In the picture
Webcam view of the place Maidan in Kiev; taken on 24 February 2022.
Ukraine at the crossroads
Since its independence in 1991, for the past three decades Ukraine has been swinging back and forth between an ever-widening West and an East circumscribed by a Russia reborn from the rubble of the USSR: 'flirting with the West, while paying homage to Moscow'. Recent circumstances, both in terms of the internal status (mass emigration of Ukrainians to the West, the political changes that took place in 2019, the long-lasting conflict in the east of the country and Russia's increasing destabilising activity, culminating in the invasion of the territory of Ukraine), have led to the emergence of a new Russia, The Ukrainian government's decision to join NATO in March 2020 and Georgia's prospects for it), after years of unclear posturing, is now time for Ukraine to decide which path it wants and is determined to follow: Euro-Atlantic, led by the Atlantic Alliance and the European Union, or Eurasian under Russian command.
In the international context, Ukraine's future is of strategic importance. Given its location and size, it has become a pivot state between the West and the East, whose interests remain opposed. From the Western perspective (although often influenced by the Russian perspective), represented by NATO and taken up especially by Poland even before it became a member of the Alliance, an independent Ukraine is core topic for security not only in East Central Europe, but in the entire Euro-Atlantic region. 3] For its part, and aside from historicist claims, for Russia the status of Ukraine is vital to fulfilling its imperial ambitions: without Ukraine, Russia can only make claims in Asia, while controlling it guarantees a dominant position in Europe as well.
The creation of the Vice-Presidency of the Government for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration of Ukraine in 2016 heralded a pro-Western course. In February 2019 this course was reiterated by amendments to the Constitution: the introduction of references to 'the European identity of the Ukrainian nation and the irreversibility of Ukraine's European and Euro-Atlantic course', as well as the extension of the constitutional competences of the Higher committee concerning the process of Ukraine's integration into NATO and the EU as a member in its own right plenary session of the Executive Council . President Petro Poroshenko proposed an action plan to make Ukraine's membership in both organisations "close and realistic". 6] However, the demands presented to the Euro-Atlantic bloc by Ukrainian diplomacy, on the one hand, and the constant non-fulfilment of the promises it received, on the other, caused displeasure among NATO and EU leaders. By the time of the 2019 elections it was unclear whether the intensification of integration efforts was a sign of a fundamental transformation, inspired in part by progress in Macedonia and Georgia, or whether it was merely an element of the - lost - election campaign. At the beginning of his presidency, Volodymyr Zelensky also displayed a somewhat ambiguous attitude: while on his first foreign visit visit he travelled to Brussels, where he met with EU and NATO leaders, at the same time he said that "nobody is waiting for Ukraine in the EU" and that he "does not understand what NATO is" .
The Atlantic Alliance began dialogue with Ukraine in 1992, shortly after Ukraine declared its independence. In 1994 Ukraine joined the 'association for Peace' programme; at the Madrid summit in 1997 the Charter on a Distinctive Partnership was signed, creating the NATO-Ukraine Commission (NUC); in 2002 Ukraine declared its willingness to join the Alliance, and at the Bucharest summit in 2008 NATO responded that this would be possible in the future. Despite many façade declarations, the partnership between Kyiv and NATO was limited to the creation of trust funds for purposes related to training and advisory service, toxic waste treatment, emeritus officer support, and Ukraine's participation in military exercises and missions deployed in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan.
The already slow rapprochement with the Alliance was slowed in 2010 when President Viktor Yanukovych adopted the non-block doctrine, which goal was aimed at improving relations with Russia. This doctrine was rejected by Ukraine's top committee in 2014 because of Russian aggression, which also prompted Ukraine to seek NATO support again. 10] The Alliance condemned the annexation of Crimea and destabilisation in eastern Ukraine, advocated the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity, while at the Wales summit of the same year it endorsed a series of actions aimed at improving Ukraine's defence potential. 12] At the NATO summit in Warsaw in 2016, C adopted a package of measures aimed at bringing Ukraine up to NATO standards by 2020 and achieving interoperability between Ukrainian and NATO forces. 13] In the same year, the NATO representation in Kyiv was established. The 2018 Brussels summit condemned the human rights violations of non-Russian inhabitants of Crimea, the conditions of detention of prisoners and hostages, the use of torture and the progressive militarisation of Crimea, the Black Sea and the Azov Sea, as well as the construction of the bridge across the Kerch Strait, and called for compliance with the Minsk agreements. 14] In addition, NATO maintained the dynamics of bilateral relations and its commitment to improving Ukraine's tactical and strategic defence capabilities.
