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European Policy of Ukraine: Problems and Perspectives

/ Ed. 16. 11. 2015

Public lecture of Anatoliy Zlenko, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine organized by the Association for International Affairs

Dear Mr. Chairman! Ladies and Gentlemen!

First of all I wish to thank you for the invitation to address your esteemed audience. The title of my address prompts me to focus on the developments inside and around Ukraine. However, I beg you to excuse myself if I go a little beyond the main topic. Today, when one speaks of international politics without mentioning Iraq, it is like dancing a waltz in the middle of an earthquake.

The geopolitical earthquake centered in the Middle East reached out to Ukraine and the Czech Republic. It spread across the whole of Europe and made it take a different look at the European realities. Its impact shattered the system of global security, involving our continent. Two main pillars of the European order were put into question: Euro-Atlantic solidarity and European unity. These two pillars have always been complimentary to each other and constituted the strength of Europe. Today, they clashed to cause its momentary weakness.

The war in Iraq surfaced a lot of questions. But it revealed also a number of crucial political aspects.

First and foremost is that solitaire of the world politics is being played off between the United States and Europe. This is yet another evidence to corroborate the right choice made by Eastern European countries at the beginning of 1990s to spin around these two hubs of global influence. The official Kyiv has followed closely the Czech foreign policy to see that your membership in NATO and future membership in EU has become the efficient political amplifier of Prague`s voice in the world.

Secondly, the European unity is badly needed in contemporary world. Division of Europe in the latest few months caused further instability and even embarrassment.

The third conclusion is that the path of a united Europe towards Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) will be longer than many expected. Contrary to general perception, Eastern Europe will play a more independent part in this process. If the old EU members aspire to bring about the CFSP in a near future, they have to pay more attention and respect to Eastern Europe.

Ladies and Gentlemen!
Europe has come to re-evaluation of values. The same is true for Ukraine, although we approached to this moment earlier than the actual crisis in Iraq broke out. A short exposй in the recent history of Ukraine will help me to explain the phenomenon.

As regards our foreign policy, I would divide it in two phases. The first phase proceeded under the strain of resolving difficult problems inherited from the Soviet Union. I should mention here nuclear disarmament, explosive issues in relations with Russia, territorial claims to Ukraine posed by certain political groups within some of our neighbours. Any of these problems could have destabilized the whole of Europe. However, that did not happen. We did not explode, and we prevented a big fire in Europe`s East.

The second phase was launched in 1998, when President Kuchma formally declared EU membership as Ukraine`s strategic goal. In those years my country was coping with the economic malaise while trying to hear from Brussels that some day we would qualify for membership. We did not expect any promises, but we needed moral support and faith in our capability. We were waiting for this gesture, because we believed to be capable of making a contribution to a new Europe.

The results of that period are well known. We overcame the economic depression, but we were not given any perspective of EU membership. Our diplomatic activity did not produce the desired effect. To the contrary, they say that Brussels developed a phenomenon called ‚fatigue from Ukraine‘. European perspective, which is a symbol of hope to us, has become a symbol of problem to Europe. One can have long disputes about the roots of the problem. But one thing is clear – while maintaining strategic orientation towards Europe, Ukraine`s foreign policy requires certain adjustments.

I tend to believe that Ukraine should launch a new phase and new tactics in its foreign policy. I would call it ‚the tactics of small steps‘ towards Europe. We had tried earlier to join the EU like our Eastern European neighbours did: perspective of membership, reforms, membership. In Ukraine, this scheme did not work for several reasons. Perhaps, the most crucial were lack of political decision (or political will) from the EU and delayed economic progress by Ukraine.

We failed to become qualified for membership by a few long strides, like the Czech Republic and other countries that had been given a political perspective even before they overcome economic decline.

Unlike our neighbours, Ukraine was not offered any advances. But it does not mean that we should abandon our objective. It means that we need a different tactics spread over a longer period of time.

It is natural for diplomacy to work on a perspective. However, this work can make sense only when the perspective gradually becomes closer. Political investments should also bear dividends. Like we have them in our relations with NATO. Last year Ukraine declared the ultimate goal of its Euro-Atlantic integration and embarked upon specific activities to come closer to NATO. Whatever were the implications of Ukraine`s participation in the Prague Summit, we have left problems behind. Having signed the Ukraine-NATO Action Plan and Target Plan for 2003 we gave a realistic shape to Ukraine`s full-fledged Euro-Atlantic integration.

