Newsletter June 2003



Ukraine’s hesitations at the outskirts of European unity


Despite the fact that, since it has become independent, Ukraine has made considerable progress in the various aspects of its domestic policy and has substantially outlined its role in the international sphere, there are still puzzles, which significantly impede its further development. In the pre-enlarged Europe, every country has to decide whether or not it supports European integration and shares European values and joint perspectives. Ukraine’s elite and society as a whole still question the idea of further international development and European integration, although there are not many other options to choose from.


In spite of loud declarations and endless rhetoric, Ukraine’s European aspirations have not been strong enough, domestic political activities not transparent enough, and economic development not vivid enough to persuade both EU members and Ukrainian society of a strong need for such an action. Ukrainian authorities have already been pushing for European and Euro-Atlantic cooperation and integration for a decade, yet hardly believe that it could happen soon.


The ongoing European integration has demonstrated an entire set of problems which can occur in the countries endeavoring further integration – political stability, economic development, compatibility, and democracy. Being Euro-optimistic in today’s Ukraine is to believe that Ukraine will be able to enter all-European structures no sooner than 2010-2015. Ukraine’s hopes of the early 1990s of “catching the last car of the Central European train” to join the European Union gradually disappeared when neither Ukraine nor EU members showed any desire and interest in deepening cooperation and strengthening mutual interdependence. At the same time, political, economic, cultural, and geopolitical issues are to be taken into consideration.


The importance of the both old and new question “Quo vadis Ukraino?” is currently growing in intensity. Among the Ukrainian elite there is no consensus yet on whether European integration or stronger relations with other post-Soviet countries are the right paths to improve its economic indicators, reach the desirable consensus inside the society and stabilize the political situation. Divisions arise between political, economic and cultural elites of various scales and influences, which present mainly regional interests and support different -sometimes opposite- directions for the country’s internal and external policies. Traditionally, Ukrainians from the West of the country look to Europe for inspiration, directions and ideas, while the population in the East, much more tied to Russian influences and culture and more ethnically mixed with a substantial portion of ethnic Russians, finds its way in Russia.


In today’s Ukraine, there are two basic ideas of integration, development, and prosperity. Interestingly enough, both of them are separate and combined, directed in two opposite ways yet united simultaneously. Some politicians, authorities and intellectuals support the conception, which leads to European and Euro-Atlantic cooperation and further integration. On the contrary, for others, who are predominantly connected to regional, specifically Eastern-Ukrainian political, economic and cultural interest, the solution is to cultivate the relationship with the Russian Federation as well as with other post-Soviet countries. In November 2002, the election of Prime-minister Viktor Yanukovych, who mainly stands for Eastern Ukraine’s interests tightly connected to Russian business and politics, has given the lead to the second approach. This situation firmly indicates that the period of Ukraine’s historic hesitations is not yet over.


In recent years the supporters of Ukraine’s eastern path have come up with a new concept of nation-building and international development – “To Europe together with Russia!” Such a concept might appear fraudulent, yet to some extent it is able to consolidate a disunited and disappointed Ukrainian society. Furthermore, it draws a pessimistic Ukrainian society into hoping that their country is moving at last. The recent quadripartite meeting of the presidents of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russian Federation, and Ukraine and the idea of creating a Joint Commission on Tariffs and Trade prove that the protagonists of the Eastern path of the Ukrainian external policy are gaining in power. It also firmly indicates that the final aim of the Commission is to establish a regional integrated organization and create a joint economic entity.


Despite this situation, there is still room for Euro-optimism with the belief that the long time anticipated agreement on an association between Ukraine and the EU can be reached soon. This situation helps mark out the new format of relations, not only between Ukraine and the EU, but also within an all-European context, as well as to create the prerequisites for obtaining full-scaled EU membership in a foreseeable future.


The idea of European integration has not yet penetrated all strata of Ukrainian society, which keeps choosing between Communists and Democrats, Liberals and Conservatives, Euro-optimists and Euro-pessimists, - without overall consensus within Ukrainian society. This is the reason why we cannot predict the perspectives for Ukraine towards European Union and Euro-Atlantic integration. The most important question of Ukraine’s history and society, that has been sound and vivid for centuries, still stands: either with Russia or with Europe. The dilemma remains!


-Vitaliy Motsok