Ukraine – Russia – Europe: the Triangle of Problems

By Oleg Gorbunov

Recently the tone of Russian-Ukrainian cooperation has begun decreasing meanwhile the optimism of Ukrainian politicians towards the rapprochement with Europe increased. It’s time to analyze these trends and to understand what exactly goes wrong.

Political Impotence

Up to the moment Russia hasn’t yet suggested a global project, which would be more attractive for ordinary Ukrainian people than a European one. For modern citizens of Ukraine Europe is the embodiment of prosperity: high level of salaries and social guarantees, comfortable resorts, political stability and great prospects for private business development. People, who chose Russia for labor immigration, did it mostly not because they observe Russia as a more comfortable country, but because it’s easier and faster to get and settle there.

The problem in Russia was Realized by the Expert Community Long Ago. But Nothing has been Done to Solve It!

This way, last year a number of Ukrainian and Russian politicians suggested the project of the “Russian’s Map” for Ukrainian citizens, calling themselves Russians. The map anticipated the simplification of employment and staying in Russia, plus the complex of social protection. Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs refused the initiative, having considered it as not urgent. Considering the “pragmatism” of our relations, it’s easy to draw a conclusion that Russian people simply didn’t want to spend money on the comfort for Ukrainians staying in Russia. Like they have always come here and they will keep on in future – why should we spend more. I’ll note that with the kind of actions Russia as in 1991 showed one more time, that it doesn’t care about the life of the Russians appeared out of Russian boarder. And it won’t care about them.
Light Intake

Another story we observe within the relations with Europe. After the talks in 2005-2006 a number of agreements was concluded on visa regime relaxation for individual category of Ukrainian people (reporters, politicians, businessmen, etc), who now don’t have to pay for visas. The agenda for current negotiations already includes the gradual introduction of visa-free regime for the rest categories of citizens. Ukrainian experts expect that this will happen step by step with the set of definite conditions by Europe: final demarcation of the border with Russia, etc. Considering the number of concluded treaties between Medvedev and Yanukovich we won’t have to wait long.

Ukraine won’t become a member of the European Union for long: the EU hasn’t yet “digested” recently joined states. However, already on the establishment of visa-free regime with the EU Ukraine has promoted further than Russia, with which Europeans still exchange common statements.
Not a Brotherly Attitude at All

The talks on the establishment of aircraft and shipbuilding group of companies vividly characterize the current stage of Russian-Ukrainian relations. The logic of the negotiations is simple: Russians suggest something that doesn’t satisfy the Ukrainian Party (which has a choice – to cooperate with Russia or with Europe). The Parties don’t make concessions. The talks are trapped in a dead-end. By this, Russians’ and Ukrainians’ behavior surprises, as it corresponds rather to the behavior of competitors than partners: Ukraine – “Russia you should make concessions!”, and Russia - “If you don’t want to do what we are saying, than we won’t do it at all”. Russians act as the masters of the situation meanwhile Ukrainians try to bargain as much as possible, not considering the threat of talks failure and coming to the situation “ala Yushchenko”.

We already experience the influence of such an approach: suggestions on integration in a number of spheres (except for nuclear one) didn’t gain continuation This also refers to the idea of the corn Union of Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, integration within shipbuilding and MIC. Oppositely, we observe the termination of the cooperation of Russia with a big Ukrainian supplier of military products – company “Motor Sich” – and the dead-ending of the talks over the establishment of oil-gas and aircraft unions.
The Inevitable End

A logic ending of such interstate conversation will be not only a total termination of cooperation initiatives, but also the severization of the border crossing regime (in course of inevitable rapprochement of Ukraine with the European Union). Analyzing the history of Ukraine after the USSR collapse, the kind of ending seems to be inevitable: Ukraine estranges from Russia with years.

The “brotherly” approach is not just unacceptable – no one will support it. Elites have very capitalistic views. And this is the basis of the attempts to “gain something” from the neighbor. Russia and Ukraine as two individual economic entities in the near prospect will hardly be able to find a common ground on key cooperation issues.

Both our states rebuild economy, both states strive to join western integration union fully (and beneficial). Within the framework of these play rules Russia is not a competitor for West and the entire world. Judging unbiased we are on the periphery (or a semi-periphery) of the world economy to impose the conditions of its development. That is why Ukraine – objectively! – strives to get closer to that power pole, which is more powerful and suggests more beneficial conditions for integration.

