23rd Sep 2023


Europe's path to Moscow leads through Kiev

  • Kiev should no longer remain a "blank spot" on EU's map (Photo: Wikipedia)

The EU's policies towards Eastern Europe during the last two decades were a failure, in a number of ways. In spite of considerable efforts of the Western political elite with regard to Moscow's leadership, Russia has become an advocate of anti-democratic tendencies.

After consolidating an authoritarian regime inside, the Kremlin is now engaged in anchoring the Putinist model, around the Russian Federation.

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Belarus and Russia have, by now, been ruled by more or less autocratic regimes, for several years. Things are different in post-Orange Ukraine. One can, to be sure, now observe authoritarian tendencies in Kiev that remind of the regressions in Belarus since 1994 and Russia since 1999.

However, the centralization attempts of the new Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich encounter multifarious resistance.

TV channels defend the independence of their news reporting and political discussions. A plethora of different social groups - nationalist parties, human rights organizations, entrepreneurs associations, feminist activists etc. - make their disagreement with Yanukovich's policies heard every week.

Moreover, the new leadership, for all its pro-Russian orientation, still wants Ukraine to become a full member of the European Union.

These and some other specifics make Ukraine today a country that remains distinct from its north-eastern neighbours. Such Ukrainian specifics also have larger implications for European politics and Eurasian security.

Ukraine plays the role of both, the most important "brotherly people" and the largest imperial temptation of post-Soviet Russia. The future self-perception of Russia as either a saturated nation state or re-emerging empire will, above all, be determined by the development of Ukraine.

If Ukraine returns into the Russian orbit, Moscow will see itself again as the pivot of a huge territory, and a center that, in one way or another, controls much of northern Eurasia.

If Ukraine, on the other hand, will not only rhetorically, but also substantively converge with the western community of states, the Kremlin rulers will, to be sure, still control the largest state in the world. However, the Russians would then be left on to themselves.

Such a constellation entails an important policy option for the West concerning the framing of the future triangular relationship between the EU, Ukraine and Russia.

Because of the close relations and multifarious contacts between Ukrainians and Russians, a successful Ukrainian re-democratization would leave a deeper impression in Russia than the various models, advices and demands that the West has presented to the Kremlin during the last 20 years.

If the Ukrainians could demonstrate that a large eastern Slavic and Orthodox post-Soviet nation is able to build and sustain a real democracy - this would be of all-European importance. It would constitute a more weighty argument for a renewed democratization of the Russian Federation too than the many respective appeals of the EU and US, of the past.

Russia should, in view of its territorial size and geopolitical relevance, surely remain on the radar screen of Western diplomacy. What, however, is overdue is a readjustment of the foreign policy foci of the relevant decision makers in Washington, Brussels and Berlin. Russian issues should not any longer absorb the bulk of attention of Western actors engaged with eastern Europe.

Instead, the EU and its member states should in their future Eastern policies concentrate on the country that is geopolitically relevant too, still open towards Western advice, and manifestly pro-European - Ukraine.

Sooner or later, heightened attention from the EU concerning the economic potential, internal affairs and foreign policies of Ukraine would result in substantive domestic change in Kiev. Progress in the political development and European integration of Ukraine would, in its turn, have feedback effects within Russian domestic politics and thus indirectly also for Moscow's relations to Brussels, Washington and Berlin.

In spite of the various setbacks of the last year, in Ukraine, the important preconditions for a new turn towards Europeanization still exist. What, so far, has been missing is targeted support, from the West, of such germs within society as well as political and intellectual elite of Ukraine.

The main reason for this omission is the generally low interest of both national- and European-level Western political actors for Ukraine. Their engagement with the Ukrainian government and civil society is often casual or limited to diplomatic niceties.

This is a result of the peripheral status of Ukraine within the eastern policies of the EU and its member states as well as within the international thinking of their political and intellectual leaders. Ukraine is frequently seen as a mere object or even blank spot within the new institutional configuration of the European continent in the 21 century.

In fact, Ukraine plays a decisive role for the future of Europe. Her fate will not only determine whether the All-European Common Home once proposed by Mikhail Gorbachev will become reality or not. The EU will not be able to meet its elementary needs for sustainable security and confidence-building cooperation in the Euro-Asiatic space without taking Ukraine under its wings.

A democratization of Ukraine would represent a chance to demonstrate to the Russian elite and society a relevant model for development for their own country. Should such a strategy be successful, this could also lay the foundation for a durable partnership and, perhaps, even for a values community between Russia and the EU in the 21 century.

A more extensive version of this article is forthcoming, in May 2011, in IP Global: The Journal of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), vol. 12, no. 2.

Andreas Umland is DAAD Associate Professor at the National University of "Kiev-Mohyla Academy," Ukraine.


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

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