Ukraine is surrounded by admirers and suitors like a bride. One tries to take her by force, another by calm and balance. It is important to realize, however, that any and all foreign suitors want Ukraine first and foremost for their own interests.
The EU’s marriage proposal
In November 2013, Ukrainians came to the Maidan (Independence Square) indignant with the sharp change in the then-authorities’ foreign political direction away from the European Union.
Later on, the EuroMaidan Revolution started evolving actively to response to then-President Viktor Yanukovych’s aggression.
First blood was shed, and then the struggle ceased to be a rally for the European integration at all.
It was then that Ukrainians who needed real action felt the consequences of the EU’s overly diplomatic approach to the Yanukovych regime.
Now, the West’s readiness for concrete decisions is already being probed by Putin having brought his troops into Ukraine and encroached on its territorial integrity.
At its March 7 summit, the EU did decide to threaten Russia with visa and economic sanctions. However, will it manage to keep Ukraine safe against further aggression by the Russian government? Will the EU be resolute in its decision to fully integrate Ukraine?
By the way, Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to have been ready for such a development. At his press conference on March 4, he stated that the loss from possible sanctions as a result of the Ukrainian situation would cause mutual damage as everything is interconnected in the modern world.
Aleksandr Lukashevich, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, emphasized in turn that Moscow would have to respond to Washington’s possible sanctions.
“Everything is simple enough in the situation with Ukraine’s European prospects. They say ‘If you want to join – welcome,’ but when problems and aggravations arise, everything becomes much more difficult,” says Serhii Rakhmanin, deputy editor-in-chief of Dzerkalo Tyzhnia weekly. “On the one hand, they must and will interfere for two reasons: they don’t want any war on the EU borders; and they have an interest in the pipelines running across Russia and Ukraine working so that Europe receives gas. The West is not ready for military interference, for a show of muscle. However, if Russia at some point does not feel the need to stop, and goes a step to far, then the EU can and will press on some sensitive spots. However, if you generally expect some kind of serious aggressive stand against Russia in order to protect Ukraine – you will be disappointed - they won’t do that.”
However, it is not only gas and geopolitical aspects, but also a number of other problems that restrain Europe in its relations with Russia, says Lilia Shevtsova, political expert at the Carnegie Center in Moscow:
“First of all, elections to the European Parliament will take place soon (May 22-25), followed by the election of a new European Commission.
In other words, all the current leaders are already lame ducks.
It is not known yet who will come to the EU and who will lead European diplomacy instead of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
This organizational uncertainty really does have an impact. Secondly, there is no coordinated EU foreign policy. The void is filled by the stand taken by Berlin that tries to maintain the status quo in relations with Putin. Thirdly, Europe is interested in economic relations with Russia. It is understandable as 48 percent of Europe’s energy needs are met by the Russian Federation.
It is worth remembering, however, that it was not even Russian aggression that finally pushed the EU into action, but rather the Ukrainian people themselves whose wrath burst unexpectedly for the entire world.
“At best, such aggravation was foreseen for the period after the presidential election in Ukraine – and only in the case of Yanukovych losing. Now the EU will have to make its decisions on the run”, Russian journalist Konstantin Eggert points out.
Americans give Putin back his engagement ring
The West is now taken to mean two actors – the EU and the United States. However expert Shevtsova believes that the EU is a political dwarf without America. This is because the Americans used to push Europe to take some sort of active steps within the Euro-Atlantic cooperation framework.
Things continue this way now as well. While the EU frightens and gets frightened, U.S. President Barack Obama ordered the imposition of sanctions against persons “directly involved in the destabilization of Ukraine, including Crimea.”
However, visa sanctions, freezing of accounts, assets and properties of some Russian functionaries, as well as termination of preparations for the G8 summit is unlikely to affect Putin’s decisions in a substantial way. Some argue for the West moving up to the next level - serious economic and trade restrictions on as well as an activation of closer military cooperation with Ukraine.
Considering that the Russian leaders started realizing a rather straightforward and tough scenario, and that the Ukrainian state’s integrity is under threat, central attention is locked on NATO and the US. However, the alliance has no formal obligation to protect Ukraine’s sovereignty, least of all by direct military methods.
Nevertheless, in general politicians and experts in both the EU and the US realize that Ukraine’s full integration into Europe and possibly into NATO would provide the best protection of the EU borders against Russia.
What should we hope for?
“If you hope for help you will most likely lose. Expecting outside help ruins determination and paralyzes the brain. If you only rely upon yourself you concentrate and have a chance to win. Comparing Ukraine with a human being, it is someone who must get its brains together, strain its muscles and try to work with head and hands as necessary,” Rakhmanin sums up.
To keep itself safe against threats and encroachments, Ukraine must not push away the new authorities in power – although, of course, there are some things for which they can be criticized. The new rulers should immediately consolidate the society, renew operations of state institutions and economy, implement judicial reforms, and consider projects concerning corruption and so on. It is necessary to start making the future Ukraine attractive in socioeconomic terms right now, first of all for those groups in the population which the Russian propaganda is currently targeting. Though this may be a complicated and lengthy process, it is better than just waiting for the neighbors’ response and hoping for help all the time.
Recent events showed that the EU and the US need Ukraine, even if for their own purposes. That’s why this fact should be made use of by implementing Ukraine’s own rules of the game.
Olexandra Chernova of Donetsk is a student of Donetsk National University. She works with the newspaper Den.
The question of Ukraine’s relations with the European Union and Russia is, of course, most of all a question for the young and for future generations. Therefore, during 2013-14, the media project www.mymedia.org.ua, in collaboration with the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, and financially supported by the Danish Foreign Ministry (Danida) are running a number of journalism workshops on how to cover these issues. The participants are young journalists from all over Ukraine. On pages 10-15, www.mymedia.org.ua – in partnership with the Kyiv Post – brings five of the best pieces, demonstrating the variety in focus and styles of the country’s young journalists, and, not least, their budding talent for grasping complex issues.