The Ukrainian floundering of the EU

The Ukrainian floundering of the EU

The latest crises in Ukraine and the Russian move into Crimea have rekindled the former East-West rivalry. It has also brought questions about the role and the crisis management capabilities of the European Union (EU). Although the complex nature of the problem necessitates a distributing of the blame, the EU should take some of the responsibility. Granted, Russia was waiting for the opportunity, and incompetent and uncompromising Ukrainian political leaders are the main guilty parts. Yet, the unwillingness of Western organizations, such as NATO and the EU, to extend a meaningful lifeline to Ukraine should also count for something.

Ukraine has been searching for ways to integrate itself with the West since its independence. Despite its eagerness to become members of the EU and NATO, none of the organizations were forthcoming in that regard. Let’s consider the EU’s recent record on Ukraine.

Ukraine has been a partner through its Partnership and Cooperation Agreement of 1994 and later through the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP), which was launched in 2004 to strengthen the ring of prosperity, stability and security on the EU’s borders. Within the framework, the EU offered a privileged relationship in return for compliance with the common values of democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law. Ukraine was deemed a priority partner within the ENP.

Then the Eastern Partnership of 2009 offered even more, with promises of increased political dialogue, economic integration, and visa liberalization with partner countries, though the initial attraction has gradually worn off. Although Ukraine and the EU had initiated an Association Agreement in March 2012, the latter did not wish to sign it until Ukraine dealt with the problems of its democratic deficit and violations of the rule of law. The 2011 imprisonment of Yulia Timoshenko, the opposition leader, has become an especially acrimonious thorn. The agreement was finally to be signed Nov. 29, during the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius. However, the Ukrainian Parliament refused to ratify the laws necessary to meet the EU criteria. Everything spiraled down from there on.

Many pundits now question the EU decision to demand the release of Timoshenko as a precondition for signing the agreement. This was seen by many in Kyiv as a politically motivated demand and a kind of foot dragging. Also, whether the EU overestimated its leverage on Ukraine vis-à-vis Russia should be discussed now. Obviously, the EU thought it was attractive enough to win Ukraine over without much work and despite the internal dynamics of Ukraine and Russian pressures. Therefore the refusal of Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian President, on Nov. 29, to sign the Association Agreement came as a surprise; and the EU was certainly not ready what followed.

The lack of unity among the EU members created problems. Since the Euro-crises, the member states have developed their own agendas and no one has an appetite for further integration with Eastern partners. The same could be said about the Common Foreign and Security Policy, which is anything but common. This prevented the EU from playing an active role in the pre- and post-crisis environment in Ukraine.

At the peak of the crisis, several European countries such as Germany, France and Poland took the initiative to find a way out, but the EU has yet to show a unified front at the face of clear Russian aggression and violation of international law. Some members’ energy dependence on Russia and close economic relations of others prevents members from agreeing on any sort of sanctions against Russia. National interests prevail.

Yet they should remember that long-term Russian dominance over Ukraine would be more costly than the short-term individual benefits.