Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Endgame: Is the Ukrainian government's Euro-circus coming to an end?

Whilst the EU dropped the ball during Yushchenko's Presidency, is the present government just trying to play Brussels? If so, the results are increasingly farcical.

The Ukrainian President's recent trip to Cuba, against the background of the cancellation of an invitation from Brussels, could almost be taken as a marker of the country's fast track route to pariah status. Now even the Party of Regions' 'friends' in the Socialist grouping of the European Parliament are distancing themselves from the regime by backing a tough-sounding resolution on Ukraine due to be delivered in Strasbourg tomorrow. It's starting to look as if the European path was never Yanukovych's objective, or at least that they were never prepared to make any sacrifices in terms of their hold on power to achieve it. In conversations with government figures the mention of the EU-Ukraine free trade deal seems to get more of a philosophical sigh than a reaction of even qualified enthusiasm. It's also starting to look as if the EU is losing patience with what looks ever more like a circus that has little to do with the democratic gains the country made under the previous presidential administration. The EU must now be very wary of signing itself into an agreement with a regime which looks so eager to wreck its European credentials. Why should the EU allow itself to be used as a bargaining chip for Ukrainian oligarchs to haggle with Russia for cheaper gas for their cash cow steel and chemicals industries? Ukraine looks like it's becoming a feudalist state at breakneck speed.

There is no doubt that the EU's decision not to step in during the early years of Yushchenko's presidency with a clear path to the EU accession process will go down as a pivotal point in the region's history. We would undoubtedly be in a different position today had they done so. It was deemed necessary in the 80's to rescue Spain and Portugal from backsliding after their democratic revolutions and to rescue Greece from the Soviet bloc (despite the clear present evidence of their unreadiness for European integration, it was probably still the right decision). It was also the right decision to grant the former Yugoslav countries a distant but clear future direction. Understanding in society of European geopolitics is low at the best of times (just look at the UK!), and in somewhere like Ukraine particularly low. The Ukrainian public needed a clear and unambiguous signal that their eventual future lies with Europe, but in the end, the climate of cynicism in 2010 was enough to open the door to the Party of Regions who, it certainly seems, were only playing by democratic rules while it suited them. Just as with the Mediterranean and Balkan examples, as experts claim, there may be an enormous cost to the west from not taking in Ukraine, not to mention Moldova etc. from having a 'European Mexico' on the EU's doorstep, a disfunctional source of criminality and immigration.

But whilst the EU was to blame 5 years ago, the isolationism of 2011 is all of Ukraine's own making. The direction that Ukraine is going in might be better suited to joining the African Union than the European Union, and a glance at many of the indicators on corruption, business environment, rule of law and democracy simply confirm this.

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