That is why Russia and Ukraine in the near future won’t stop being, rather not partner, but competitors within a global play. Earlier Ukraine outran Russiain the WTO joining. The race goes on. And now the agenda includes an issue – who’ll get closer to Europe first? And yet here Ukraine is the first.
The Change of Focuses

Evidently Russia and Ukraine should develop a new agenda for their cooperation. If earlier “macro-issues” were to be discuss, then now we should get down to the needs of ordinary Russian and Ukrainian people, and first of all young ones.

Both our states face the blocks, obstacles for small and medium business development, reforms of educational, health systems, etc. Following these issues we could develop common approaches and common ways to solve the problems. Youth of the both states (which is psychologically most open for small business) in this case are closer to each other, than big capitalists on the both sides of the border, who are their natural rivals. The next subject is education. Our countries still don’t acknowledge certificates, diplomas and science theses of each other. This impedes youth contacts and development ofeducational systems. It’s awful to imagine, how many specialists from Ukraine couldn’t work in Russia because of that? By the fact that soon Europe should become more favorable for interuniversity cooperation after the complete introduction of Bologna system.

In addition we should consider the fact that young people are more “sleepy” in the issues of stripping up international hatred, and possess greater potential for innovations within the solution of various disputes. They need only space and praising of youth initiatives.

Europe is chosen by a part of people. This is a prerogative of elites. It’s important how youth treat it. In Russia and Ukraine elites and youth already live/transferred their assets to Europe or strive there. Several conditions should be accomplished for Russia to become attractive for Ukrainian elite and youth.

- Europe should be completely closed for Eastern neighbors. The conditions for the kind of step are pretty ready: growing pension disaster and difficulties with migration flow (and also Muslim assimilation) will force Europe to focus more on its internal problems. There is an option that Ukraine, as well as Belarus and Moldova, Europe will try to use as the opposition for the increasing Muslim community and with this goal it will try to make them its members. But this kind of scenario will seem unlikely, as the Old Europe hasn’t yet “digested” migration pressure from the recently joined East-European states.

- European social-economic model will collapse in the result of failing to solve migration issue and additional post-crisis strikes on economy. This also seems yet unlikely, considering the economic power of the European Union. So, we can easily conclude that during the following several decades Europe will remain a “teaser” for the most of part of European population.
Positive Reasons of Priority Orientation on Russia:

- The change of Russian elite tactics towards Ukrainian one:  the giving to Ukraine the chance to join energy and other markets of Russia, demonstration of the ways of integration if Ukrainian elite into a Russian one. Considering energy paternalism and persistent value of oil and gas resources of Russia for the Kremlin, this seems almost an illusion.

- The development of new model of social-economic regime (peculiar “capitalism in Russian manner”). Considering the disagreements between the orientation of Russia on paternalism and capitalistic-individualistic line of elites, it will take long to get to the kind of model and through great social sufferings. Another thing is that the kind of problem is the same urgent for Ukraine, which has the prospect to become the first Christian nationally consolidated country of the post-Soviet area (which will get it closer to Europe). However Ukraine of Yanukovich gets only far from this objective, as it preserves unstable international “under-peace”, remained after the “revolution” of Viktor Yushchenko. The problem is that the elites of post-Soviet states haven’t yet come to the thought that it’s urgent to have a system approach to the development of social structure of the society. Most post-Soviet leaders grew out of the Perestroika (restructuring of political and economic system) and keep on moving within changes, without developing the changes (with minor exclusions). It’s evident that the consideration of this task will come only with economic growth, which is impossible without technical modernization and withdrawal from the raw material character of economies. And this is also impossible without tight cooperation of the former USSR-states (due to the existence of industrial complex that used to be unique). The circle almost is closed. Somebody should cede in this game first.
There is a logic conclusion – there is a threat for Ukraine to get stuck in a “grey zone” between the EU and Russia for the following decades, which will slow down its economic growth and preserve current unstable social-political system. There is the only way out: Ukraine itself should initiate integration unions – gradually concentrating East-European political community around it.
Translated by EuroDialogue XXI from politcom.ru