Will Ukraine seize its EU chance?
April 12th, 2013
10:34 AM ET

Will Ukraine seize its EU chance?

By Matthew Rojansky, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Matthew A. Rojansky is deputy director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The views expressed are his own.

Europe’s too little, too late responses to the Eurozone crisis and the Arab awakening have amply demonstrated the difficulty of forging and enforcing a common position among 27 EU member states.  Yet in at least one important area, Brussels has adopted a clear position supported by national governments: Ukraine, the largest country that is wholly within Europe yet outside the EU, should receive a path to closer EU integration – but only if it meets a set of key conditions intended to demonstrate its commitment to basic European values.

EU officials say that by November, they will be prepared to sign an Association Agreement with Ukraine, which promises liberalized market access for both sides plus visa-free travel for Ukrainians, if Kiev meets three requirements.  First, Ukraine must advance its domestic reform agenda, bringing Ukrainian practices closer into line with European norms.  Second, it must address the shortcomings of the recent parliamentary elections and guarantee free and fair elections in the future.  Finally and most urgently, Ukraine must cease using the criminal justice system to target opposition politicians, a problem epitomized by the case of Yulia Tymoshenko, who was convicted of abuse of office in 2011, and is now serving a seven year prison term.

Up to now, the issue of politically motivated prosecutions seemed likely to pose an immovable obstacle to signing the Association Agreement.  Once Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovich set the precedent that members of the previous government would be investigated and charged with crimes, he had good reason to fear for his own wellbeing in the event the opposition ever succeeds coming back to power.  Yet last Sunday, Yanukovich took a step to ease pressure on the opposition, by pardoning two of Tymoshenko’s close allies, former interior minister Yuriy Lutsenko, and former environment minister Heorhiy Filipchuk.

EU officials have been clear that while they applaud the Lutsenko and Filipchuk pardons, they are only first steps towards fulfilling Brussels’ demand for an end to selective justice.  The question on many minds now is whether Yulia Tymoshenko might also be released.

While the cases are superficially similar, for Yanukovich, Tymoshenko poses an entirely different magnitude of problem, albeit one largely of his own making. Tymoshenko’s supporters and allies dominate the main opposition political bloc, so she is the natural candidate to oppose Yanukovich in the next presidential election, scheduled for 2015. Despite cynicism among voters over Tymoshenko’s last stint in government, as prime minister from 2007 to 2010, her prison time has made her the kind of martyr figure who can command unique credibility, attention and support, especially from Western governments and the Ukrainian diaspora.

Nonetheless, Yanukovich should release Tymoshenko, and he should do so well in advance of the EU Eastern Partnership summit scheduled for November in Vilnius. Freeing Tymoshenko would not only underscore Kiev’s political commitment to fulfilling the conditions set by Brussels, but would also endow with much greater credibility a wide range of reforms already undertaken by the Yanukovich government, including a new criminal procedure code, prison reforms, and new protections for NGOs.

Even if the Association Agreement is signed, Ukraine’s leaders can have no illusions about the challenge they face.  Scrutiny and criticism of Ukraine’s record on human rights and democracy issues will surely continue.  Tymoshenko herself, whether in prison or outside, will continue as the opposition’s symbolic and spiritual leader, and her ordeal will serve as a lightning rod for international intervention in Ukraine’s domestic politics.  Above all, Ukrainian officials will find that despite the enormous cost and difficulty involved in completing the Association Agreement, a signing ceremony in Vilnius is only the beginning.

Both sides should remember that the purpose of European integration is not to make a binary choice – that Ukraine is either in or out – but to enable the type of broad and deep engagement that will improve the lives of ordinary Ukrainians and Europeans over the long term. This will take sustained political will and committed resources from governments on both sides.

If Ukraine falls short in November over selective justice or for any other reason, recent history suggests a bleak outlook, and there is no cause to think that harsher punishment or enhanced isolation would succeed where diplomacy and engagement have not.

Yet if the Association Agreement goes forward, the resulting deeper engagement should be used to incentivize further progress down the path of reform.  Only Ukrainians can decide what their future prosperity will entail, but strengthened trade and travel links with Europe will cast a bright spotlight on the historic opportunities that lie ahead.

Post by:
Topics: Europe

soundoff (38 Responses)
  1. Joseph McCarthy

    It appears that the Ukrainians are going to make of joining the E.U. This will make the right-wing thugs in Washington quite happy. After all, both Bush and Clinton have been trying to stampede Ukraine into joining NATO and carry out orders from Washington D.C.!

    April 12, 2013 at 11:33 am | Reply
    • wjm

      It appears that your still a MORON, who shouldn't be allowed near a keyboard. IDIOT!

      April 12, 2013 at 8:27 pm | Reply
      • Joseph McCarthy

        Tell me wjm, what have you against someone telling the truth here? Anyone with half a brain would that Bush and Clinton wanted to get their hands on Ukraine's natural resources and turn them over to huge American companies to be exploited. Besides, how much do you know about the history of Ukraine?

