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The "Kyiv Post's" Survey of German Experts on Ukraine I: Introduction

By Olena Tregub  Posted by Andreas Umland (about the submitter)     Permalink       (Page 1 of 2 pages)
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[This expert survey was conducted in May-June 2011, i.e. before the trial and arrest of Yulia Tymoshenko, and later partly updated. Abridged versions of this introduction and the following expert interviews were previously published in the website of Ukraine's major English-language weekly "Kyiv Post."]

GERMAN SKEPTICISM ABOUT UKRAINE 'S EUROPEAN FUTURE EXPLAINED

The 20th anniversary of Ukraine 's independence raises the question about how other countries view current political developments in Ukraine. Given our political leaders' declared foreign policy goal of European integration: How does the most important player in the EU -- Germany -- perceive the situation in the young post-Soviet nation?

Germany is the country that Ukraine needs to pay particular attention to, in the foreseeable future. Germany is the economic powerhouse of the European Union and, significantly for Ukraine, it has maintained a strong interest in political and economic cooperation with our country since the collapse of the USSR. Germany is currently, after "Cyprus," the second largest foreign investor in, and an important trading partner of, Ukraine . It is the only West European nation that the Ukrainian government has designated as a strategic partner.

That said, Germany does not belong to the so-called "group of friends of Ukraine" led by Poland that have lobbied for our country's integration with the European Union. Furthermore, after the NATO Bucharest summit, where Germany opposed the Membership Action Plan for Ukraine, many Ukrainian decision-makers claimed that the Germans are ready to sacrifice Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic aspirations on the altar of good relations with Russia.

The "Kyiv Post's" following survey of Germany's leading experts on Ukraine presents a narrative and comprehensive polling of German lawyers, political analysts, journalists, politicians, and economists. They are all active voices in both studying and shaping German foreign policy towards its Eastern neighbors, particularly Ukraine. The full versions of all interviews with experts is now made available here, complementing the publication of abridged version's on the "Kyiv Post's" website.

Summarizing the current political developments in Ukraine most experts see a dramatic shift away from political pluralism towards more centralized and illiberal government after the Blue leadership took power from the Orange team. There is particular concern that the principle of a balance of power with a legally and politically accountable executive is ignored in entirety in modern day Ukraine. "Yanukovych gained control of practically all branches of power," states Dr. Otto Luchterhandt, Professor of Law at the University of Hamburg. Most of the analysts give credit to the unity of the new governing team which has led to more stability in public administration and made Ukraine more governable. Unfortunately however, as Dr. Andreas Wittkowsky of the Center for International Peace Cooperation in Berlin explains, this development comes not as a result of a responsive and inclusive leadership, but of the authoritarians leaning of the currently ruling elite.

To illustrate this, the German experts mentioned the way the presidential majority in the parliament was created, the changes to the constitution, dubious appointments to key posts, the conduct of the local elections in October 2010, the criminal prosecution of the opposition, political pressure on media, disregard for political rights of citizens, and the judiciary's loss of independence. According to Dr. Stefan Meister from the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), Yanukovych did not use his political power to start fundamental reforms, but instead put mass media, civil society and opposition under pressure. Most of the experts are not impressed by the track record of reforms and notice that they either got stuck halfway or represent merely empty declarations and meaningless rhetoric. Worse, with the deterioration of democratic standards, the government allows or even encourages societal tensions to rise, resulting for instance in the visible growth of Ukrainian ethnic nationalism which the ruling elite can use a scarecrow to mobilize its electorate and keep Ukrainian moderates in check. "While political pluralism decreased, polarization in the society increased," notes Dr. Stefan Meister from the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin .

The reason for the failure of democratic, including economic and social, changes in Ukraine is not only the Party of Regions' lack of a genuine reformist agenda when it came to power, but also its notorious prioritizing of private, particularistic interests in governance over the public good. "The so-called reforms are benefiting special interest groups, the oligarchs, their supporters, those people close to Yanukovych... In the long run, today's leaders are running the country into the ground with the current approach," expresses her pessimism Dr. Susan Stewart, a researcher at the Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin.

