Victor Tkachuk on Democracy, Ukraine & the EU

A trial over the politician with an ambiguous reputation even if she is a leader of the oppositional political force with the highest rating isn’t a reason to doubt the right of a 45-million people European state to feel advantages of approaching the EU in practice; and it is when this state has a mutual history and mutual values with the European Union countries.

The draft resolution of the European Parliament with recommendations to the European Commission, the EU Council and the European External Action Service (EEAS) on the Association Agreement (AA) with Ukraine, prepared by the MEP Ryszard Legutko in July this year, included among other things an appeal to make all necessary progress in order to achieve the rapid conclusion of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement by no later than the end of 2011. It was expected that this resolution would be adopted at the plenary week on September, 26-29. It could seem that almost everything was ready for the Ukraine-EU relations which in June this year celebrated 17 years to pass to a qualitatively new level at last.

However, the arrest of Julia Tymoshenko, the leader of the Ukrainian opposition and the former Prime-Minister on August, 5 who is tried for excess of power when she signed gas contracts with Russia in 2009, has turned everything upside down. During the session of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament on August, 12 which discussed the above mentioned recommendations concerning the AA, committee members debated sharply and failed to develop a uniform position regarding the document. They are going to reconsider the draft resolution of the European Parliament on October, 11. Meanwhile, leading European politicians, in particular Bronisław Komorowski, Aleksander Kwaśniewski, Štefan Füle, Angela Merkel, Carl Bildt, Javier Solana, Catherine Ashton (the list can be continued) expressed a concern regarding the state of democracy and justice in Ukraine when they addressed the Ukrainian President directly. Thus, they unambiguously let Yanukovych know that the further progress of negotiations on the association is impossible without releasing the former prime-minister from custody and her admission to the participation in the parliamentary election campaign.

Let’s be sincere, Ukraine has got great problems in terms of democracy. Yanukovych and his administration openly utilize the power as an tool for their personal enrichment and people get more and more discontented with the government. At the same time, those in power actively use repressive structures in order to deprive those having other opinion of the right to voice: by taking away frequencies from opposition-favoring television channels, by raising criminal cases against participants of peaceful protests, by chasing Internet-activists. The trial over Tymoshenko is very resonant, however, it is far from being the most impressing demonstration of disrespect for the basic democratic principles shown by the ruling power.

Why is it that European politicians decided to interfere so rigidly with the internal Ukrainian affairs right now, instead of, for instance, one year ago when Tymoshenko’s party was removed from the electoral process in 2 regions under rather doubtful circumstances or when the Constitutional Court denied its previous decision and canceled the “orange” political reform of 2004?

Maybe it is because they really consider Julia Tymoshenko to be absolutely pure before the law? It can hardly be so. Maybe they count upon the idea that only the former prime-minister after her release and a predicted advent to the Parliament can effectively oppose Yanukovych and his team? Probably. But the other version seems to be most probable. Experts say the Ukrainian government expected to use the trial over Tymoshenko as an argument for a judicial rupture of unfavorable contracts with Gazprom signed by the former prime-minister in 2009. It looks like now Europeans want to deprive the Ukrainian party of this trump and in such a way to avoid a new Ukrainian-Russian “gas warfare”.

Actually, it is not that important what are the true motives of the European officials. Something else is important. If an initialing of the AA doesn’t take place till the end of the current year, it will probably be postponed to some indefinite term or at all will become impossible. It’s no secret to anybody (and this is also clearly said, in particular, in the draft resolution of the European Parliament) that now Ukraine is very elegantly pressed by the Russian Federation which has no precedent. The RF tries to block the creation of a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area [DCFTA] between Ukraine and the EU and to pull Ukraine into the Customs Union made up by Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. This is really an unequal association of three states that aren’t members of the WTO. It is dominated by Russia. Obviously, it would be dishonest to condemn Russia that it advances and protects its national interests. But its methods have nothing to do with a partnership offer. If Ukraine gets pulled into this Union, then there will appear a threat of a gradual loss of the economic sovereignty similar to the Belarusian scenario. Unwillingness of the Ukrainian authorities and the oligarchs associated with them to concede economic influence in favor of Moscow and their aspirations to get a simplified access to the capacious European market for the companies under their control are the main reasons of the pro-European rhetoric of President Yanukovych.