However, the slow pace at which Ukraine was making the necessary reforms and adjustments to comply with NATO's requirements meant that until June 2020 the doors to the Enhanced Opportunities Partner (EOP) programme remained closed. Once in the EOP, Ukraine has joined Georgia, Sweden and Finland in making their militaries available to NATO, at framework for rapid response forces, with the goal aim of strengthening the Alliance's collective defence capabilities in the Baltic (Sweden and Finland) and Black Sea (Ukraine and Georgia) regions. To this end, Ukraine announced in November 2021 that it would accelerate the construction of a new naval base in Berdyansk on the coast of the Sea of Azov, initiated after the incident in the Kerch Strait in 2018.
The European Union
Relations between the EU and Ukraine date back to the early 1990s and were regulated by the agreement on Partnership and Cooperation which was signed in 1994 and entered into force in 1998. Ukraine then declared its wish to obtain the status of an associated country. At that time, under the presidency of Leonid Kuchma, Ukraine pursued a policy of equidistance between Moscow and Brussels and welcomed the fact that the EU limited its interest in Ukraine to issues that could also benefit Ukraine, such as the planning of supplies of energy resources transferred through Ukraine's territory, or changes in the financial sector and heavy industry, and that in parallel the EU provided funds to the countries of the former USSR (Technical Assistance to the Commonwealth of Independent States, TACIS). Although the EU recognised Ukraine's European aspirations and at the Nice summit in 2000 considered Ukraine's membership to be desirable, France and Germany objected on the grounds that it could isolate Russia.
The 2004/2005 Orange Revolution served to some extent as an impetus for intensifying bilateral relations; this mobilisation coincided with EU enlargement in Central Europe and the subsequent launch of the Eastern Partnership. However, the lack of clear signals from Brussels on the feasibility of membership tempered Ukrainians' pro-European stances. At the same time, the failure of important economic, political and social reforms and a qualitative transformation of the country's elites, long awaited from both revolutions (the Orange and Euromajdan revolutions of 2013), reaffirmed the EU's reluctance to deepen integration, at least for the time being.
Cooperation between Brussels and Kyiv was channelled into three regional programmes: the Black Sea Synergy (since 2007), the Eastern Partnership (since 2009) and the Energy Community (since 2011). Kyiv feared that these initiatives would become substitutes for real integration. Nevertheless, negotiations on a agreement of association were launched in 2007 and lasted until 2014; the agreement entered into force on 1 September 2017. Based on the association political and economic integration, the agreement set Ukraine on a strategic path towards systemic socio-economic reforms. Cooperation focused on three areas: trade liberalisation, energy sector and visa liberalisation. As in the case of NATO, the illegal annexation of Crimea and Russia's destabilisation of Ukraine was rejected outright by the EU. Brussels proceeded to implement a series of sanctions against Russia, but these soon proved ineffective. The 2018 annual summit discussed the possibility of strengthening the bilateral alliance, and the EU (as well as NATO) assured Ukraine of support and backing for its independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity; however, despite the Ukrainian side's expectations, no binding decision on progress towards integration was made. Discouraged by insufficient progress on reforms, the EU reiterated its reluctance to accept Ukraine into its fold.
