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, his government is already making preparations on how to deal with Ukrainian refugees.  

Bold measures - an enlargement perspective, visa-free travel, an EU crackdown on Eurasian criminality - are needed for the sake of the Ukrainian people and EU self-interest.

Kwasniewski recently said: “Ukraine is not an ideal country, nor will it be one for a long time to come.” The EU is not ideal either. 

But the EuroMaidan shows that Ukrainian people are ready to do their homework and that the EU is worth fighting for.

The writer is an activist and a columnist, who is a frequent contributor to Ukrainska Pravda, an independent online publication in Ukraine

EU gives Ukraine enlargement hint

EU countries have for the first time since the Orange Revolution indicated that Ukraine might one day join the European Union.

News in Brief

  1. EU calls for immediate ceasefire in Syria
  2. UK's post-Brexit vision is 'pure illusion', Tusk says
  3. EU leaders express solidarity with Cyprus in Turkey drill row
  4. EU to double funding for Sahel forces
  5. EU parliament president: 'The immigration problem is Africa'
  6. May to unveil EU departure strategy next week
  7. Pregnant workers may be dismissed, EU court rules
  8. Romanian minister demands anti-corruption prosecutor fired

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA EuropeAnkara Ban on LGBTI Events Continues as Turkish Courts Reject NGO Appeals
  2. Aid & Trade LondonJoin Thousands of Stakeholders of the Global Aid Industry at Aid & Trade London
  3. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.European Free Alliance Joins MHRMI to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism Year to Promote Business and Mutual Ties
  5. European Jewish CongressAt “An End to Antisemitism!” Conference, Dr. Kantor Calls for Ambitious Solutions
  6. UNESDAA Year Ago UNESDA Members Pledged to Reduce Added Sugars in Soft Drinks by 10%
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsUzbekistan: Investigate Torture of Journalist
  8. CESICESI@Noon on ‘Digitalisation & Future of Work: Social Protection For All?’ - March 7
  9. UNICEFExecutive Director's Committment to Tackling Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region 2018: Facts, Figures and Rankings of the 74 Regions
  11. Mission of China to the EUDigital Economy Shaping China's Future, Over 30% of GDP
  12. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.Suing the Governments of Macedonia and Greece for Changing Macedonia's Name

Latest News

  1. EU agrees budget to focus on defence, security and migration
  2. EU leaders nix transnational lists, cool on 'Spitzenkandidat'
  3. Regions chief: calls for smaller EU budget are 'impossible'
  4. Election fever picks up This WEEK
  5. EU-Morocco fishing deal casts doubt on EU future foreign policy
  6. EU leaders put 'Spitzenkandidat' on summit menu
  7. European far-right political party risks collapse
  8. The key budget issues on EU leaders' table

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Swedish EnterprisesHarnessing Globalization- at What Cost? Keynote Speaker Commissioner Malmström
  2. European Friends of ArmeniaSave The Date 28/02: “Nagorno-Karabakh & the EU: 1988-2018”
  3. European Heart NetworkSmart CAP is Triple Win for Economy, Environment and Health
  4. European Free AlllianceEFA Joined the Protest in Aiacciu to Solicit a Dialogue After the Elections
  5. EPSUDrinking Water Directive Step Forward but Human Right to Water Not Recognized
  6. European Gaming & Betting AssociationGambling Operators File Data Protection Complaint Against Payment Block in Norway
  7. European Jewish CongressEJC Expresses Deep Concern Over Proposed Holocaust Law in Poland
  8. CECEConstruction Industry Gets Together to Discuss the Digital Revolution @ the EU Industry Days
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Relations in the New Era
  10. European Free AlllianceEnd Discrimination of European Minorities - Sign the Minority Safepack Initiative
  11. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Diversity Shouldn’t Be Only a Slogan” Lorant Vincze (Fuen) Warns European Commission
  12. Dialogue PlatformWhat Can Christians Learn from a Global Islamic Movement?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressEJC President Warns Europe as Holocaust Memory Fades
  2. European Free AlllianceNo Justice From the Spanish Supreme Court Ruling
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Solutions for Sustainable Cities: New Grants Awarded for Branding Projects
  4. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersOresund Inspires Other EU Border Regions to Work Together to Generate Growth
  6. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  7. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Calls on EU to Sanction Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Expel Ambassadors
  8. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement and Same-Sex Couples in Romania – Case Update!
  9. EU2017EEEstonia Completes First EU Presidency, Introduced New Topics to the Agenda
  10. Bio-Based IndustriesLeading the Transition Towards a Post-Petroleum Society