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