In February 2019 the Minister for Integration estimated that the agreement of association had been reached by 42%. In response to EU requirements, Ukraine proposed a two-year plan covering integration with the EU's energy market and digital Economics , as well as cooperation on subject justice, freedom and security. With regard to the latter, the main focus was on cyber and IT issues, sustainable development of critical infrastructure, the fight against international organised crime, border sealing and migration control, Ukraine's participation in programmes to improve its defence capabilities. It also foresaw the development of joint activities at research and exchange academia, including the possibility of joining the "Horizon Europe" programme, and the training of civilian and military civil servants at agreement to European standards. In October of the same year, the Ukrainian government estimated that it would comply with requirements to join the EU by 2024. Ukraine also proposed to make progress in certifying Ukrainian industrial products to be marketed in the EU and has asked to increase import quotas and lower tariffs for its products.
In search of lost time
Partners have acknowledged Ukraine's efforts and partial achievements in the field of digitalisation, justice, decentralisation, healthcare, pension system and Education, but the list of urgent reforms is still long.
Since embarking on Euro-Atlantic integration, Ukraine has had three major obstacles in its path: two of them it must remove; the third it has stumbled over or, rather, been run over by. The first obstacle is the pervasive corruption to which the authorities have been unable to find a remedy; it is the issue that has been at the forefront of reports and statements on the prospects for Ukraine's bilateral partnership with NATO and the EU. It has also been the main concern of Ukrainians, consistently expressed: in May 2020 58% of Ukrainians assessed President Zelensky's achievements in this field negatively; in November 2021 it was the most important issue for 45% of the population, ahead of inflation (34%), energy costs (31%) and unemployment (30%). In the latter survey, the military conflict in Donbas was the main concern for 20%, while relations with Russia were the main concern for only 8%. This is a structural problem and an effective fight to overcome it is a sine qua non for integration.
The second obstacle is Ukrainian society's attitude towards the Euro-Atlantic bloc, especially NATO, as prejudices inherited from Cold War times have not been fully eradicated. 25] In 2018, support for NATO membership ranged from 43 to 60 per cent of the population; roughly half of society was in favour of joining the EU, and 44 per cent generally supported Euro-Atlantic integration, compared to 36 per cent who were against it. 27] By the end of 2021, 58 per cent of respondents said they would opt for the EU if Ukraine could join an economic union alone (compared to 21 per cent who would prefer it to join the Eurasian Economic Union). In a referendum on NATO membership, 54 per cent would vote yes, compared with 28 per cent who would vote no. In a referendum on NATO membership, 54 per cent would vote yes, compared with 28 per cent who would vote no.[28 28] Compared to 2010, when support was shown by 40% in the western part of the country, 15% in the central part and only 4% in the east, the progress, especially in recent months, has been very considerable. This is due to an information campaign launched by the government in 2019 and the growing threat from Russia. However, the balance of agreement of association was evaluated positively by 35% of the population, compared to 41% who see it negatively and 25% who have no clear opinion on the matter. Be that as it may, it is to be expected that the numbers in favour of the West will soar as a result of the invasion.
The third obstacle is Russia, for which Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic aspirations, along with a gradual loss of control over the Caucasus and China's Belt and Road policy, amount to a zero-sum game for core interests in a region that until recently was its exclusive sphere of influence. Ukraine's withdrawal from agreement on Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership with Russia declared in September 2018 was a telling sign of this. However, in recent years Russian influence grew in eastern Ukraine, where the population was against breaking ties with Russia in favour of Euro-Atlantic alliances. A polarisation of attitudes towards both blocs could be perceived and it could not be ruled out that the self-proclaimed Luhansk and Donetsk People's Republics would consequently secede or be separated from Ukraine. As is well known, Russia's recognition of this separation was a direct prelude to aggression.
Lately, Ukraine has been forced to make up for lost time. In October 2020 a new National Security Strategy was approved, which defines as its pillars the development of the country's defence potential, emphasising the partnership between the armed forces and society; the adaptation of the Euro-Atlantic concept of resilience to its particularities; and cooperation with international partners, reaffirming that EU and NATO membership is a strategic goal . At the same time, the strategy insists on bilateral cooperation with the US, Britain, Canada, Germany and France, countries from which guarantees for Ukraine's security and sovereignty are expected. Regional partners - Azerbaijan, Georgia, Lithuania, Poland and Turkey - are placed on a second level. reference letter The strategy does not mention China, Ukraine's main trading partner partner , nor does it mention the instruments created to manage status in Donbas: the Minsk agreements or the Normandy format. On the other hand, the document does state that Ukraine is prepared to negotiate with Russia bilaterally, through the EU, NATO and the OSCE, and with the support of the US and Britain.
