BALTIMORE, Md. — US and European policymakers are fatigued by two decades of Ukraine’s inability to decide whether it will go West or East and the cliché “at the crossroads” has been used many times to describe Ukraine’s unwillingness to choose.
Time is slipping for the West to decide whether it should give Ukraine a helping hand to alleviate its perennial indecisiveness.
Perhaps this year is a golden opportunity to do so.
In November, the European Union will hold an Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius, capital of Lithuania, and the $6 million question US and European policymakers are deciding is whether this should go ahead on Kiev’s terms.
Adrian Karatnycky, a senior fellow at the US Atlantic Council and Rutgers University academic, Alexander Motyl, both well-known Ukraine experts from different sides of the Viktor Yanukovych camp, the former pro and latter anti, believe the Tymoshenko factor should not be an impediment to anchoring Ukraine in Europe.
As Motyl says, "Not signing the association agreement would be an inconvenience for Yanukovych and a disaster for Ukraine. Signing will be great for Ukraine and a minor help for Yanukovych. Hence the EU should sign but then use its bureaucratic creativity and effectively make the agreement's actual implementation contingent on Yulia Tymoshenko’s release."
Motyl believes Ukraine should be strategically anchored inside Europe and use the long drawn-out ratification process by 28 EU members and the European parliament to secure a deal on Tymoshenko. At the same time this has its pitfalls: it would be naive of any Western policymaker who believes that, with a culture of believing in “free lunches” and saying “nyet” to Western criticism and advice, they will have greater influence over Yanukovych after Ukraine joins the association agreement.
US and EU diplomats are feverishly attempting to square the box by facilitating a face-saving solution to the Tymoshenko problem by the Ukrainian authorities agreeing to send her to Germany for medical treatment. But this step, which sounds relatively easy to accomplish, opens up a Pandora’s box for the United States and European Union.
Would it require Yanukovych to pardon her of the crime of “abuse of office” she was sentenced for two years ago? And what about the additional murder charge hanging over head? More importantly, would the electoral benefits in 2015, when Yanukovych stands for re-election, of taking Ukraine into Europe be bigger than Tymoshenko, his irrevocable foe, being free to campaign against him; albeit from abroad.
The problems faced by Western policymakers are far bigger than Tymoshenko. Ukrainian experts at the Renaissance Foundation, Ukraine’s branch of the philanthropic fund set up by oligarch George Soros, pointed out that Ukraine has not fulfilled any of the 11 benchmarks set by the EU for the signing to go ahead.
Both Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Prime Minister Nikolai Azarov in a recent interview in Le Figaro have rejected use of benchmarks out of hand. Ukraine’s leaders continue to believe that they should be permitted to sign the association agreement for geopolitical reasons and that no outside body such as the EU should have a say in their domestic affairs.
President Yanukovych believes he can have a “free lunch” with the EU because Ukraine is too geopolitically important to be permitted to fall into Russia’s hands. He has therefore sought to scare the West by seeking observer status in Vladimir Putin’s budding Eurasian Union, the CIS Customs Union, and creating a consortium with Russia for Ukraine’s gas pipelines.
Kiev knows it has little to fear from the US Senate Resolution 165 on Ukraine, recently introduced and pending in the Foreign Relations Committee; it does not threaten sanctions and has nothing in common with the Magnitsky Bill on Russia.
The EU has never had an appetite for sanctions on Ukraine because many of its members, especially Cyprus and Britain (and its offshore zones BVI and Belize), receive billions of dollars each year in money sent by oligarchs offshore to evade taxes. There is a reason why Britain’s capital city is jokingly called Londongrad.
Germany remains the leading opponent of signing but not because of human rights and Tymoshenko. Lithuania, Poland, Sweden, and the Czech Republic — all strong supporters of signing — see the association agreement as leading one day to full EU membership for Ukraine. This is precisely why the Germans, who are adamantly against EU (and NATO) enlargement, are using the human rights card that Yanukovych has so conveniently provided for them.
The West — and ultimately Ukraine — gains more than they lose by the country moving away from the crossroads into Europe and such a decision can’t be left to indecisive Ukrainians.
Taras Kuzio heads the Ukraine Policy Forum at the Center for Transatlantic Relations in the School of Advanced International Relations, Johns Hopkins University. His book Commissars into Oligarchs. A Contemporary History of Ukraine which will be published by the University of Toronto Press later this year.