February 23, 2014
The EU foreign ministers made it. In an unprecended act, they were able to broker an agreement between President Viktor Yanukowych and the opposition to avoid the worst. The tinderbox called Ukraine remains calm – at least for now. The agreement allows for the re-implementation of the 2004 constitution, full scale investigation of the crimes commited in the course of the protests and re-elections both of the parliament and the president within this year.
In brokering the agreement, the European Union has acted very niftily. Catherine Ashton awarded Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski with the mandate to negotiate on behalf of the EU, along with Germany’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier and France’s Laurent Fabius. For years, Mr Sikorski has been at the forefront for the aim of getting Ukraine closer to the European Union, co-initiating also the Eastern Partnership policy. Meanwhile in Brussels, Lady Ashton and the rest of the EU’s foreign ministers gathered to discuss and implement sanctions against Ukraine’s leadership, giving Mr Sikorski and his colleages leverage for the negotiations in Kiev.
In doing so, pressure was put on President Yanukovych both from outside and within his own ranks. Many members of the Ukrainian leadership as well as oligarchs who support the President, began to turn away. Even his own party, the “Party of Regions”, in the meanwhile refuse to give the President its allegiance. The repeal of the law that put the former Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko into prison was only possible due to the support of 44 representitives of the Presidents party, while the rest of it abstained from voting.
By now, President Yanukovych has given up on his political ambitions, focusing solely on his impunity and to secure his fortune. If the opposition is willing to let him get away with that, is more than doubtful. Yulia Timoshenko has already been freed from prison and has already announced to run for President in the upcoming elections.
All in all, the agreement was able to avoid the worst – an intervention by the army and a potential drift into civil war. The peace in the Ukraine, however, is far from secured. So the question has to be: What’s next?
While in Kiev, Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters that peace in the Ukraine can only be established within the country. That has also been the general position by EU officals ever since the outburst of the protests in November. Looking at the countries recent history, however, one can barely ignore the agents conflict between East and West that is threatening to tear the country apart. Therefore, the future of the Ukraine is and remains to a large extend to be a question between Moscow and Brussels and the EU-Russian relations.
To secure lasting peace in the Ukraine both side finally have to acknowledge the interests of each other and agree to keep the country out of any geopolitical ambitions. That has to effect both the Russian claim to great power status and the EU’s neighbourhood policy, namely the Eastern Partnership. Ukraine has to become a kind of neutral zone collaborating with both sides economies. The European Union and the Eurasian Union must not be mutually exclusive options.
That, of course, requires Russia’s willingness as well. With the successful brokering in Kiev, the quasi-ousted President Yanukovych and the return of Yulia Timoshenko, however, the EU has the aces in its hands. President Putin will never be ready for such an agreement, if not now.
It is a fact that the Ukraine is a deeply divided country and that is not likely to change anytime soon. This divisions are getting dangerous anytime one of the two sides tries to pull the country into its sphere of influence. The Orange Revolution in 2004 has been the consequence of Ukraine’s NATO aspirations and the Russian resistance against it. The current protests including last week tragic bloodshed are the result of the indecision between a future closer to the Europe or Russia.
However Ukraine is organising itself in the future, however they get rid of the corrupton that has paralysed the country for so long and, ultimately, however they are able the get a governable country, are questions they can only adress themselves. Lasting peace, tough, can only be guaranteed by others. If Moscow and Brussels cannot find a way to put aside their geopolitical interests in the Ukraine, a re-escalation of the situation on the streets of Kiev is only a matter of time. It is highly doubtful that the coutry is able to withstand another test like this. Moreover, the agent’s conflict could then turn into a serious confrontation between Russia and Europe. And that has to be avoided by all means.
Now, the ball is in the court of the European Union. Given that the three foreign minsters, as opposed to the Russian representative, co-signed the agreement, the EU now has a joint responsibility for whatever comes next in the Ukraine. So it is about time to approach Moscow.