PARIS, France -- The current rapprochement with the EU affects Ukraine’s domestic and foreign policy. For Ukraine is quite isolated within the international system: while it is a member of the UN, Council of Europe, OSCE and WTO, it remains outside the major economic and security blocs of the North.
So every new step that can move Ukraine closer to the EU is beneficial; it would lead to an informal “securitization” and a gradual de facto – if not yet de jure – anchoring of Ukraine within the emerging trans-European political system.
Deepening cooperation with Europe could, in addition, send out important signals that would influence the course and pace of reform within Ukraine. Everyone agrees that Ukraine needs to fundamentally change its political, administrative, economic, social and education systems; but they do not agree on which socio-economic model Ukraine should embrace, and confusion sometimes undermines reforms.
But an enduring rapprochement between Kiev and Brussels means the European model would gradually become the dominant one; this would reduce time, costs and energy in designing, initiating and completing Ukraine’s urgently needed reforms.
The EU has detailed prescriptions of what countries must do to further integrate their economies with Europe’s, and this could be what Ukraine needs most right now.
There is a third dimension to further EU-Ukraine rapprochement, which has to do with the EU’s own wider aims: Ukrainian democratization could have repercussions on the former Soviet empire as a whole.
A sustainable Europeanization of Ukraine might impress the elites and populations of other post-Soviet countries, and could, for instance, induce Russia and Belarus to rethink the political paths their countries took after the break-up of the Soviet Union.
The Belarusians and Russians are culturally close to the Ukrainians, and would take a functioning law-based democracy in Ukraine seriously.
In the medium term, EU support for Ukrainian democracy, civil society and rule of law would also have a geopolitical dimension: Ukraine could even one day become the EU’s Trojan horse with regard to Russia.
Russians often view western advice on the need for democratization as irrelevant, if not subversive. In contrast, an EU-promoted re-democratization of Ukraine would be harder for isolationist Russians to reject.
If Ukraine demonstrates that a largely Orthodox eastern Slavic nation can create and sustain a democratic political system, this could trigger new Russian democratization, and Ukraine could even provide the means for the EU to bring Russia back into the European family.
Ukrainian-EU rapprochement has become even more relevant in view of recent worrying domestic developments. Since Viktor Yanukovych’s election as president, Ukraine’s social and cultural polarization, already high, has risen further.
An indication of the growing fragmentation of the Ukrainian national community is the rise of Oleh Tiahnybok’s nationalist, so-called “Svoboda” (Freedom) party.
Tiahnybok’s party calls itself an “All-Ukrainian Association” and proclaims its allegiance to Velyka Ukraina (Greater Ukraine). However, Svoboda is de facto a regional, and even potentially separatist, party because of its idiosyncratic historical discourse.
It has a strong base in the three Galician regions of L’viv, Ivano-Frankivsk and Ternopil, but has far less support elsewhere. Svoboda promotes a kind of nationalism that is disliked in much of the rest of Ukraine.
Instead of contributing to the formation of a modern Ukrainian polity, Svoboda alienates many Ukrainians. (There are other deepening divides within Ukraine, too, with regard to social, cultural, religious, educational and other issues.)
European integration is something that still unites Ukraine’s political, intellectual, economic and social elites, and a large part of the population.
Rejoining Europe might be the most important and least controversial way forward, and would win wide acceptance among the elites of western, central and eastern Ukraine (though less in the south).
Ukraine’s further, gradual integration into Europe is, for all of these reasons, of great importance.