The EU can use it. Otherwise, Moscow will try to use a misunderstanding which has arisen in relations between Brussels and Kyiv because of Tymoshenko’s case. Russian leaders are more resolute in methods of building “partnerships”, they will find arguments to convince Yanukovych to agree and join the Customs Union. Then the signing of the DCFTA agreement with the EU will become impossible, and Ukraine will be lost for the European Union for a long time. Except that, the EU will receive a Russian political and economic culture on its borders.

Meanwhile, the AA potentially is a very powerful tool for democratization of Ukraine and strengthening of the rule of law here. Agreeing with the signing of the Agreement, Ukraine agrees to accept a great number of acquis communautaire. Let me remind ourselves that in due time thanks to the implementation of European norms and standards the countries of Central and Eastern Europe became more democratic and less corrupt.

A harmonization of the Ukrainian legislation with the European one will entail a reorganization of the out-of-date system of the state institutions. Now the state apparatus in Ukraine is bloated and inefficient. It remains Soviet inherently and it itself is a brake on the way of reforms. The draft resolution of the European Parliament prepared by Ryszard Legutko, contains an appeal to the EU executive powers to financially, technically and legally support Kyiv in order to increase its administrative capacity, including at the expense of the better use of the Comprehensive Institution Building Programme.

Besides, signing of the AA would be an important impulse for civil society organizations to increase their role in Ukraine. They will receive additional levers to impose pressure upon the government when demanding to carry out reforms in the framework of obligations taken before the EU and to observe the accountability and responsible decisions. Besides, the draft recommendations of the European Parliament to the European Commission, the EU Council and the European External Action Service (EEAS) also include an idea about the necessity of taking measures directed at strengthening of the civil society participation in political processes.

It is clear that not everything is so unequivocally favorable for Ukraine in the question of conclusion of the AA and DCFTA + agreement as its integral component. The creation of a FTA + is profitable, first of all, to the Ukrainian oligarchs who export mainly raw materials and products with a low added value to the EU. The access to the European markets for many Ukrainian manufacturers will remain closed because of the discrepancy of their production between strict quality standards operating in the EU and our standards. It is expected that a considerable number of Ukrainian manufacturers will go bankrupt not sustaining the competition with the European companies which will come to the Ukrainian market. Besides, it is highly probable that the very fact of the initialing of the AA will entail economic sanctions on the part of the Russian Federation towards Ukraine, first of all, in a form of introducing trade restrictions (up to the cancellation of a duty-free trade mode).

But this is an acceptable price for Ukrainians for a possibility to choose a track of real reforms of the country according to the European standards. The Ukrainian society in a form of a representative network of non-governmental organizations has said its word in terms of this matter, having addressed the EU officials with an open letter where it appealed to initial the Association Agreement with Ukraine till the end of the current year.

Why does it necessarily take interventions from the outside in order to carry out transformations which are necessary first of all to Ukrainians themselves? That is because there are almost no hopes left that a bulky, inefficient and thoroughly corrupt system of the state institutions can be reformed “from above”. The government and the large business have adapted to this system and aren’t interested in introducing democratic standards into the government. Otherwise both these and those will be losing something: a possibility of uncontrollable and prompt enrichment at the expense of exclusive conditions for business and the access to the state resources, on the part of businessmen, and a possibility to receive a corrupt rent, on the part of officials.

