November 25, 2013
It could have been a big summit in Vilnius. The European Union was set to sign an association agreement with Ukraine, that would have put the latter on a secure path to EU membership. It could have been an historical summit. But it failed due to Ukraine’s sudden lack of will. The Vilnius summit basically ended up being about nothing and leaving European politicians wondering how nice it would have been, if the agreement had succeeded. But instead of mourning after a missed opportunity, they should take a moment and think about their share of the failure and maybe even take the occassion to reflect on their approach towards international affairs.
What would have an agreement been all about? It would have been about a country set to turn the page on over two decades of deep division between east and west. It would have been about a convergence of Ukraine and the European Union. It would have been about the country’s strong dependence on Russia in both economical and political terms. And beyond that, it would have also been about the long-term relationship between Russia and the European Union.
One thing that was everything but a central issue it this regard was the case of Yulia Timoshenko. With all due respect to the imprisoned opposition icon: Subjecting a geopolitical and economical decision of such importance to the fate of a woman is a major mistake. Yet European policy makers made her release and medical treatment abroad the essential condition for an agreement.
Furthermore, talking up diplomatic affairs as the ultimate question of good (Europe) and evil (Russia) is not necessarily a wise thing to do.
These two mistake are just another manifestation of what Europe regards to be reasonable foreign policy. Today, foreign affairs are approached by enlightened European politicians in distinguishing between good and evil and teaching less enlightened leaders in other areas of the world a lesson on how to rule their people. Such an approach is not only wrong, it is counterproductive and most of all hypocritical.
It is a political approach that alleges moral issues as false pretences to gain reputation in front of the electorate at home rather than taking over long-term responsibility on issues abroad. Instead of taking care for the exchange of interests and functioning cooperations between countries and even world regions, they prefer phoney debates that miss the point completely.
If the EU would have been genuinely interested in an agreement with Ukraine, it had come up to them. It would have provided for assistance in case Russia turns out to be a bad sport. Also Ukraine is facing the winter and it’s pretty unlikely that they would make it without heating, thus Russian natural gas. The EU would have had to include Moscow into the negotiations.
But instead of doing so the EU, without coercion, prefered to harden fronts and fuel a phoney debate about Mrs. Timoshenko, that would ultimately provide a way for the Ukrainian President to get out of an agreement that the majority of the people would have liked to see.
And how does the EU react to the failure? Sweden’s Foreign Minister Carl Bildt: “EU regrets Ukraine sending negative signal to the world on willingness to reform and develop its economy.” Poland’s Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski: “Ukrainians are a European people and the European Union is ready to sign the Association Agreement to help them modernize their country.” An important geopolitcal opportunity just went to waste and the EU reacts with self-righteousness.
This self-righteousness not only misjudges the problems, it also ignores the respective consequences. I’m not sure if anybody noticed yet: Such policy is neither serving the EU nor Ukraine nor Yulia Timoshenko. If there’s a winner in this game, it’s Vladimir Putin. He seems to be getting comfortable standing on the sidelines laughing, while western leaders fail in living up to their bigmouthed pledges.