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Shaky alliance in support of Ukraine

17:30, 22 October 2018
6 min. 5063

The more time passes since the start of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, the more our international partners, demonstrating in words their support for Kyiv, are trying to flirt with Moscow. Each EU country has its own reasons. But these “personal ambitions” can play a cruel joke on them, and on us.

One of the illustrative stories in this context is the debate that unfolded in early October to return Russia to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). On October 9, PACE delegates took up a number of changes in the rules and procedures of the Assembly, which could complicate the procedure for retaining anti-Russian sanctions from January 2019. With a positive decision of the PACE deputies, Russia would again have the right to vote, and its delegates would again be able to occupy significant positions in the governing bodies of the Assembly. And, despite the fact that, as a result, the debates were crowned with success for Ukraine (the decision was not positive for Russia), this can only be considered an intermediate victory.

The thing is that, firstly, the chances for the return of the Russian Federation from oblivion were quite high, since groups of conservatives and liberals were in favor of lifting sanctions [the third and fourth groups of deputies in PACE].

Secondly, the final decision was not rejected, only postponed. Therefore, there are no absolute guarantees that at the next session of PACE they will not return to the issue again. The statements by a number of high-ranking PACE officials also support this opinion. For example, Assembly President Lilian Maury-Pasquier noted that the issue of sanctions against the Russian Federation requires a dialogue.

According to the senior researcher at the Institute of World History of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, Maksym Yali, today the situation in European institutions in the matter of supporting Ukraine is very different from that in 2014, when Russia actually became an outcast. “The very fact that the issue was again brought up demonstrates that support for Ukraine is not as clear as in 2014. And also, the fact that the Russian Federation, through political corruption, still achieves its goals of pressure on Ukraine,” he said.

In turn, the Ukrainian diplomat, head of the Maidan of Foreign Affairs Foundation, Bohdan Yaremenko, notes that in the EU everything is decided by consensus and there is not a single government that would stand against Russia sanctions. “There is the idea that in fact, in various parliaments they are constantly trying to reconsider the policy of sanctions against the Russian Federation. But at the moment this is not implemented in something that would not suit Ukraine. In the EU, dialogue is the main policy tool. And there are many who believe that the exclusion of the Russian Federation from PACE is unacceptable (although now this opinion is being revised). To punish the Russian Federation and to achieve its exclusion from PACE is not the same thing for the European parliaments. For any of them except the Ukrainian one,” says Yaremenko.

Flirting with Russia – a sign of weakness or cold calculation?

nord-stream2/Axel Schmidt

The Europeans have more than pragmatic reasons for seeking a compromise with the Russian Federation.

First, Russia in many countries of the European Union almost openly sponsors various right-wing political forces.

For example, in France, Marine Le Pen, who lost the election to the current president, Emmanuel Macron, along with her party, the National Front, has never concealed that she is close with Vladimir Putin. And in 2017, a number of international experts and diplomats even voiced concerns about a possible change in the political vector of France in favor of the Russian Federation.

The current Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, who represents the right-wing nationalist forces, also adheres to pro-Russian views. In this regard, the scale is not surprising of the various scandals associated with the actions of Ukraine in its own territory –in Zakarpattia, where most Ukrainian Hungarians live. To the extent that Hungary officially declares its intention to block all international initiatives within the EU and NATO.

In this regard, according to the expert of the International Center for Advanced Studies, Mykola Kapitonenko, if the European political parties participating in the elections can explain to their voters that the deterioration or, conversely, improvement of their well-being is somehow connected with cooperation with Russia, then there is a possibility that the pro-Russian parties will lose their positions or, accordingly, win the election.

Secondly, despite the effect of anti-Russian sanctions, many EU countries have not curtailed their business projects with Russia. One of the clearest examples of business as usual is the recent construction of a gas pipeline bypassing Ukraine, Nord Stream 2. Despite the fact that German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticizes the actions of the Russian Federation in Ukraine and supports anti-Russian sanctions with enviable regularity, Germany plans to finish construction work on Nord Stream 2 by the end of this year.

“Nord Stream is one of the episodes. In Germany, they talked a lot about the fact that German companies pay too much a price for the introduction of sanctions against Russia – in simple words, they lose profits,” Mykola Kapitonenko reminds.

However, according to him, if we exclude the energy sector, Russia plays a not-so-major role in the European economy.

