Archive for December 28th, 2011

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Foreign policy based on pragmatism – Yanukovych

December 28, 2011

Now then, foreign policy based on pragmatism.  Isn’t that what all foreign policy should be based upon?  That and the national interest of course.

The Ukrainian president, stated  “We respect our partners, but our national interest is always at the heart of relations… We must not allow our interests to be ignored. We should work with our partners so that these relations be based on mutual respect.”

He went on to echo a very British sounding foreign policy based upon economics and bilateral relations.

“I see no other way today than the activation of bilateral relations… If this policy is successful, if it is aimed at economic growth, this will be a boon for people who live in our country. We are well aware of this.”

Hmmm – Economic growth.  Well, let’s see and consider the actions of the past month.  Close relations with China, being one of 13 nations who can hold the Yuan, large scale FDI from China.  Fair enough.

Visa free agreements with Brazil and Turkey in the past month.  Both booming economies.  Fair enough.

Finalising the wording and negotiations of the AA and DCFTA with the EU, fair enough, but we are all well aware that that is as far as it will go for the foreseeable future, less the initialing of the agreements in February.  Signatures and ratification are extremely distant prospects indeed and thus a potential massive economic gain will be shelved due to Ukrainian internal issues relating to the imprisonment of Ms Tymoshenko.

Trying to get out of a crippling gas deal with Russia.  Fair enough.  But unlikely to succeed given the internal situation in Russia and the need for would-be leaders to be seen to act tough.  Let’s not hold our breath for any major breakthroughs in the immediate term, short of massive structural concessions by Ukraine relating to hard assets of its gas infrastructure.

The agreements to deal with China and Russia in their own currency rather than US$.  Understandable when you are in an economically difficult position.  It removes the added costs of buying the US$ to complete any transaction as has been historically the case.

All small pieces of a jigsaw puzzle which even under the heading of pragmatic economic foreign policy, provides no clear picture or grand plan.  It remains ad hoc, opportunist and therefore direction-less.  EU aspirations some time in the distant future are hardly an urgent driving force for hard choices now.  The discipline and drive provided by the IMF needs have been suspended for a year.

Worse, it remains ideology-less and strategy-less.  There is nothing definitive about it.

It does not address the biggest boost possible to give a foreign policy based on economics, namely systemic, hard -nosed, painful domestic reform.

Yes, Ukraine can continue to export raw materials, metals, grain and weapons, but the global economy is slowing down and to be quite frank I see no way Ukraine will have a growth rate of 6% as some government members are claiming.  4.5% growth would seem the very best case scenario for 2012 (although that is not too shabby for what is likely to be a very bad year globally).

Yes on paper, there is now supposedly less bureaucracy, but on the front line, the Ukrainian “civil service” are never aware of any changes that have been made and continue as they always have.  Whilst this continues, yet more bureaucracy is routinely added in the form of new laws, again poorly communicated to the front line, if communicated at all.

I would suggest a new policy.  For every new bureaucratic economic hurdle adopted, two are removed somewhere in the system.  A one in, two out policy.

I would suggest any of the main stream parties finding an ideology.  The only parties that exist with an identifiable ideology are the far right Svoboda and the Communists on the left.  All others are completely devoid of ideology and really need to find one with which society can identify.

In order to have a policy that is effective, not only must it be well thought through and considered, it must have a driving force of political ideology behind it.  How else can society either rally behind it or oppose it?  Society needs to know where any particular policy fits within a grand plan and a grand plan is based upon an ideology.

If the grand plan is to be a centralist pragmatic booming economy acting as a bridge or logistical hub between the EU, Russia, Turkey and China,  then say so.  Tell the EU, the Russians, the Chinese and the Turks.  Most of all, tell the Ukrainians and then tell them how this is going to be achieved, what needs to be done, how long it will take, how painful or otherwise it will be do accomplish.  Producing little pieces of a puzzle and saying how pretty the individual piece is when it cannot be seen in context with the broader picture helps nobody.

The Chinese plan to employ semi-soft economic power globally is clear.  The US still adheres to the Munroe Doctrine, the direction of Turkey under the deft touch of its very underrated Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu gets clearer by the day.  The changes as needed in Russia are self-evident as is the likelihood of its economy being propelled up the GDP table in the next 10 years to become the biggest economy on the continent of Europe whether those changes occur at the speed and depth necessary or not.

As much as people look for certainties in a world full of uncertainty, they look to a grand plan for their nation.  As much as I appreciate that politicians must give direction, I also appreciate that no matter how certain they need to sound, in reality they are uncertain they can live up to their words in an unpredictable world.

However, that is no excuse for having no grand plan, no strategy and no ideology that can be relayed to society.  A fear of uncertainty cannot replace the need for clear and concise leadership and direction.  The Polish managed it under the Balcerowicz Plan and that dramatic domestic painful reform provided a solid foundation for its foreign economic policy from that day forward.

Ukraine, having wasted 5 years under the extremely dysfunctional leadership of Yushenko and Tymoshenko and having spent much of that time in opposition, you would expect the current government to have a plan.  A plan they can tell the Ukrainian society about.  A plan they will tell the Ukrainian society about.

It has been nearly two years since the changing of the guard and yet there is still no self-evident plan.  There is still no constant narrative backed up with consistent action to achieve the aims of any plan.

Ukraine still seems to act like an opportunist street urchin flitting from one prospective “mark” to another, living day by day, trying to pick a pocket or two, whilst drifting along with events rather than  setting course on a definite journey.

Time for a plan, time for an ideology, time for a strategy and time for a long overdue conversation with society explaining, who, what, where, when, how and why.  For Ukraine to seemingly continue to drift along as the tide takes it can be an option that is quickly running out of time given the state of flux within the entities and nations that sit on its borders on any point of the compass.

Ukraine is waiting Mr President – What’s the plan?  It is after all, pragmatic to have a plan.

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