Any changes in Ukraine’s foreign policy?

By Arūnas Spraunius

In the interview to the Latvian daily ”Diena” former Ukrainian president  V.Yushchenko said that European policy often looks like the natural merit not requiring any evidence, and that integration of Ukraine into EU is perceived as one-sided, i.e. exceptionally the Ukrainian act. Europe assigns to the candidate tasks but cannot avoid dual policy on such issues as security, energy, visa policy and defense. European Union would benefit from the accelerated integration of the country with 46 million citizens; therefore the current slow down of Ukraine’s euro integration should be treated as a bad decision. According to V.Yushchenko, his country has always been within the system of European values.

V.Yushchenko worked hard and during one presidential term he managed to convince the Ukrainians and foreigners that Ukraine is the country which has and will have to be treated seriously. According to observers in Kiev, any of the Ukrainian authorities will seek associated membership in the EU.

> Ukraine Map
President V.Yanukovich paid the first visit to Brussels and then went straight to Moscow.  Later, in Brussels, he suggested the partnership formula “Russia-Europe-Ukraine” and highlighted that the current Kiev’s policy enhanced energy security of the EU. H. van Rompuy, President of European Council and J. M. Barroso, President of European Commission, required from Kiev “progress in democracy” in order to finalize negotiations concerning free trade, liberalization of visa regime and other relations between the EU and Ukraine by the middle of 2011.

Yanukovich, Yanukovych Ukrainian opposition parties accuse V.Yanukovich for restricting the freedom of speech and press. Maybe that’s why H. van Rompuy reminded that agreement concerning Ukraine’s associated membership in the EU is both the economic and political agreement, and that democracy and legal state are its cornerstones.

The current Ukrainian authorities are inclined to exploit the issue of “bridge” between the West and East, whereas V.Yanukovich seeks to consolidate the image of a pragmatic politician.

According to „The Wall Street Journal“, the current Ukrainian government, although referred to as a loyal ally of Moscow, soon might become a star of liberalization of economy in Europe. The plans to decrease budget deficit, strengthen independence of the Central Bank, introduce a simplified tax system, reduce market regulation, privatize national property, reform non-effective energy system of the country etc. demonstrate the ambition of the current authorities to increase the low level of economic freedoms in Ukraine. Therefore, for Brussels it is important to accelerate negotiations with Ukraine regarding free trade and democratic reforms.

Tymoshenko Most probably the agreement on free trade will be reached sooner than on the visa-free regime, but for Kiev it is important to find the balance of cooperation with the EU and Russia in order not to ground relations on the principle of “senior and junior brother”. Ukrainian politicians try to move the interrelationship problems to Brussels and make use of the different opinions of the EU Parliamentarian parties. The largest European People’s Party supports Y.Tymoshenko, therefore the EU Parliament didn't manage to adopt the resolution concerning self-governance elections in Ukraine on 31 October. According to V.Filipchuk, director of the EU Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ukraine reached major progress toward integration in the EU by accomplishing 10-15 medium-term programs, whereas non-constructive opposition hinders negotiations with the EU.

The meeting of the Russian and Ukrainian commission took place on 26 November. During former negotiations both countries signed the agreement on oil transit, however, they didn’t manage to reach agreement concerning a joint oil undertaking. Throughout the year talks have been heard about the merge of the Ukrainian „Naftogaz“ and Russian “Gazprom“, where Russia is an active party. The statement of V.Yanukovich in Moscow on joining the Customs Union was evaluated by Kiev’s experts as an excuse against Russia and an ambition to urge the EU which suspended the establishment of the free zone with Ukraine. Ukraine has been a member of WTO since 2008. There will be no problems in harmonizing its provisions with the requirements of the EU free trade, whereas in case of accession to the Customs Union there might be necessary to change Constitution.

According to Ukrainian observer V.Fesenka, there were people in Moscow who expected that V.Yanukovich will turn his back not only on NATO but on the West in general. But this didn’t happen. Moscow’s politicians were irritated. Besides, the Kremlin has to reckon, that Ukraine is a democratic country, although according to “Grani.ru” during a short period V.Yanukovich managed as much as V.Putin achieved only before the second term: an obedient parliamentarian and Government, “technical” prime minister, silent oligarchs, “own” law enforcement bodies etc.

In the middle of November protest campaigns were held in many Ukrainian cities; they were directed against the new tax system destroying the small and medium size business. Protesting entrepreneurs deformed the beautiful “picture”.

None of pragmatic politicians in any country would contradict V.Yanukovich’s efforts to improve Ukraine’s image in Moscow. V.Yushchenko also tried to do this, but his efforts fell flat since he decided to prove that Ukrainians is a nation. Nonetheless, V.Yanukovich has no other way out, except to be a pro-Ukrainian (not pro-Russian or pro-Western) president. Okay, let’s call this a bridge.