Thursday

24th Sep 2020

Opinion

Ukraine's return to a multi-vector policy

"Ukraine must return to a multi-vector and balanced foreign policy," Serhiy Tihipko, a candidate in Ukraine's upcoming presidential elections, said in a newspaper article last week.

A former ally of Viktor Yanukovych in 2004, Mr Tihipko argues that Ukraine must stay away from Nato membership, normalise relations with Russia, give up political rapprochement with the EU and focus on pragmatic dialogue and "economic diplomacy."

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Although he has little chance of winning the January presidential race, his words reflect ideas that all the key candidates at the upcoming election seem to share.

The phrase "multi-vector policy" was coined by the administration of Ukraine's ex-president, Leonid Kuchma, to express the need to reach a balance between East and West in Ukraine's foreign relations. The idea posits that Ukraine, an ethnically-diverse nation of 47 million people lying between Russia and the EU, should avoid choosing just one foreign policy direction.

After the Orange Revolution in late 2004, the new elite said that the multi-vector policy was finished because the country would in a few years' time enter the EU and Nato.

But after five years of post-revolutionary development, Kiev has advanced little on its path to the West. Pro-European romanticism has been weakened by the lack of an EU membership perspective, Nato's closed doors, EU visa barriers and the painful Russian gas crisis. The anti-romantic mood is helping bring the multi-vector policy back into play.

The multi-vector 'big three'

The three top candidates in the upcoming election all share, to a greater or lesser extent, this old-new approach.

Viktor Yanukovych, whose "victory" in the 2004 presidential vote was contested by the Orange Revolution, has in the post-revolutionary years tried hard to shed his pro-Russian image. His Party of the Regions is highly critical of EU and Nato-enthusiasm. But it increasingly uses European-style rhetoric, with its message often sounding more Western than that of its Orange opponents.

Mr Yanukovych has not abandoned his pro-Russian sympathies, however. He recently said he backs a new treaty giving Russia permission to station its Black Sea fleet in the Crimea after 2017. He has even said he would follow Russia in recognising Georgia's secessionist republics, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, as independent states. The move would be a u-turn in Ukraine's foreign policy.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, originally part of the Orange Revolution, has now cast herself as Ukraine's best negotiator with Russia. She recently demonstrated the strength of her ties with Russia by negotiating a deal with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin under which Ukraine pays only for the gas it consumes, rather than for a set volume of gas each month.

Her silence on Nato is matched by her enthusiasm for a chimerical "new European security and defense system." The poorly-explained project is also being discussed by some politicians in the EU and Russia, along the lines of a new Paris-Berlin-Moscow triangle.

Arseniy Yatseniuk, the most European-style personage in Ukrainian politics also mixes moderate euroscepticism with liberal nationalism in calling for "symmetry" in Ukraine's relations with the EU and Russia.

"We are always pulled or joined to something," he recently said, voicing regret that Ukraine is too passive in its foreign policy and that the EU and Russia both take a unilateralist approach to their separate relations with Kiev.

"The European Union believes it can unilaterally propose to Ukraine an Eastern Partnership or a European Neighborhood Policy, but I don't think this is how symmetrical partners behave," he added, in a remark that raised brows in both Brussels and Kiev.

Ukraine's president in office, Viktor Yushchenko, seems to be the only advocate for the values-based continuation of the Orange foreign policy vector. In a recent interview with Der Spiegel, he said there is no alternative to rapprochement with the EU and Nato, while suggesting that Mr Yanukovych and Ms Tymoshenko are part of a Russian "fifth column."

A different Ukraine

Multi-vector rhetoric does not necessarily spell bad news for EU-Ukraine relations. The EU itself, tired of Ukraine-Russia gas wars, wants relations between Kiev and Moscow to get better.

But rhetorical games aside, the 2010 election is likely to bring substantial changes compared to the Ukraine of the past five years. The return to a Kuchma-era multi-vector foreign policy would add an extra layer of complexity to EU relations on top of the existing political chaos in Ukraine.

The post-revolutionary Orange elite in Ukraine would be partly to blame because it failed to fulfill the promises it made in 2004. But the EU side would also be guilty because it has failed to propose anything more tangible to Ukraine than a basic Association Agreement due to lack of political courage.

In 2010, the EU risks losing Ukraine as an unquestionable ally for its policies in the post-Soviet region. The wind of change from the east is blowing bad news for Brussels.

Volodomyr Yermolenko is an analyst with the Kiev-based Internews-Ukraine think-tank

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Does Erdoğan's long arm now reach Belgian universities?

Leuven's Catholic University, one of Belgium's best, has decided to close one of its respected but controversial chairs. And many say that is not because of an academic failure or scandal, but a result of the Turkish government's relentless pressure.

Why is EU rewarding Israel for annexation?

This is a critical moment. The UAE-Israel agreement, welcomed by the European Union, represents a severe blow to the Arab Peace Initiative, writes the diplomatic affairs' adviser for Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

News in Brief

  1. Belgium: masks no longer mandatory from October
  2. Report: China built 380 Muslim internment camps
  3. Belgian government formation in final phase
  4. Lukashenko sworn in at secret ceremony
  5. Study: No-deal Brexit more costly than corona for UK
  6. Polish miners in underground protest against energy plan
  7. EU animal farming emits more CO2 than cars
  8. Navalny leaves Berlin hospital after poisoning attempt

How EU can help end Uighur forced labour

A recent report noted apparel and footwear as the leading exports from the Uighur region - with a combined value of $6.3bn [€5.3bn] representing over 35 percent of total exports.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector
  3. UNESDAReducing packaging waste – a huge opportunity for circularity
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID-19 halts the 72nd Session of the Nordic Council in Iceland
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCivil society a key player in integration
  6. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular

Latest News

  1. EU migration pact to deter asylum
  2. 'Era of EU naivety ends', MEP pledges on foreign meddling
  3. Anti-mask protesters pose challenge for EU authorities
  4. EU 'failed' to safeguard civic freedoms during pandemic
  5. The corruption fuelling the Bulgaria protests
  6. EU countries stuck on rule of law-budget link
  7. EU states struggle to better sync Covid-19 measures
  8. EP groups drop homophobe from Sakharov prize

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  2. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  4. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis
  6. UNESDACircularity works, let’s all give it a chance

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us