        April 13, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
    • jeffersonchenko

      I know a lot about Ukraine's history, and your post is befitting of a wingnut. You're just ranting and raving about history that means nothing. Also, I live in Ukraine.

      April 15, 2013 at 2:55 am | Reply
    • LT Fang

      Since when did the right-wingers become fans of the EU?

      April 16, 2013 at 2:35 pm | Reply
  2. Andrey

    Join EU now? They only need to meet one condition: to be dead stupid! Still I believe they can do it!

    April 12, 2013 at 12:12 pm | Reply
    • Really

      United Nations = Catholic Church = Soros = Current World Order = UnderSeige. PeaceAll.

      April 12, 2013 at 9:19 pm | Reply
      • Alex279

        You forgot to mention Western Values, Freedom, Democracy, Waffen SS along with its lovely Reichefuhrer so inspiring for so many in Western Ukraine.

        April 14, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
  3. Alex279

    "Nonetheless, Yanukovich should release Tymoshenko, and he should do so well in advance of the EU Eastern Partnership summit scheduled for November in Vilnius" or, alternatively, bring murder charges against Timoshenko for here role (if any) in organizing 1996 murder of Yevhen Shcherban, his wife, and his bodyguards.

    It would be also nice to see the incident with MV Faina be investigated properly, including the role of former Defense minister Ekhanurov and former president Yushenko with the weapons trade.

    April 12, 2013 at 6:36 pm | Reply
  4. Pravoslavni

    The Ukraine should have an economic union and military alliance with Russia and Belarus. There is nothing the West can do for the Ukraine except drain any natural resources left in the country and the natural gas discovery in the Black Sea. Russia and the Ukraine can and should be allies along with Belarus and Kazakhstan.

    April 12, 2013 at 11:20 pm | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Well said, Pravoslavni. Thank you.

      April 13, 2013 at 3:24 pm | Reply
    • Michael Brytan

      Ukraine needs to get as far away from Russian as possible. Is it possible to move the whole country ?

      April 13, 2013 at 4:53 pm | Reply
      • wjmccartan

        Another stupid comment from another weak minded Tea Partier above. It's the U.S., Great Britain and France that Ukraine needs to stay away from! As an old Irish saying goes, if you shake hands with the devil, you may not get it back!

        April 13, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
      • Alex279

        It would be much easier to move just half of the country - the western half as divided by the Dripro river. Then the Eastern half will also find itself facing a very easy choice about which way to move. Problem solved.

        April 14, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
    • jeffersonchenko

      It's not about what the west can do for Ukraine. It's about what Ukraine can do for themselves, by exporting 'renewable' resouces to EU and other so-called Western countries. Any alliance with Russia and Belarus, with intentions of isolation would be a disaster for Ukraine. Ukraine wants to be a free country, self governed, and to do that they need to join the rest of the world, economically and socially. Idiots who push Ukraine toward Belarusian type isolation have ulterior motives to steal and take from Ukrainians, what is rightfully theirs, ............ their future.

      April 15, 2013 at 3:02 am | Reply
  5. Mario

    Europe is doing fine, no crises here. We have great corporations, EU market is very large. We are among the best in the world.

    April 13, 2013 at 11:09 am | Reply
  6. Wee

    Rothschild just seized 75% of Cyprus' Gold. Could Ukraine be so stupid not to see that the bailouts are Gold raids.

    April 14, 2013 at 7:10 am | Reply
  7. rightospeak

    The censors at CNN are at work and my comments on Ukraine where I mentioned that after gaining independence Ukraine is unlikely to give up their independence again have VANISHED. -Communist style, to keep the truth away from people.
    Most of our media is nothing but lies and propaganda. I am begginning to realize that my comments do not matter any longer. It is too late- the bad guys run the media. Why waste my time ?

    April 14, 2013 at 8:30 am | Reply
  8. j. von hettlingen

    The glamorous Tymoshenko, who helped lead Ukraine's revolt against a corrupt election in 2004, was convicted of criminally exceeding her powers when she agreed a gas deal with Russia, seen to have disadvantaged Ukraine. Vladimir Putin, who signed the deal with Tymoshenko said he didn't understand why she had been jailed. The charges of abuse of power were supposed to be a bunch of lies, made up by the man she helped oust in 2004, Viktor Yanukovych – who returned to defeat her in the 2010 presidential election.

