INITIAL OUTCOMES OF PRESIDENT YANUKOVYCH’S FOREIGN POLICY:RESULTS OF EXPERT POLL BY THE INSTITUTE OF WORLD POLICY (Ukrainian, English)
Over the past few months, there were a lot of discussions about the executed foreign policy of Viktor Yanukovych. The new government is tirelessly emphasizing that its priority is European integration of Ukraine and that developing relations good between Ukraine and Russia, from its point of view, is positively perceived not only in Moscow but also in Western capitals. The Institute of World Policy attempted to find out about, how to actually assess the foreign policy of Viktor Yanukovych not only in Ukraine but also abroad by polling experts. The specifics of this study are that we first selected and interviewed both Ukrainian and foreign experts who specialize in Ukrainian affairs. The later were a key focus of the research. The experts were asked five questions, the answers to which were summarized and consolidated in this brief report. To make answers more frank, IWP made answers confidential.
1. What are the key achievements and failures you have noticed in the foreign policy of President Viktor Yanukovych?
A simple calculation of errors and achievements in foreign policy, which drew attention of the experts polled by the Institute of World Politics, showed that there are more shortcomings in the activity of President Viktor Yanukovych than achievements.
However, the most paradoxical is that the main achievement noted by the foreign policy experts is what Yanukovych did not do: that Ukraine will not join the CSTO, that Ukraine will not become part of the Customs Union, and that Ukraine does not recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Most of the achievements of Yanukovych are recalled by the experts with caution. For example, the experts point out to that the president made his first foreign visit to Brussels, but European integration has not become a priority of the current government nevertheless. Relations with Russia improved, but Kyiv had to pay a high price for it: to allow Russia`s Black Sea Fleet until 2042 and to abandon NATO integration plans.
Polled American experts attributed to achievements the benefits of Yanukovych`s successful visit to Washington, D.C., where he met with Barack Obama, in addition to that the Verkhovna Rada had adopted the law allowing international military exercises in Ukraine. Many experts name among the achievements the ratification agreement on demarcation of the border between Ukraine and Russia.
The overwhelming majority of the experts called Yanukovych`s rejection of integration into NATO and signing of Kharkiv agreements on cheaper gas in exchange for the Russian fleet staying in Ukraine as his gravest foreign policy mistake. Some polled experts summarized this point by indicating that Viktor Yanukovych leads an unbalanced, pro-Russian foreign policy, which may strengthen strategic risks to Ukraine.
Experts insist that Yanukovych should not have proposed to the Parliament a law, which fixes the neutral status of Ukraine. After all, it was clear that the president will not do anything for integration into NATO, so the additional measure in the form of the law looks like Victor Yanukovych decided to put too many nails in the coffin of Ukraine`s Euro-Atlantic integration, according to the expression of one of the participants of the study.
It is worth noting that among opinions, there were a lot of emotional characteristics of Ukrainian authorities. Several experts expressed confidence that the current ruthless bid on Russia could lead to a «puppet dependency of Ukraine» on foreign powers.
Some foreign experts believe that Viktor Yanukovych should have come forward with a more clear statement indicating that the re-approaching of Ukraine to the West will continue.
The speed of improving the relations with Russia is mistake. This make bad impression, that Yanukovych is under the pressure of Kremlin. Speaking about neutrality and position multiplayer is unserious.
The big plus for Yanukovych is more stable, more predictable policy. We know that most important for official Kiev is to improve the relations with Russia, we know, that in the other way Yanukovych doesn’t want to destroy relations with Brussels.
Western interest in Ukraine is noticeably reduced, and there is a strong likelihood that interest will continue to decline as reforms fall short of expectations.
The biggest achievement of Yanukovych is his holding on the course of European integration.
Ukraine obtained an opportunity to buy gas at a less expensive rate. But this is a tactical rather than a strategic gain. After some time, Russia might be forced to raise prices again anyways.
Ukrainian strategic dependency on Russia has increased, with the likelihood that it will increase even more over the mid-term.
There are rumors in the West that Yanukovych plans to control Ukraine's free press.
The biggest loss is a long-term presence of the Russian Federation’s Black Sea Fleet. It is a potent threat to sovereignty of Ukraine.
