Sherr: ‘Ukraine’s re­la­tion­ship with the EU is de­struc­tive’

Kyiv Post - - News - BY YURIY ONYSHKIV

Ukraine is stuck be­tween the com­pet­ing de­mands of the Euro­pean Union and Rus­sia. The EU is de­mand­ing from Ukraine more democ­racy and rule of law be­fore the 27-mem­ber bloc moves closer to sign­ing an as­so­ci­a­tion agree­ment and free trade area with Ukraine. The Oct. 28 par­lia­men­tary elec­tions in Ukraine will be an­other lit­mus test of Ukraine’s demo­cratic cre­den­tials.

From the other side, Rus­sia wants to pull Ukraine into its Cus­toms Union, an ob­jec­tive Ukraine’s lead­er­ship has been so far op­pos­ing.

The Kyiv Post asked James Sherr, a se­nior fel­low at the Chatham House, a London-based think tank, to as­sess Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych’s op­tions. Sherr says Yanukovych has been good at fight­ing Rus­sian pres­sure, but needs to reshuf­fle his clos­est cir­cle of ad­vis­ers and im­prove con­di­tions do­mes­ti­cally to have a chance of win­ning an­other term as pres­i­dent in 2015.

Kyiv Post: A few years ago it seemed like Ukraine was on a steady path to­wards closer re­la­tions with the EU. How would you de­scribe where Ukraine is now?

James Sherr: First of all, Ukraine was not on a steady path. It was on an oblique and ir­reg­u­lar path, but one that al­lowed the re­la­tion­ship to be dis­cussed in terms of hope and rea­son­able ex­pec­ta­tions of progress. To­day the sta­tus of Ukraine’s re­la­tion­ship with the EU is de­struc­tive. It’s de­struc­tive both to that re­la­tion­ship and even more de­struc­tive to Ukraine it­self.

KP: What do you think have been the big­gest mis­takes and suc­cesses by Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych?

JS: The big­gest suc­cess is that he has par­tially ad­vanced his one real pri­or­ity, which is to es­tab­lish long-term po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic dom­i­nance over the coun­try. Even in this re­spect he has been only tac­ti­cally and op­er­a­tionally as­tute, but strate­gi­cally un­wise. He won a le­git­i­mate elec­tion in 2010, and ev­ery­one ac­cepts this, but he could not win one to­day. So, this is a stun­ning tac­ti­cal and op­er­a­tional level suc­cess, but a strate­gic fail­ure. And it now makes it even more un­likely that he will be­gin a process of com­pro­mise for fear that he will lose ev­ery­thing. His fail­ures are the op­po­site side of this coin. There is no per­cep­tion amongst thought­ful cir­cle of peo­ple to­day, ei­ther in­side Ukraine or out­side it, that the cur­rent au­thor­i­ties have ad­vanced or are pro­foundly in­ter­ested in ad­vanc­ing the na­tional in­ter­est of the coun­try.

Ukraine, to my un­der­stand­ing, has re­cently re­sumed de­fense co­op­er­a­tion with Ge­or­gia. Here, what­ever pri­vate mo­tives might ex­ist, Yanukovych is pos- sibly send­ing Rus­sia a mes­sage: if you are re­ally de­ter­mined to break us, there are things we can do to you as well. If we have to en­gage in this sort of game, we will. He is very tough. Even if at some point he were forced to join the cus­toms union (though I don’t think it will hap­pen), Ukraine would cheat, it would ma­neu­ver, and the Rus­sians would re­gret that Ukraine joined. He would wreck it. Well, I like him for that.

KP: What can and should Yanukovych do to re­turn the trust of the EU?

JS: First, re­lease all po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers in the coun­try and, along with that, re­move the mech­a­nisms – overt and sub­tle – of in­tim­i­da­tion of the me­dia, of higher ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions and so on. And as far as pos­si­ble, put an end to cor­po­rate raid­ing and ex­tor­tion of peo­ple’s prop­erty.

KP: You said what Yanukovych has to do in or­der to im­prove his cre­den­tials. But if he fails to do that, what should and will Europe do?

It is un­com­fort­able for de­cent Western peo­ple to re­al­ize there are mo­ments in his­tory when you can­not help.

KP: With all of the cir­cum­stances that are build­ing up in Ukraine and in its im­me­di­ate neigh­bor­hood do you see that Ukraine will have free and fair par­lia­men­tary elec­tions in Oc­to­ber that would be rec­og­nized by in­de­pen­dent ob­servers? What’s your view on how thing will evolve?

JS: No, I see ab­so­lutely no pos­si­bil­ity there will be free and fair elec­tion or that an elec­tion would be rec­og­nized as free and fair. We will have more of the same. And then Ukraine’s po­si­tion will con­tinue to get worse.

The only thing pre­dictable about Ukraine at the mo­ment is that you will al­ways be harassed by the au­thor­i­ties. What­ever “pony­a­tia i do­gov­oren­nosti” (terms and con­di­tions) you reach with them, they will never be over and they will come back, ha­rass you and de­mand more.

Kyiv Post staff writer Yuriy Onyshkiv can be reached at [email protected] com

James Sherr

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