    April 14, 2013 at 6:14 pm | Reply
    • Alex279

      Not so easy. The charges of "exceeding power" are quite dubious, indeed. She signed a wrong and disadvantageous gas contract in 2009, however, if you remember the sequence of the events, you would probably know HOW and WHY EXACTLY she was forced (twisted, whatever...) to sign for the conditions available at that moment (which were the best available, indeed) and how exactly Ukraine ended up in this situation after the chain of wrong and stupid decisions, starting in 2005 with denouncing the 2002 Anatoliy Kinnakh Agreement. The agreement linked gas prices for Ukraine with gas transit prices through Ukrainian territory which basically made it cost neutral for Ukraine, i.e. Ukraine transmits 80B m3, gets about 17B for its own consumption, and it is considered that the transit cost of 80B covers the price of the 17B. This agreement was fair back in 2002 because of the natural ratio of natural gas prices and transit prices, however, after Norway insisted to European Commission back in 2004 that gas prices should be linked to oil prices, which resulted in European formula for gas prices, and subsequent increase of the latter. As the result, natural gas is Europe was no longer cheap starting at than moment, and Kinnakh agreement was puts Russia into disadvantage. So what... Gasprom wanted to find a way to get rid of price-linkage condition of Kinnakh agreement, but what a gift! Ukraine wants to get rid of it too because Ukraine sees the pipeline as symbol of independence, and Kinnakh agreement gives some shares of it to Gasprom. So Ukraine on its own initiative proposed Gasprom to denounce it and renegotiate. At that time Timoshenko was running around and shouting that Kinnakh Agreement is consiracy to sell Ukranian independence to Russia. So Gasprom agreed with ease, to say it politely. In fact, Miller's joy was poorly concealed. His Gokonda smile is still on Youtube. Prices for natural gas skyrocketed since then, Ukraine has to pay in cash borrowed from EBRR or IMF, and transit covers only a fraction.

      Now it is up to judges to decide the degree of incompetence after which the stupidity becomes criminal stupidity.

      Personally I believe that Timoshenko is now exactly where she belongs for THAT ACT ALONE and should be kept there indefinitely.

      April 14, 2013 at 8:50 pm | Reply
  9. j. von hettlingen

    Yanukovich said to be keen to balance relations between Russia and the EU. with EU integration as a "strategic aim".

    April 14, 2013 at 6:26 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      Yet in April 2012 he extended the Russian lease on the Black Sea Fleet base Sevastopol.

      April 14, 2013 at 6:28 pm | Reply
      • j. von hettlingen

        The opposition doubted this balance he claimed to achieve.

        April 14, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
  10. lui xi ung

    An open letter to CNN...............................

    Fareed is at it again he copied this article prom one of my publications .
    Fareed is a copy and paste journalist

    April 14, 2013 at 8:07 pm | Reply
    • Alex279

      Too bad for you... Whoever wrote the article is completely unaware of what is going on in Ukraine. So you' better do not claim this shame.

      April 15, 2013 at 1:16 pm | Reply
      • rightospeak

        You are so right, Alex. The sheeple, however, brainwashed by our media has no clue.

        April 16, 2013 at 7:56 pm |
  11. Denis

    Ukraine should stay away from both of unions. Russia want to get it's natural resources and EU wants to stop Russia. Ukraine just need a good government and create their own market and infrastructure. Of courses it needs some deals with other country but it still have all instruments to stay away from stupid deals.

    April 15, 2013 at 4:23 pm | Reply
  12. Ben Smith

    just a few things too add, i don't really care wether Ukraine joins the EU or not but, like my AP world history teacher said, look at the situlation polilitcally, economicly, and socially. politically Ukraine is like Russia, but at the same time the ukrainians do have a long history of being ruled by the Russians, economically Ukraine would benefit more in the EU in trade at least, by opening new markets and being able to tap into the wealth of the EU. socially i think the people wouldn't mind joining the EU, though i live in america so i don't know exactly how Ukrainians feel. All in all i think they will join eventually, politically they seem to have skeletons in the closet that may keep them out but, in time they will.

    April 16, 2013 at 10:15 am | Reply
  13. Tony

    So, what Europe's actually asking Ukranians to do is: 1) Adopt the Maastricht Treaty and destroy labor unions which will elliminate whatever middle class still exists in the country. 2) Cease using the criminal justice system to target opposition politicians, which means to let go of the only measure capable of objectively punishing politicians which have been financed by major corporations and implement their agenda while in office. and 3) Organise fair elections as if that will actually guarantee fairness....like in most countries such as in Greece and Italy where the governments are just puppets of Germany. Who wouldn't say YES...... GO EUROPE!!!

    April 16, 2013 at 7:31 pm | Reply
    • Alex279

      Yes, Tony, you got everything right. You do not need to look very far to see the consequences: while the past crisis in Greece, now in Cypres, and recently in Italy and Spain were broadcasted in the news, Latvia went actually much deeper in terms of resession, unemployment, population decline, and all other fruits of European economy... except that nobody cared because while Latvia is part of EU, it is not a part of Euro zone. ...Also for some historic and mentality reason Ukranian politicians prefer to be puppets of United States rather than Germany.

      April 17, 2013 at 12:46 am | Reply
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    April 24, 2013 at 9:58 am | Reply
  15. Peter

    Ukraine`s choice is quite obvious – either EU or the newly brewed Putin`s Russian Empire, which implies poverty, slavery and disaster.

    May 14, 2013 at 6:34 am | Reply
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