Kyiv calls “time out” – And?

November 22, 2013

Unsurprisingly, Kyiv today officially paused its signing of the EU Association Agreement.

Undoubtedly many will simply write this off to President Yanukovych and a zero sum policy of retaining power by keeping Ms Tymshenko in prison.  That quite probably has a lot to do with it – though it may not keep him in power regardless.

Alternatively we can all point at Russia and shout “Boo, Hiss!” to avoid a blame game between Kyiv and Brussels.

Perhaps those millions in favour of the agreement will turn out en masse with a policy of civil disobedience in numbers reminiscent of 2004/5 and panic the National Security Council and President Yanukovych into a different decision over the next week?  Time will tell.

Regardless, the EU must also look to its own game which has seriously fallen short when it comes to convincing the Ukrainian population as well.  If it had not been for Russian muscle-flexing some months ago, the EU PR drive would have failed to gain any impact or traction with the Ukrainian public whatsoever.

The Delegation of the EU to Ukraine, retweeting and sharing faceless statements on Facebook has been a complete and utter failure at a time when it needed to be very noisy, very public and ruffling feathers.  The EU events belatedly organised in Ukrainian cities were farcical and garnered very little interest.

Far, far too little, and far, far too late to try and directly frame Ukrainian societal opinion – particularly so when the automatic “self-attraction” the EU somehow considers itself to still have, has long since eroded over the past few years in the eyes of its own constituents and also its neighbours.

I have long opined that dependence upon the feckless political class – regardless of them being in power or opposition – is to depend upon a channel seriously disconnected from the public to pass any message.

I have also long opined that to continue to throw money at an uncivil civil society that is even further divorced from the public than the political class, is also a seriously flawed policy which has not delivered any results when it comes to framing public opinion, raising the EU profile, or delivered any robust results with any Ukrainian government past or present.

Civil society used to have grass roots – in Ukraine it is tumbleweed, and thus there is almost no connection to the society it purports to represent.  Societal trust in civil society is simply lacking.   It is a shambles.

Quite how the EU identifies “success” for its money when it comes to Ukrainian civil society and then distributes further funding accordingly, would be a very interesting schematic – and an even more interesting definition of “success” I suspect.

In a nutshell, neither of these channels have any robust connection with Ukrainian society – they were/are/will continue to fail to deliver any EU message effectively or convincingly.

In the meantime, numerous Russian TV channels, broadcasting in every Ukrainian home, are directly reaching the Ukrainian audience – whether believed or otherwise in their rhetoric.

A last minute effort to throw a few willing EU Member State ambassadors in front of a camera – pointless in the extreme.

Sadly, the only EU Member States who I expect to have understood this will have been Poland and the Baltic’s – for good reason.  They know only too well “Homo Sovieticus” and the associated character traits.  They also have a far greater understanding of Russian shenanigans and their effects.

Quite how the typical Russian style of negotiation with Kyiv came as an apparent surprise to Brussels again defies belief.

For the EU to have built up the Vilnius Summit into an over-hyped “now or never” moment and then to have failed so spectacularly to convince the Ukrainian public that this top-down – rather than bottom-up – project needed their support seems to belay a basic democratic requirement of societal “buy-in”.

As political science would not claim a democracy is consolidated unless 70% or more of constituents would irrefutably reject any other model of governance – a solid “buy-in” – then how any favourable polling of 45 – 53% (poll dependent) toward the EU Association Agreement – after Russian assistance – can be seen as “robust” again defies belief.

Nurturing Ukrainian societal “buy-in” should have started in 2009 when the EaP project started – and it should have been done directly.  It is not as though the feckless political class or uncivil and ineffective civil society were any better then, than it is now.  And it should have been – and should be – painfully obvious to the EU which deals with both, that was and is the case.


Well, as the Association Agreement remains initialed and therefore theoretically able to be signed at any time, there is now a choice within the EU to do several things irrespective of the current Ukrainian leadership.