2. Has the image of Ukraine changed abroad after Viktor Yanukovych took office? If yes, how?
Most experts agree that Ukraine's image has changed for the worse. Ukrainian government is suspected in propensity to authoritarian methods of ruling and in the departure from democratic principles.
Experts point out that attention of foreign observers is focused primarily to Ukraine's internal policy rather than Ukraine foreign policy. «Kharkiv agreements on gas and (Russia’s Black Sea) Fleet could hardly be noticed by the western media, but they noticed fist fighting in the Parliament », - said one of our experts.
According to poll participants of the Institute of World Policy, this is why much attention is now focused on issues related to maintaining the freedom of speech. Experts point out that, while at first, Ukrainian journalists’ claims about censorship were treated abroad with some caution, now this topic is gaining importance. The issue of the freedom of speech has become especially important after the withdrawal of the frequencies of the Fifth and TVi channels.
The experts point out that, among the world’s mass media, the idea that Ukraine is a pro-Russian state, which, in turn, reduces the interest of Western countries in supporting Ukraine. Experts note that Viktor Yanukovych's image was pro-Russian long before his getting elected, but there were those in the West, who hoped that he would conduct a more balanced policy, and, thus, he could get rid of an image of a pro-Russian politician among global elites and media. Instead, Viktor Yanukovych transferred his pro-Russian image to the whole country.
Experts indicated among the positive changes that Ukraine is no longer considered a threat in Russia. At the same time, the West pays attention to a relative political stability which was lacking for the previous government. However, this stability of experts associated with the simultaneous curtailment of democratic processes.
Several experts expressed an opinion that Ukraine's image has not changed. One expert believed that the West is simply preoccupied with things other than Ukraine. Some believe that the bad image of Ukraine was transferred to Yanukovych from his predecessor, and, thus, «the fault lies not only on the current state leaders.»
Ukraine has disappeared from screens and only a few «eurocrats» in Brussels seem today ready to play political games, attending formal meetings with Ukrainian representatives.
The image worsened very much. Now it seems that Ukraine wants to be a part of Russia or at least a part of the sphere which is controlled by Russia.
West really doesn’t understand why the people don’t protest and why the democratic forces like the opposition parties got that less support from the people.
Ukraine looks more stable now. There are still hopes for ability of the new government to execute economic reforms. Ukraine-Russia relations have improved. However, fears over the future of Ukrainian democracy grew.
The bigger concern in the West over Ukraine currently have more to do with domestic policy - reports of pressure on the media, tightening of executive branch authority over judges, inappropriate approaches to universities about students who take part in protests - than foreign policy.
The image of Ukraine changed in Russia, while other countries are still following the development of the situation.
Yanukovych is perceived as a man of the past, not receptive to new ideas, corrupted and manipulated by tycoons and criminal clans which are impatient to take revenge and don’t care for principles of good governance, rule of law, civil liberties and human rights.
3. How do you evaluate the first steps of the president of Ukraine in the sphere of national security, - including his rejection of integration into NATO, - the legislative record of Ukraine's neutral status, and the extension of locating the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Crimea?
Most experts ascribed the mentioned in the question facts as shortcomings of Viktor Yanukovych’s foreign policy.
They believe that Viktor Yanukovych has been preoccupied with solving short-term budget problems, but that he has put the independence of Ukraine's foreign policy in the long run at risk. Decision on the Russian Black Sea Fleet is viewed as one not the national interests of Ukraine.
The experts point to two facts. First, that the agreement has been drafted in a shadow, opaque way. Second, the agreement designed for a very long period of time, 25 years. In this way, the current government bounded a future generation of Ukrainian political elites, who might not be reacting adequately to security challenges, considering the failures of their predecessors.
Moreover, experts note that the extension of hosting the Russian Black Sea Fleet on Ukrainian soil will be a destabilizing factor for the Ukrainian state, because of increase risks in the Crimea and Ukraine’s involvement in any conflict between Russia and other parties.
Despite criticism of the President of his neutrality stance, the experts have expressed hope that, with the passage of time, Viktor Yanukovych will change his opinion on the issue. The commitment to practical cooperation with NATO, which at all levels has been declared the new government, only reinforces such an assumption. But the passing of the Law on the Basis of Foreign and Domestic Policies, which captures non-alignment of Ukraine, is estimated by the experts as quite inappropriate.
