A day when everybody made sense? EU, Ukraine & Russia

August 29, 2013

It doesn’t happen very often, but 27th August was a day when it appeared everybody – with the exception of Russia – was singing from the same song-sheet and actually sounding in tune with the realities of the current EU/Russia/Ukraine situation.

Firstly, Stephan Fule and Andriy Kluyev on message and striking the right tone – although once again Stephan Fule states the European Commission is ready to – and is engaging with – the current Ukrainian government, opposition and civil society without seeming to grasp the need for direct engagement with the biggest constituency of them all, the Ukrainian people.

As neither the Ukrainian government, opposition or civil society manage to effectively engage with Ukrainian society, perhaps the EU should try do so before Russia whips up ethnic Russia sentiment across Ukraine?  Surely it is better to preempt what is inevitable.

Secondly there was Mykola Tomenko (in my opinion the best leader the Batkivschyna Party will never have) setting out a reasonable foreign policy toward Russia.

“Ukraine and Russia have quite a substantial political and economic crisis in their bilateral relations. Unfortunately, the crisis will worsen before November.

Such remarks should prompt our leadership to look for new forms of relations with Russia, or, to be more precise, to build mutually beneficial and pragmatic economic relations.

 The post-Soviet rhetoric about the two brotherly nations should remain in history textbooks. We should talk about two states building their relations on a pragmatic and mutually beneficial basis.

Unfortunately, we can say that this is not the end but in fact only the beginning of such a confrontation on Russia’s part. This calls for a more appropriate response from the Ukrainian leadership: saying that nothing happened and everything is okay is an attempt to bury one’s head in the sand. 

The Ukrainian authorities should substantively reconsider their approaches toward relations with Russia. The Ukrainian leadership has spent several years explaining to Ukrainian society the possibility of building a coordinated system of equitable relations within the format of an association with the Customs Union and the European Union. However, the opposition has always pointed out that it is impossible to work simultaneously in two distinct systems.”

Unfortunately, “reasonable” works only when both parties are prepared to sacrifice “positions” but seek more than “needs” – effectively working by way of the middle road of “interests”.  Mr Tomenko seems to have a rather hopeful outlook when it comes to Russia being “reasonable” any time soon.

It is also rather a stretch to say the current government have suggested an association with both Customs Union and EU to society.  What it has suggested publicly and often – swiftly pooh-poohed by Russia – was a Customs Union +1 (Ukraine) arrangement whereby Ukraine was not a full member of the Customs Union.  The current government is fully aware – having negotiated and agreed the Association Agreement and DCFTA with the EU themselves – that the two are not compatible (because the CU does not allow Ukraine to set unilaterally its trade parameters – a requirement of the EU).

However he is quite right.  The current government should face the reality that the current status quo is an impossibility should any agreement be signed.  Russia will sulk and will make Ukraine suffer given every opportunity.  The recent warning shots have been fired and leave no room for doubt.

Nevertheless, until signatures dry on any agreements – and there is no guarantee there will be any signatures at all –  perhaps stretching that status quo as long as possible is not such a bad option over the next few months.  What is Mr Tomenko’s contingency plan should there be no signing with the EU and also having ruled out any kind of 3 +1 styled Customs Union arrangement having completely poisoned the Russian well in advance?

Lastly, pro-EU Party of Regions MP Volodymyr Oliynyk made some very valid points – particularly in respect of Ukrainian society.

As we all know from personal experience, there is a societal lag when it comes to changes in policy from the top – in any nation.

“We can change clothes, but we must change ourselves, to become Europeans by ourselves: in behavior, in attitudes to each other, to the law. In this sense our task isn’t simple, but these amendments are necessary, primarily for Ukraine.”

Mr Oliynyk is absolutely right in what he says above.  It is easy to change legislation or policy.  It is not easy to change the attitudes of society – they do indeed lag a long way behind on the occasions society is not driving the change.

Again we return to the fact nobody has made any direct impact through dialogue with the biggest constituency of them all – the Ukrainian people.

He went on to say, “If Russia imposes sanctions, God forbid, of not an economic, but political character… undoubtedly we’ll find new market outlets, but Russia will also lose…We don’t want such development of events. We need mutually beneficial partner relations, but, as Shevchenko wrote once: everyone has his truth, his will in his house.

Within these words are the critical element of self-determination and sovereignty as Shevchenko no doubt understood very well.

Ultimately Ukraine must take control of the situation both East and West when it comes to its own destiny.  It cannot allow others to dictate its destiny any longer – and the days of fence-sitting are over.

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