We pursue the same objective in Ukraine`s relations with the European Union, namely we need to make real headway. It could be less visible politically, but felt by ordinary people. For example: liberalisation of trade for Ukrainian exporters, granting Ukraine the status of a market economy, liberalisation of visa regime, new student exchange programmes, joint projects in information technologies etc.

European and Euro-Atlantic integration should not turn into a phantom for Ukraine to pursue. Just like the Soviet Union used to pursue the phantom of communism.

It must be the road of actions. A lot has been said in recent years that everything along this road depends on Ukraine. The picture is not that simple, though. Of course, Ukraine should continue to bear political responsibility for its own economic and political progress. But one may not reduce the complex political process to the level of a school puzzle: ‚Ukraine left point A for point B‘. The European Union is not just ‚point B‘. It is our key partner from whom we want to hear understanding and support.

If the EU is not ready to open a political perspective for Ukraine that would be at least an honest position – Brussels does not want to give false promises. But if the EU views Ukraine as part of a new Europe, then it should probably review some of its attitudes towards Ukraine. Honest partners do not deprive one another of the goal and dream. Honest partners neither lose hope, nor cross out one another. Honest partnership is a tango, which can always takes two. Even when one of them is a post-Soviet country with difficult realities and the other is a giant of global economy and almost a global political player.

In this sense we welcome the recently presented Communication ‚Wider Europe – Neighbourhood‘. The idea to expand four basic freedoms to Ukraine is the rational gist that, I hope, will be developed into a new EU strategy towards Ukraine. Therefore, we put a lot of hope into the EU accession of our neighbours, including the Czech Republic. It IS NOT our meaning to enter the EU by a back door or resting on somebody`s shoulders. The meaning is that with the EU accession of Eastern European nations Ukraine will become closer and more understandable to the Union.

The crisis in Iraq showed that Eastern Europeans have more in common than until perceived. In a geopolitical sense, we all stem from the ‚cold war‘. Perhaps that was a sad affiliation, but it would be counterproductive now to deny it altogether. Geopolitical environment is a mighty factor for elaborating feasible policies. European Union will soon become a geopolitical environment of Ukraine. Likewise Ukraine is a geopolitical environment of the Czech Republic, Poland and other aspirant countries. It would, therefore, be illogical to close the eyes or forget about Ukraine even after accession to the EU.

Are the currently aspirant countries ready to treat Ukraine as a future resident of a united Europe? It will become clear in the coming months, when the negotiations on the visa regime with Ukraine will be completed. I guess, when Eastern Europeans first announced their ambition to become EU members, their powerful driving force was to avoid any future landing behind the iron curtain. The same wish drives Ukrainians today when we ask for milder conditions of travel to the EU countries. We do not want to land behind the Schengen curtain. We hope for good will and understanding of our neighbours, which had been in a similar position a decade ago.

Apropos, we are going to discuss consequences of the EU enlargement and how to meet them at the high-level informal meeting to be held November next in Kyiv. We invited foreign ministers from Central and Eastern Europe and high EU officials. We expect the meeting to bear a fruit.

Dear colleagues!
One of the challenging consequences of the war in Iraq for Eastern Europe was the need to choose, who of the two partners – EU or the United States – should be given more priority. This dilemma caused confusion among the political forces that had seemed monolithic before. This situation reminded me of the question put to a child ‚Whom do you love more – your father or your mother?‘ One might think: no wonder – politics is a hard business often putting hard questions. But in this particular case the choice was not so much hard as absurd.

Absurdity was not only in the need to make a choice between European unity and Euro-Atlantic solidarity, these two inseparable pillars of European security. It was absurd because the dispute was often about words, not deeds.

Under these circumstances, Ukraine made a choice that looked most appropriate. We limited our participation to humanitarian aspects. By dispatching to Kuwait a battalion for radiological, chemical and bacteriological protection we did our best to avert potential mass casualties in the region, as well as reconfirmed our commitment to a strategic partnership with the United States.