Only one of the polled foreign expert supported expressed neutrality of Ukraine.
Ukraine's image has gotten significantly worse. It is now being viewed as an authoritarian state with an incompetent leader.
There are no warranties that the Russian party would not behave with Ukraine in a different way other than what it did to Georgia.
Even though these measures were anticipated, they increase strategic risks of Ukraine and increase her strategic dependency on Russia.
The policy of non-alignment and efforts to fix it legislatively is limiting abilities of the country to conduct here foreign policy. This is limiting her abilities to maneuver.
4. Provide evidence that European integration remains a priority for President Viktor Yanukovych?
Most experts surveyed - both foreign and Ukrainian - are confident that the real proof the priority of European integration for the Ukrainian authorities now speak prematurely.
Some Western and Ukrainian experts chose the following:
1. The first foreign visit of Yanukovych had been to Brussels.
2. Intensification of negotiations with EU on a visa-free regime.
3. Denial of joining the Customs Union with Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus, which automatically means the choice of a Free Trade Area with the EU.
4. Activation of the preparation for football championship Euro-2012.
At the same time, the majority of respondents believe that as in the case of the previous administration, the European integration for the current government is façade integration, based largely on declarations. Why does the new government still do such declarations? Here, the opinions diverge: some believe that such Euro-integration rhetoric is beneficial to the party of the president for opening the path to financial support from the EU and the International Monetary Fund.
Others suggest that the talk about European integration is nothing but a tool for achieving domestic political goals of the Party of Regions and its leader. It is assumed that the Party of Regions does not want and can hardly at this stage go against the explicit support of the majority of citizens of Ukraine toward the integration into the European Union.
Finally, with a repeated emphasis on the European vector, President Yanukovych and his team are only trying to mask the real foreign policy choice, the one in favor of Russia.
Additionally, some experts pointed out that in the issue of EU integration the new government repeats the errors of their predecessors. A stark example was when trying to sign the association agreement with the EU if a compromise is reached on most parameters of the Free Trade Zone, but they tried to dedicate it to a special date: the Ukraine - EU Summit. Only one U.S. expert said that there is more interaction on a daily basis between Ukraine and EU than it was in the last ten years. And it is this daily interaction, in his opinion, is proof that «integration is happening and it is a priority for the Ukrainian leadership by a 100 percent more than for any previous government.»
Verbal statements are not proof of the Euro-integration choice. Rather, they serve as a verbal shield to mask the drift towards Russia, while obtaining IMF loans.
So far, all talks in the Ukrainian government regarding the European integration are just talk. However, we welcome such statements from the president and the foreign affairs minister, and thus, we take them very seriously.
There may be no proof for the priority of such a policy, by a simple fact that we do not have clear foreign policy priorities. The only foreign policy priority for the new government is to obtain urgent financial support from any sources possible, including European ones.
5. Is a foreign policy of the new Ukrainian government threatening sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine?
Positions of IWP respondents experts about the threat to the sovereignty and (or) territorial integrity of Ukraine diverged. However, the majority still believes that such a threat exists: not so much against the territorial integrity of Ukraine, as with regards to the ability to preserve national sovereignty and the ability to make independent decisions.
Experts in the minority keep opinion that the threats are exaggerated due to the emotionally highly charged environment, when discussing Ukraine-Russia relations. In their view, President Yanukovych has not made any action that would really threaten the sovereignty and territorial integrity. It would be more appropriate to talk about ominous trends and strategic risks, they believe.
The biggest risk is that in making trade-offs to gain short-term advantages, like the gas deal, the new Ukrainian administration is being forced to accept increased strategic dependency. They understand this, believe it is a reasonable trade-off, and are confident that they can manage the long-term consequences. This biggest risk is that the current leadership has seriously miscalculated, based on their own overconfidence and their poor understanding of the strategic situation.
Yanukovych has clearly bargained away Ukrainian sovereignty for, frankly, nothing - which is a sign either of stupidity or of malicious intent. It is now imaginable that Crimea will be annexed by Russia in the next decade. It is also imaginable that Ukraine could split in two.