It can simply give up – but that does not provide a particularly flattering  image of the EU if it is perceived to crumble to Russian realpolitik in its own neighbourhood.  Stating “it was a Ukrainian choice” does not remove the lessons that need to be learned from this exercise when it comes to EU promotion.  Giving up therefore, is not an option.

As it is very unlikely that Ukraine will immediately run off and sign up to the Russian led Customs Union, there is time to consider future strategy if Ukraine is deemed to remain worthy of any effort.

So, if we are to be realistic, with European Parliament elections next year and then Ukrainian presidential elections in 2015, we arrive at 2016 as the absolute earliest any serious thoughts of revisiting the Association Agreement – less some force majeure occurrence that changes everything.

2.5 years in which – irrespective of Ukrainian leadership – the EU needs to evaluate a common and internally robust position over Ukraine.  Having Member States prepared to sign under condition X but not Y, whilst others are prepared to sign under condition Y but not X is simply a weak position – and a position Russian (if not Ukrainian) leadership will exploit.

2.5 years in which the EU needs to engage with Ukrainian society directly – and not through faulty channels – and insure there is a robust majority consolidated behind the “European integration” agenda.  To claim 50% are in favour, is to acknowledge 50% are not.

Here, when it comes to directly framing public opinion, I will acknowledge that much will depend on the calibre and style of Ambassador sent by EU Member States to Ukraine – as it is they, that between them, will need to remain front and centre in the media eye conveying the same message and not singing from any bilateral song-sheets over the integration agenda.

A much more dynamic and feather ruffling EU Delegation, rather than one that posts photographs of new bike sheds on Facebook with accompanying statements encouraging visitors to brave death or serious injury via manic drivers and the potholed roads of Kyiv to cycle to see them, would be a fairly reasonable suggestion too.

2.5 years in which to encourage, coerce, cajole, threaten, praise, the Ukrainian political class in its entirety along the path to reform, consistent with the existing plans contained within the initialed Association Agreement.  Perhaps in 2.5 years, instead of having to search for implemented progress with a magnifying glass to provide any justification for signing an agreement now, by then there will be reforms in sufficient areas currently of concern, that simply cannot be ignored by even the most hesitant of EU signatories.

Meanwhile Russian pressure will undoubtedly remain constant, if not increase, to prevent such a close call from happening again.

Russia will drive economic “interests” to the fore, and the EU needs to drive democratic “values” just as hard.  If the EU had any sense, and if it is not going to give up on Ukraine,  when it comes to the values and economic interests arguements, it would do well to frame them around Ukrainian opinion surveys that consistently return corruption, unemployment and the economy as the top three concerns of society – and not frame them in a convoluted, overly academic way – in pragmatic policy suggestions and specific strategies that will be understood clearly by the public and take root.

I am only too aware that if I wrote this blog in an overly academic manner, I would have far less readers than I actually have.  Not that my readers aren’t capable of understanding overly academic work – but it is excessively tedious to be faced with in-numerous citations, footnotes, and dry theoretical  prose.  I read such material all the time and accept it is very boring to most people.

The unfortunate issue when it comes to Ukrainian politics itself, it that both the current power and opposition (less Klitschko who as a late-comer has not yet had the chance) have over-promised and under-delivered to Russia, the EU and the Ukrainian public time and time again in equal measure.  Who would trust any of them to continue along the reform path now – rather than immediately engage in standard name-calling, you’re worse than me, presidential campaigns more or less effective immediately – to the detriment of reform that could still continue given the political will to do so?

Perhaps the saddest thing of all, is that in 2.5 years time, the Ukrainian  political class will still be feckless.  It will still not be responsive.  It will not be inclusive.  It will not be tolerant.  In short, it will remain the proverbial country mile from the democratic values that the EU wants to project and have chosen as the lead principle for this agreement.

Thus any signing in 2.5 years time may yet be seen to undermine the values this agreement is supposed to hold as uncompromisable.

One comment

  1. “In the meantime, numerous Russian TV channels, broadcasting in every Ukrainian home, are directly reaching the Ukrainian audience – whether believed or otherwise in their rhetoric.”

    Exactly, see simple broadcasts such as:

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