A variety of analyses have been carried out on what stand some post-soviet countries will take on the European Union associate membership. Experts make some forecasts. However, there is a feeling that the issue is not concrete yet. Armenia`s sudden decision to join the Customs Union turned out to be a “cold shower” for the West in this context. Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia are coming next.
Geopolitical choice under pressure: Ukraine experience
Europe and Russia are locked in a tense competition for Ukraine. The issue got so much complicated that the geopolitical line, which will prevail, looks uncertain. Most experts were confident before November 21 that Kyiv would opt for Europe. However, the Ukrainian government and parliament suspended the European integration process. Firstly, after talks with Medvedev in Saint Petersburg, Prime Minister Azarov gave instructions to enhance economic relations with Russia. Then, the Ukrainian parliament rejected the bill allowing Timoshenko to undergo medical treatment abroad (see Sara Miller Llana. Did Ukraine just pick Russia over the EU? / “Christian Science Monitor”, 21 November 2013)
The government and parliament made decisions in this direction in Kyiv while in Vienna Yanukovich was talking about his country`s European integration prospects (see Татьяна Ивженко. Киев все еще не окончательно отказался от евроинтеграции / “Независимая газета”, 22 November 2013).
However, Europe changed a political rhetoric as soon as it got the news on Ukraine`s delaying the associate membership process. On the one hand, the Western political circles accuse the Kremlin, and on the other hand, they issued a warning to Kyiv. Head of the European Parliament`s mission Kwasniewski said in a more sharp tone that Ukraine`s European integration prospects are doubtful.
Some experts suggest not disregarding official Kyiv`s arguments. The point is that the European Union is not willing to assume responsibility for solving economic problems Ukraine may face over the EU associate membership. Kyiv may face a USD 500 billion loss. Therefore, the country`s leadership is afraid of losing the Russian market (see the previous source).
In reality, Ukraine seems to get caught in the complex geopolitical game. It is difficult to say for sure. Official Kyiv is completely right to protect its state independence. Russia has its own geopolitical interests. It is wrong to portray Europe as “the heaven where everything is perfect”. For this reason, Ukraine`s choice is of historical significance. Presence of some contradictions gives rise to uncertainty.
The European Union regards resolution of the Timoshenko issue as one of the pre-requisites for the associate membership. It is interesting that the West places huge emphasis on this matter. Will Europe lose such a strategically important state as Ukraine for Timoshenko only? According to some experts, it is possible. The EU officials reiterate Kyiv`s associate membership may be delayed should Timoshenko is not freed or allowed to undergo treatment in Europe (see The release of Yuliya Timoshenko is essential to Ukrainian relations with the EU / “The Times”, 18 November 2013).
Brussel`s requirements also include amendments to the election law and democratic conduct towards opposition. Indicating that a word “Ukraine” means “border region”, the Times in its editorial shows that Kyiv and Brussels must decide where this country with the 45 million population find itself at “the border or center of the continent”. Although, the EU did not make any promise concerning Ukraine`s EU membership, according to the Times, this country`s drive towards the West “could be a humiliating defeat for Putin” (see the previous source).
It should be noted that it is wrong to limit the Russian issue only with the political pressure. There are quite a few important problems for Ukraine, which could have serious economic implications. For instance, during discussions with the country`s entrepreneurs, President Yanukovich had to hear their many comments. The businessmen pointed out that they would find themselves in a complicated situation should relations with Russia are weakened. Prime Minister Azarov also responded to it by saying that it is not easy for the country to make a geopolitical choice. Against the backdrop of the abovementioned, the reports surfaced on Moscow`s ratcheting up economic pressure on Kyiv (see Russell Mead. Russia and Europe Vie to Win the Prize of Ukraine / ”The Wall Street Journal”, 15 November 2013 г.).
As a result, Kyiv sees alternative sources of energy. He has reportedly signed some deals. If Ukraine solves all problems in this direction and signs a deal on the associate membership with the EU, it could seriously harm international image of Russia (see the previous source). Therefore, it is naive to assume that Kyiv will retreat easily.
Integration policy: in quest for the most promising option
Analysts who considered Ukraine`s European integration is the most likely option, faced bottleneck. Despite the historical kinship of Kyiv and Moscow, they think cooperation with the West as the most promising in a modern age (see Тимофей Бордачев, Екатерина Островская, Андрей Скриба. Выбор и вызов евразийской интеграции / ”Россия в глобальной политике”, 18 November 2013). But the history is not the whole story. Contemporary geopolitical conditions demand that Russia be more active. Virtually, official Kyiv finds itself between the European Union and Russia (see.: Steven Pifer. Ukraine’s Yanukovich Caught Between Russia and the European Union / ”World Politics Review”, 23 October 2013).
The latest events showed that Moscow has much more instruments of pressure on Ukraine. Some western experts believe that Russia beat the EU on the Ukrainian front (see Sara Miller Llana. Indicated article). It is worth to note that the situation is much more complicated in reality and to confess that Kyiv has not made a final decision (see Татьяна Ивженко. Indicated article).
No doubt it complicated the Ukrainian authorities` signing of the deal with the European Union. Yanukovich makes various moves to ease the possible pressure of Moscow. In this aspect, his visit to Turkey and invitation of the President of Azerbaijan to Kyiv arouse interest. It is possible that official Kyiv will mitigate its situation. But the problem of Timoshenko seems uncertain for some reason.
Experts believe that the President of Ukraine will release his main rival. Europe will insist on this. The point is that the West does not want any politician in Ukraine to feel unrivalled. Europe needs alternatives. Apart from democracy, it needs to seize an opportunity to influence all political forces in Ukraine by leveraging this argument. That is why, Yanukovich does not permit Timoshenko to undergo treatment in Germany.
Raising objections against Europe, official Kyiv openly asks, “why does Germany end career of one politician but demand rehabilitation of Timoshenko who did a 300 million euro damage to Ukraine?” It is obvious that the parties` accusing each other have deep roots. But it would be too hasty to make a final conclusion about reaching an impasse.
The root of the problem is that Ukraine occupies important geopolitical positions. If Europe manages to attract Ukraine into its sphere of influence, it will gain successes not only on the Russian front. The West is most of all interested in China and India. Ukraine will be able to significantly help to withstand the growing geopolitical influence of these countries.
First and foremost, the European Union and NATO thereby reach the Russian border. It is of great significance in all senses. Secondly, the West will manage to counteract the influence of China in the Eastern Europe. In a sense, Ukraine is likely to turn into the zone where Beijing`s economic and cultural “expansion” ends. Thirdly, Ukraine`s European integration shatters all alternative integration options in the post-soviet area as a whole (Михаил Троицкий, Самуэль Чарап. Дилемма интеграции на постсоветском пространстве / ”Россия в глобальной политике”, 7 November 2013).
Accordingly, it is possible to forecast that the European Union will not reject Ukraine. On the other hand, official Kyiv demonstrates it will not connive at the Russian factor too. One may assume that these processes will force the Ukrainian leadership to act more carefully. From this point of view, it will hang on the official Kyiv`s will as to which geopolitical space the country will be integrated with.
It should be acknowledged that Ukraine may face additional problems on this path. This aspect of the issue can put off the geopolitical choice of the political leadership to some extent. But this situation can hardly last too long since the geopolitical dynamics in the Eurasian area is quite high and it is necessary to make a concrete choice. One can assume that Kyiv will be able to make a geopolitical choice within the next 1-2 years. The time will show which direction Kyiv will favor.