The current foreign policy of the Ukrainian government is a threat to both sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. In the present shape, Ukraine and Russia could not be strategic political allies, but they could be good trading partners. The Russian government does not recognize as a fully functioning independent nation: this is the main threat in re-approaching between Ukraine and Russia.
The foreign policy of Ukraine gives Russia a second chance for expansion in many fields, which would allow ignoring a puppet regime of Kyiv in the future. They will not consult it, if the policy is not changed.
President of Ukraine really wants to save sovereignty and independence of Ukraine. He wants to be a head of an independent Ukraine, at the same time having good relations with Russia. I do not believe that he wants to unite Ukraine with Russia and be a vassal to the Russian Federation. However, if relations with Russia would continues in the same framework, and the national interests would be traded for favors in the same manner, then threats to territorial integrity and sovereignty will emerge.
I think that those who talk about threats to sovereignty are overreacting. So far, president Yanukovych is keeping strictly within the frameworks of maintaining sovereignty of the country.
I don’t see any threats. It seems to me that, in times of economic hardship and depression, people and politicians indulge in their fears and historical bad dreams.
The only danger to Ukraine is …..well….Ukraine. What is limiting Ukraine’s independence is the disastrous condition of Government finances after overspending for many years, the complete failure to modernize Ukrainian industry and infrastructure for decades. The danger to Ukraine is not the foreign policy dangers which Georgia still confronts; it is the same economic bankruptcy which Greece is struggling to avert.
THE LIST OF EXPERTS WHO TOOK PART IN THE POLL
OF THE INSTITUTE OF WORLD POLICY
1. Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter, Advisor, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, USA
2. Marcin Wojciechowski, publicist, observer for Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland
3. Alyona Getmanchuk, director of the Institute of World Politics, Ukraine
4. Michael Gonchar, Director of Energy Programs of «Nomos», Ukraine
5. James Green, Senior Advisor, US-Ukraine Business Council, a former Director of the NATO Information Center in Ukraine, USA
6. Philippe Moreau Defarges, French Institute of International Affairs (IFRI), Senior Fellow, France
7. Bruce Jackson, President of the Institute for Transitional Democracies, USA
8. Nina Jeglinski, the DPA agency in Ukraine (Germany), author at newspapers Die Presse (Austria), Financial Times Deutschland (Germany)
9. Pavlo Zhovnirenko, President of the Center for Strategic Studies, Ukraine
10. Sergiy Zhuk, Director Center Globalistics Strategy 21, Ukraine
11. Adrian Karatnytsky, Senior Researcher, Atlantic Council, USA
12. Michal Kacevicz, foreign policy observer for the magazine Newsweek Polska, Poland
13. David Kramer, Senior Transatlantic Fellow, Marshall Foundation
14. Anatoly Lutsenko, Director of GMT Group, Ukraine
15. Oleksiy Melnyk, Razumkov Center, Senior Military Programs, Ukraine
16. Alexander J. Motyl, Professor of Political Science Rutgers University-Newark, the author of The Wall Strett Journal, USA
17. Syemon Novoprudskiy, journalist, Deputy Editor of the newspaper Vremya Novostiej, Russia
18. Steven Pifer, former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institute, USA
19. Olexander Paliy, foreign policy expert, Ukraine
20. Friedbert Pfluger, professor of international relations at King’s College London and a member of the national board of the Christian Democratic Union in Germany
21. Alexander Rahr, German Council on Foreign Relations, Germany
22. Hanne Severinsen, Co-Reporter of the Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (1995-2007), Denmark
23. Tatiana Sylina, foreign policy observer for the weekly Mirror Weekly, Ukraine
24. Carina Stachetti, Head of Desk for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasian Affairs, Ministry of Defence, France
25. Oleksandr Sushko, Research Director of the Institute of Euro-Atlantic Cooperation, Ukraine
26. Volodymyr Fesenko, director of the Center for Policy Analysis «Penta», Ukraine
27. Dominic Fean, French Institute of International Affairs (IFRI), Researcher, Center for Russian and CIS, France
28. Andrzej Sheptytski, Polish Institute of International Affairs, Poland
29. James Sherr, Director of the Russia and Eurasia Program of the British Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House), UK
Photo: Stanislav Gruzdev