This superpower has been and remains the key political player who once made its decisive contribution to the end of the ‚cold war‘. A player who backed up Ukraine`s independence at its critical starting moment. We remember that. In my view, Kyiv and Washington have two options to follow: the road of partnership or the road of oblivion. The first road is obviously the best and natural to both nations. The second road is a definite no-win option.

As regards another strategic partner of Ukraine – the Russian Federation – we have developed a reasonable political distance in our relations. We are close enough to maintain a partnership dialogue. We are far enough NOT to be pulled into the orbit of this geopolitical giant. The idea of a common economic area with Russia, born last February, is right in the golden medium. The same is valid for Ukraine`s Presidency in the CIS, where we stand for economic and not political matters. I have to discourage those expecting any follow-up by means of Ukraine`s integration into the Union of Russia with Belarus or Eurasian Economic Union. There will be no such developments.

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,
The war in Iraq showed once again that every politician is doomed to exist in a kind of a triangle: between political desirability, political necessity and political reality. When political desirability (peace) comes to severe clashes with political reality (war), all what is left to us is to follow political necessity. That means to step forward over possible offences, to put aside quarrelling about who is right and who is wrong, but to concentrate on solving acute international problems.

We draw a similar conclusion in European policy of Ukraine. As the person engaged during the first international steps of my nation, I should admit that ten years ago we thought the way of Ukraine to Europe to be different than it turned out in reality. Not all the objectives have been reached. Yet, once we admitted that, the key question must be ‚What to do?‘, not ‚Whose fault?‘. Political necessity must take over political grudges, disappointments and other emotions.

Political necessity for Ukraine is to draw conclusions from our own mistakes and to pluck up courage for a new phase of its foreign policy. It prompts us to do what is in Ukraine`s interests. These are:

to implement political reform and to complete economic reform, to join WTO, to adopt national legislation to European norms, to create favourable conditions for foreign investors. I should remark that all of that would go easier if the European Union as our main road-pointer places new emphasis in its relations with Ukraine. For example, if the EU supports the recent initiative of Poland and recognizes the principle right of Ukraine to EU membership. But that is not our choice.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Twelve years ago, when after the referendum on independence the Ukrainian people buried the Soviet Union, the entire Europe turned into a construction site. A new apartment house is being erected, with a poster in front of it: ‚Here a new Europe will be built‘. The European Conference in Athens marked the completion of the first phase of the project. Happy owners of the keys to new apartments are ready to move in. Those queuing outside watch the calendar impatiently. They know for sure, in a few years time they will also take their place in a new Europe. We share their delight and we are happy for both.

As a European, I put a question: ‚Is that all?‘ Is it the meaning of a new Europe, of which the Czechs and Ukrainians were dreaming alike, to provide some Europeans with comfortable apartments while others are left outside with a questionable status of ‚neighbours‘? If Turkey becomes in future an EU member, then the Union will border the Arab world. The term of ‚neighbour‘ would indeed be appropriate for it. It is appropriate for the African states in the Mediterranean.

But would it be fair to put into this category such a big European nation as Ukraine? Is it not an attempt to combine oppositions under one roof? And under which criteria? Perhaps, the criteria of worthlessness to a new Europe?

One may write it off as a product of excessive emotions. But behind emotions there is one issue of paramount importance to our continent. What is the ultimate objective of a new Europe?

Hopefully, it is not only to ensure rich and stable existence of the chosen ones. Hopefully, the EU remains committed to a European idea, which combines democracy and strength, economic success and social justice. If that is true, then, once again: according to which criteria one may a priori deny the aspirations of any European nation to join the EU?

Of course, when we speak of Ukraine`s European integration, it is first and foremost about deeds, not words. The goal of Ukraine remains unchanged – to build a strong democratic European nation worthy of EU membership. But we shall employ new tactics. We shall not demand every now and then a political perspective of membership. President Kuchma said very clearly in Athens: ‚We shall not press on the issue of membership‘. Not because we abandoned it, but because

European ‚fatigue from Ukraine‘ should may not develop into irritation and categorical moral rejection.

I would rather prefer to see it developed into ‚optimism about Ukraine‘ and ‚European renaissance of Ukraine‘. Let me conclude my presentation at this optimistic note.

Thank you for your attention.

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