To complement and expand the National Security Strategy, the Foreign Policy Strategy was adopted in 2021, which set the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine through diplomatic activity, the construction of the security architecture and economic diplomacy as its main focus, goal . As for relations with the EU, given the obvious slowdown in integration, it was decided to make the most of agreement at association. With regard to relations with NATO, however, it was decided to comply with all requirements membership requirements in the shortest possible time and, in addition, to advocate increasing NATO's presence in the Black Sea and intensifying cooperation in the fight against hybrid threats. In addition to the multilateral context, Ukraine has focused on bilateral relations, recognising the US, Britain, Canada, Germany, France, Poland, Turkey, Georgia, Lithuania, Azerbaijan, China and Brazil as strategic partners. The content of this list points to a clear diversification of the directions of Ukrainian foreign action, which is strange because it also includes countries that more or less openly show support for Russia.
In this context, the creation in August 2021 of the Crimean Platform can be seen as a test of the support Ukraine could count on in case of deterioration of Ukrainian-Russian relations. The final declaration of the first summit was signed by 46 countries and international organisations. Russia, initially invited to take part in the initiative, interpreted it as a demonstration by Ukraine of its desire to strain relations over the peninsula.
Challenges and prospects after the Russian invasion
Ukraine's procrastination in implementing key reforms without which Euro-Atlantic integration cannot become a reality has left the country in a highly vulnerable status state. However, recent strategies on subject security and foreign policy, as well as diplomatic activity in recent months, show that Ukraine has been aware of its status and the looming threat, and has tried to prepare for it. As the days go by, the positions of different international actors are taking shape. Britain, Poland and Turkey have been forceful; the ambiguity of NATO, the EU, France and Germany is worrying. As expected, the Caucasus and the Western Balkans are divided.
Depending on the outcome of the conflict, different scenarios are possible. In the case of a pro-Russian outcome, Russia has been very clear that what it wants is 'a change of power' in Ukraine. With a (pro-)Russian regime in Kiev, Ukraine would then be lost for Europe for decades to come. If, on the other hand, Ukraine manages to defend itself, it will be in its interest to accelerate its NATO membership and do what it can to join the EU. Corruption, that heavy unfinished business, would help a new regime settle in the former case, and remain a major obstacle in the latter. The fact that President Zelensky has declared his readiness to negotiate with Russia over the status of Crimea and Donbas on the condition of obtaining international guarantees from all its neighbours and world powers, including Russia, suggests that Ukraine does not see NATO and the EU as the only forces capable of ensuring its security. The reputation and credibility of both have yet to be proven, although this is echoed both in the National Security Strategy and in Ukrainian public opinion, which is convinced that Ukraine must be able to stand on its own two feet.
This did not prevent Zelensky from signing the official EU accession application just four days after the invasion. A fast-track scenario seems highly unlikely, as Ukraine did not meet most of the Copenhagen criteria on the day of the invasion. Moreover, its accession requires consensus among the 27, which will be very difficult to achieve, either because its membership would mean a challenge for the already difficult discussion on the EU's identity and future, or because some of the member states would consider it a risk to themselves. test A good example of this was Estonia's reluctance to liberalise visas for Ukrainian travellers to the Schengen area. The Baltic country then expressed concern that many of the holders of Ukrainian passports might actually be Russians or Russified Ukrainians. These are voices to be reckoned with. One option for the EU to evaluate would be to grant Ukraine membership status with a period of test or with limited rights. NATO's entrance poses similar dilemmas, with the difference that Ukrainian progress has been greater. In any case, it is in the Euro-Atlantic bloc's vital interest not to lose Ukraine.
At final, Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic integration has been and will be a great challenge for Ukraine, but also for NATO and the EU, but also, it should not be forgotten, for Russia and, more generally, for the global security architecture. Once again Eastern Europe becomes the pivot of history, or rather, once again proves that it has never ceased to be so.
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