Pavlo Rudyakov, an expert on international issues, director of the Information and Political Center “Perspective”, has a different opinion. According to him, after the exclusion of Russia from Europe, which took place after its actions in Ukraine in 2014, the processes of a pragmatic approach to Russia are underway in Europe. “Now everything leads to the fact that many countries regard Russia as a partner in a pragmatic sense, but without an accent on deterring condemnation. The same vector can be traced in foreign policies,” he says.


Thirdly, some EU countries, like Poland, for example, exploit disagreements with Ukraine on some issues to solve their own problems with the EU, try to make European mastodons take into account their opinion, thus playing up to the Russian Federation. One of the clearest examples is migration policy. In order not to accept Muslim migrants, Poland popularizes the topic of Ukrainian migrants in their own country. At the same time, they are modestly silent about the fact that this is often labor migration, which helps Poland remain sustainable at a time when the Poles massively travel abroad “to make money” to Germany and the UK.

Another example is historical disagreements with Ukraine, in particular, over the role of Stepan Bandera in the history of the two states. On the one hand, this serves as a pretext for Poland to block Ukraine’s intentions to join the EU. On the other hand, this is playing along with the Russian Federation, which doesn't even consider the idea of Ukraine's possible European integration.

What can we say, if even in a friendly Lithuania, there are initiatives to search for a dialogue and restore friendship with Russia. Thus, the former Lithuanian Foreign Minister, Vigaudas Usackas, known for his pro-Russian views, initiated a large international conference in October this year, where the main topic is a dialogue with Russia.

The main argument of the organizers of this action is that in 2018 a new geopolitical reality surfaced, where the EU and the Russian Federation have different views on a number of global developments, as the Ukraine conflict suggests. But some 20 years ago, “Lithuania and Russia started regional cooperation, which helped build trust and human contacts across borders.” Therefore, it was proposed at the conference to look for points of contact with the Russian Federation on a number of issues – from the topic of civic efforts to the paths of economic development...

It’s a shame though that the organizers forgot the indisputable truth – attempts to be friends with the “Russian bear” and play up to it often end up bad. That's because the proposals to “listen to the other side,” that is, Russia, as a rule, are perceived by the Kremlin solely as weakness and willingness to surrender.

Solution is not to complain but to offer alternatives

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All of the above testifies one way or another to the fact that Ukraine’s support in international organizations is at risk of disappearing over time. This is facilitated by the pragmatic approach of Europeans to both international politics and international business. And also there is the fact that in the EU, with each new election campaign, pro-Russian forces are gaining more political weight. For example, this happened in Latvia, which quite recently could be safely perceived as one of Ukraine's advocates in the EU. At the beginning of October, the pro-Russian “Consent” party won the elections to the Sejm.

Of course, this does not mean that Europe will suddenly start to curtail sanctions against Russia. But the trend is not that pretty. The fact is that, for example, PACE consists of delegates of parliaments of EU member states, and each delegation is obliged to include representatives of all factions. And therefore, if in any of the countries parties such as “Consent” in Latvia, “Fidesz” in Hungary or the “National Front” in France passes to the parliament, such parties will get their seats in PACE. Thus, the majority in PACE can very soon become pro-Russian.

“Every year elections are held in several countries, the composition of parliaments changes, and we must be prepared for the fact that if not this year, then next year, the composition of political forces, including in PACE, may change,” says Kapitonenko.

However, the preservation of the anti-Russian majority both in PACE and in other international organizations will largely depend on the moves of Ukrainian diplomats. “A coalition of Europeans speaking in our defense is all about political slogans. Today, Ukrainian legislators have convinced their colleagues that it is better to retain sanctions against Russia in PACE. But the thing is that this coalition is not long-term, as well as on other platforms. If we fail to answer the simple question: 'Why stick to the Ukrainian agenda, support the Ukrainian principles?' the support will sooner or later fade out. If Ukraine tries to pursue a more pro-active policy in order to answer our partners' question on why they need Ukraine, we have chances for support. If we use the thesis that 'you just keep supporting us because we are at war and we implement reforms...' sooner or later such support will evaporate like morning dew,” states the expert on domestic and foreign policy at the Ukrainian Institute of the Future, Igar Tyshkevich.

Therefore, to protect its interests in the global arena, Ukraine needs to become more pro-active – not only to complain, but also to offer alternatives, to gain interest on the part of international partners in quality cooperation with us. Otherwise, very soon we will be forced to accept the position of losers.

Anastasia Zaremba, Iryna Shevchenko

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