The stated above ideas imply that reforms which are necessary to the society can be initiated:

  • either “from below”, as it happened in 2004 when massive protests of citizens against the falsification of results of the elections have, among other things, led to the constitutional reform;

Just a single note. Events of the “Orange Revolution” took place at times when the economy of Ukraine was going up, and the society wasn’t that disappointed. Probably thanks to this, national protests had a peaceful nonviolent character. In the current conditions when the economy hardly recovers after crisis, and the financial state of the majority of Ukrainians has considerably gone down, massive protests of citizens can follow the Northern-African scenario;

  • or “from outside”, as this already repeatedly happened in the contemporary history of Ukraine.

Let’s remind ourselves that many important Ukrainian reforms have been carried out on request of the IMF, the European Commission, the WTO etc. Hence, Mr.Legutko is absolutely right when he speaks about an exclusive importance of external “anchors” for the realization of internal transformations in Ukraine.

We should note that the Association Agreement initialing itself is not an instant prize for Yanukovych on the part of the EU. It will be able to come into force only after being ratified by all 27 parliaments of the EU Member States. While this process proceeds, the EU will have additional levers for influencing the Ukrainian government.

Let’s add that as a result of “the European standards inoculation of Ukraine”, the EU states will get an opportunity:

  • to make Europe more safe.

Unstable Ukraine is a threat to the EU stability. And a long-term stability, as was truly noticed by Jerzy Buzek, is impossible without democracy. Recent events in the Northern Africa brightly prove this. If now at the expense of the “Europeanization” we don’t overcome authoritative tendencies in Ukraine, then already in the near future the EU can get an analog of “the Arabian spring” directly at its borders.

  • to involve Ukrainian resources in the process of a post-crisis restoration of the European economy.

The Ukrainian Foundation for Democracy “People First” has already voiced corresponding possibilities of Ukraine at the “EurActiv” website.

  • to improve the situation in Russia.

Certainly, the EU is worried about the current political regime of Russia. But the EU has no sufficient political and economic levers to improve the situation in this country. At the same time, if Europeans manage to prove advantages of the democratic management on the example of Ukraine, it will become a powerful signal for the government, elite and civil society in Russia to be active in carrying out democratic reforms.

This offer obviously looks impudent, especially from the point of view of Russians and those who know how difficult it is to manage the situation in Russia in practice. But we believe that Russia isn’t the enemy of Ukraine, it is its eternal neighbor. All other ways to generate a platform for cooperation were unsuccessful, that is why we suggest to try to do it on the basis of democratic reforms in our countries.

It is clear that European politicians are unwilling to give Yanukovych occasion to think that he is not necessarily supposed to consider the opinion of the EU and that it is ALWAYS possible to come to an agreement with the European Union. However, placing so obvious an emphasis on Tymoshenko’s case, the European leaders send an erroneous message to the President. It looks like the arrest of the former prime minister is almost a unique obstacle on the Ukraine’s way to close relations with the EU, and power monopolization, discredit of the constitutional legal proceedings, restrictions of the freedom of speech, etc. – are of no vital value.

If the European political establishment treats the issue of the termination of the trial over Tymoshenko that fundamentally, then instead of frightening the Ukrainian government by hints regarding the freezing of negotiations on association, they should have applied another method of influencing direct customers and executors in this process. For example, travel prohibitions, asset freezes, political ignoring as has been recently done to some Belorussian and Syrian officials.

Anyways, it wouldn’t be unnecessary for Europeans to make an inventory of actives concentrated in the EU which belong to those who parasitize on the Ukrainian state budget, instead of pretending that nobody knows which and where are the accounts that hold these means. This is necessary if the further deterioration of the economic and political situation in Ukraine leads to a social explosion, and events start to develop similarly to the Libyan scenario. Under such circumstances Europeans would have an opportunity to deal with the means located at the accounts of Ukrainian officials as this was done by France in regards to Gaddafi’s actives.

Certainly, it is a shame to say that a country with such resources as Ukraine, is not capable of addressing such challenges as poverty and democracy. But, in my opinion, it is better to say bitter truth today, than to live in shame because of words said by the subsequent generations.



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