As for closer cooperation with the EU and enhanced partnership with Germany in particular, most experts believe that the Yanukovych administration is genuinely interested in EU integration and there is a certain continuity between his and previous Ukrainian governments. However, as Nina Jeglinski, the Ukraine correspondent for the major German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur, points out, the new government is really after European money, not European values. This is why most experts believe that the EU should use the Association and Free-Trade Agreements and the Visa-Free Regime negotiations as a form of ex-ante conditionality to press for reforms and demand respect for democratic standards in Ukraine before any agreements are finalized. However, the EU faces a dilemma here: "If the EU tries to use these negotiations as a leverage to compel the Yanukovych regime into respecting democratic principles, it drives Ukraine into the open arms of Moscow. If, on the other hand, the EU does not insist on the respect for these principles, it compromises its fundamental 'European' values," says Winfried Schneider-Deters, an analyst for the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. "This compromise would send the wrong signal to Russia and other post-Soviet states," adds Dr. Stefan Meister.

At the same time, since these agreements benefit ordinary Ukrainians, a number of interviewees share the view that people should not be punished for their government's actions or lack thereof. Some, like Viola von Cramon, Member of the German Bundestag from the Green Party, is, for example, strongly in favor of concluding a visa-free regime that would make Ukrainians feel welcome in Europe and strengthen their European identity as well as their leaning towards the West. Another supporter of visa-free travel for Ukrainians Andreas Stein, editor of the major German web journal on Ukraine "Ukraine-Nachrichten," elaborates on the benefits of opening borders for the Ukrainian people: "The enhanced experiences with the living standards in the European Union would raise pressure on the Ukrainian government to change the living conditions of the Ukrainian population." In such a situation, the government would need to conduct reforms in order to keep the most economically dynamic part of the society in the country and prevent the threat of Ukrainians voting with their feet.

Despite the above views, Germany is rather unlikely to support, in the near future, full abolition of visas for Ukrainians. As Dr. Susan Stewart soberly notes, Germany will be against the visa-free regime not so much to punish the Ukrainian government for its intransigence in implementing reforms or policies to curb political freedoms, but mainly because of Germans' concerns about the economic and social consequences of a large influx of Ukrainians into their country and the EU, particularly in the situation of economic and financial instability that is currently grappling the EU countries.

As for Ukraine 's perspectives for the EU membership, all experts are unanimous that the country, in almost all respects, is not fit to join the EU. Most speak of a 15-25-years-process for Ukraine's possible admission to the EU. And even this perspective is conditional on whether the EU itself survives and is able to integrate new members, and whether Ukraine will take the right steps in terms of political and economic reforms. At the same time, only few experts believe that Ukraine will be doing well without the EU. Many see the EU as Ukraine's only chance to become a prosperous democratic nation and, equally important, to secure and maintain its independence. "Without a partnership with Europe, Ukraine will end up as an appendix of Russia," says Nina Jeglinski.

Speaking of Russia , most of the interviewees agree that Germany 's current "Russia first" policy is the result of a broad cross-partisan consensus among all major political groupings and is not likely to change in the future. Some experts view the Green Party as the only expressly pro-Ukrainian political force in Germany. Given its rise, the Green Party may score well in the next Bundestag elections scheduled for 2013. If included into the governing coalition, notes Dr. Andreas Umland, DAAD Senior Lecturer at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, the Green Party can re-balance Germany's current Eastern policy in favor of closer relations with Ukraine. The Green MP, Viola von Cramon, confirms: "German policies towards Eastern Europe should be reformed in such a way that our bilateral relations with Ukraine are seen as a policy strategy of its own, and as separate from our relations with Russia."

German policies towards Russia or Ukraine are dictated for the most part by economic interests. At the beginning, the German government adopted a wait-and-see approach to Yanukovych hoping that he would make Ukraine a more attractive place for investment. But now, there is a lot of skepticism. A whole number of the 3.6 million small- and medium-sized German enterprises, the backbone of the German economy, may be interested to enter the Ukrainian market as investors or traders, but are currently too cautious to do so, says Dr. Andreas Umland. Most experts complain about the weak rule of law, i.e. an unreliable legal system and insufficiently independent judiciary, as the main obstacle for German companies interested to trade with, or invest in, Ukraine.

The issues of independent judiciary became an especially hot topic after Viktor Yanukovych came to power and former top officials - an ex-president, an ex-prime-minister and ex-ministers - were brought to courts to face trial. The decision to investigate former president Leonid Kuchma and his possible involvement in Gongadze murder  provoked various reactions among experts from modest approval to absolute distrust.  None of the German experts believes that "Kuchma Gate" is a demonstration of genuine justice in Ukraine. It is rather viewed as an opportunistic move of Yanukovych who wants to achieve several tactical objectives.

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