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BoJo in Ukraine

September 15, 2016

Having been asked many times about Brexit and the repercussions for UK-Ukrainian relations, both in person and by email, it is perhaps time to share some thoughts – and they are only thoughts.

Putting to one side any free trade agreement issues that would be upon a very long list of free trade and other agreements the UK is going to have to renegotiate, there are perhaps more immediate matters to raise.

The UK has been a robust supporter, and not without influence, within the EU when it comes to Ukraine.  Therefore the reaction of the Ukrainian leadership to both Brexit and then Theresa May becoming Prime Minister with a new cabinet and a basket full of EU problems probably went along lines thus:

Innumerable calls, letters and visits both to HM Embassy Kyiv and King Charles Street, London, will have occurred – all seeking insight into any change in the UK position toward Ukraine, a hint as to who will be handed the UK baton within the EU when it comes to leading the Ukrainian cause (probably Poland), and many questions over existing funding and also on-going bilateral programmes (whether they are hosted in Ukraine or the UK).

Needless to say there will also have been a lot of lobbying regarding insuring the Prime Minister and senior Cabinet Ministers either visit or receive their Ukrainian counterparts before those from The Kremlin.

In short, probably quite blunt requests to have London visit Kyiv, or have Kyiv visit London, before London ventures to Moscow or having Moscow arrive in London.  The usual framing and diplomatic messaging about priorities and positions matters.

Undoubtedly Ukraine’s FM Klimkin (who is a very good and capable FM) has held many telephone conversations with the UK’s FM Boris Jonhson (who thus far the FCO and 6 have managed to keep under control).  On a personal level, a reader would expect both men to get on very well – and personal relationships do count.

Innumerable verbal and written reassurances will have spewed forth from the FCO to reassure the Ukrainians.

bojo

Lo it has come to pass that Boris Johnson is in Kyiv 14th -15th September (and thus manages to escape before the Yes Conference) bringing soothing and comforting words, as well as the desired diplomatic message of “visits” delivered at his level.  “I am very glad to visit Ukraine soon after his appointment as Minister of Foreign Affairs. This visit is a clear indication of the long-term strong relationship between our two countries. Britain stands side by side with the people of Ukraine for the protection of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country, particularly in the Crimea. The support that the United Kingdom has to reform in Ukraine, is unchanged We are pleased to work closely with those who implement the program for the development of transparent, accountable and stable government, and strengthening the economic outlook for the whole territory of Ukraine.”

(It remains to be seen whether Theresa May will visit Moscow before Kyiv, or host/be hosted by President Poroshenko before President Putin.)

It also has to be recognised that the Ukrainians will be very aware – as HM Embassy Kyiv probably is too – that UK influence has now diminished across most (but certainly not all) policy areas.

BoJo has also announced an additional £2 million for the HALO Trust mine clearing in eastern Ukraine between now and 2018.

Thus the boxes ticked for diplomatic positioning/messaging, soothing words and gifts delivered – as a reader would expect.

But this will not be enough.  Both Ukraine and the UK will be looking for other ways to reinforce a relationship that is clearly weakened due to Brexit.  There is a requirement to find bilateral agreements that will drop anchors between the nations not only either side of Brexit, but also either side of the next Presidential election in Ukraine and also either side of the next General Election in the UK.

Medium term bilateral agreements, 5 or 7 years in duration would seem wise when so many existing agreements will end with Brexit.

There are things that the UK does do particularly well and that the Ukrainians clearly appreciate (apart from money laundering) which are obvious areas to look toward when trying to find 5 – 7 year agreements that will be useful and genuinely meaningful and that will not be complicated by Brexit issues relating to the EU Association Agreement and DCFTA, and assorted other treaties, agreements, memorandums, read missions, etc.

The first is defence/military.  The second is intelligence. Both are matters that will remain priority issues for Ukraine for the next decade at least, and both are areas where the UK is no slouch.  Announcing a bilateral 5 – 7 year defence/military agreement (whatever its limitations/parameters), and/or announcing a 5 – 7 year bilateral agreement regarding increased intelligence sharing (whatever its limitations/parameters) would be a well received gesture as far as Ukraine is concerned, and for the UK it will assist in keeping HM Embassy Kyiv relevant until Brexit is over and an entire raft of new agreements with Ukraine will be required as a result.  (Relying upon a small Chevening Alumni won’t do it, and neither will knowing where the money is hidden.)

Some bilateral medium term agreements beginning and concluding either side of Brexit and significant elections would not go amiss for either nation.

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