Member and neighbour States

Ukraine at a crossroads

Mr Yanukovych, President of Ukraine; Mr Van Rompuy, President of the European Council; and Mr Barroso, EC President, in February. This time, the meeting was not that cheerful... (Source: Flickr, © President of the European Council)
Mr Yanukovych, President of Ukraine; Mr Van Rompuy, President of the European Council; and Mr Barroso, EC President, in February. This time, the meeting was not that cheerful…(Source: Flickr, © President of the European Council)

As in 2004, Ukraine is wavering. As in 2004, it is hesitating between its desire for the European Union and being bound to the Russian big brother.

On 1 December, about 100,000 people were in Kyiv to demand the resignation of Viktor Yanukovych after he decided to reject the EU partnership and free-trade agreement, because of pressures from Moscow. After his announcement, many Ukrainian people went to protest and denounce Yanukovych’s U-turn and his will to be closer to Russia once again.

With such behaviour, the Ukrainian leader probably missed a historical opportunity to tie his country to the European Union, something wanted by lots of his compatriots. On this point, I remember my Ukrainian friends at the College of Europe who expressed their euro-romantics and the wish to see their country join the EU one day. The partnership and free-trade agreement, while not necessarily paving the way for such an outcome, would have been a very important step in the Kyiv-Brussels relationship and would have reaffirmed the will of both two parts to get closer to each other.

Viktor Yanukovych, by refusing to sign this agreement, took the risk to open a very important political crisis within his country, although he tried to convince that he has the intention to sign the free-trade agreement in a near future. In fact, the current Ukrainian leader’s ambivalent position clearly shows the hesitation and the lack of confidence of this country regarding its geopolitical role and weight. For nearly ten years, the country has been hesitating between a pro-western strategy and a complete faith to Russia even if it means adopting an ambivalent, not to say ambiguous strategy in order to make nobody angry.

This strategy was promoted by Yanukovych, who was considered as a pro-Russian, close to Vladimir Putin and supporter of a conservative and nationalist political line. Nonetheless, from his election in March 2010, he wanted to show good intentions vis-à-vis the EU, considering a political integration should not be excluded. In spite of this, the Yanukovych U-turn may, for a long time, discredit the will of Ukraine to be definitely freed of Russia, preferring the current status quo. This position became unbearable for the Ukrainian leader who is now politically weakened and must face a heterogeneous but globally pro-European opposition who will enjoy the occasion to challenge a corrupted and autocratic system. What is more, the Party of the regions, the pro-Russian and nationalist movement of Yanukovych, is also divided regarding the strategy vis-à-vis Russia and the EU: some of its members in the Ukrainian Parliament consider the EU free-agreement as crucial for the country.

So, it seems that Viktor Yanukovych, who officially condemned the use of force to end the pro-Europe demonstration last week-end in Kyiv, has few ways to get out of this tricky situation. Faced with a determined opposition and a divided party, the Ukrainian leader made a political fault. Especially, he underestimated the strong will of Europe of his compatriots who considered the partnership and free-trade agreement as the kick-off of a process having to lead Ukraine to the EU membership. We are (very) far from this, and all is going to depend on the capacity of this country to guarantee democracy and the most elementary principles of law, especially regarding the situation of some opponents like Yulia Tymoshenko, the ex- leader of the 2004 Orange revolution and a former PM of Viktor Yushenko, currently in detention. To be clear, Ukraine is at a crossroads and it will have to face with its contradictions to move forward with or without Russia, with or without the European Union.

Gilles Johnson

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