Ukrainian interest 2015. Minsk prolongation, tango with EU, and UN factor
Minsk agreements have largely shaped the Ukrainian foreign policy, but failed to bring peace to the Donbas land. Kyiv and Brussels have been swirling in the tango of integration. Ukraine has obtained an opportunity to make greater use of instruments of the United Nations.
Although the Minsk agreements defining the matrix of ending the Donbas conflict were signed as early as mid-February, we don’t see them being implemented. The agreement on the extension of Minsk-2 for 2016 reached between the Normandy Four on December 30 in a conference call is perhaps the only opportunity not only for Russia, but also for Germany and France to save face in the current situation. As it turned out, it’s not enough to put pressure on Ukraine. There should also be a good will of the Kremlin, which Moscow does not intend to show. The conflict in Donbas will remain next year one of the main factors of instability on the continent, and we shouldn’t forget about it.
Ukraine took a straight course toward rapprochement with the EU. The Association Agreement between Moldova and the European Union has been ratified almost by all the member states. In April, a consultative referendum on this issue will be held in the Netherlands. However, a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area between Ukraine and the EU will start operating in full from January 1, 2016 despite resistance of Russia, which will suspend a similar mechanism of free trade with Kyiv. There is reason to expect the visa free regime with the EU be abolished for Ukraine in 2016, though the process of adopting the required laws by the Verkhovna Rada was over-filled with emotions that have little to do with EU integration. However, the process has been useful for understanding by the Ukrainian politicians of upcoming difficulties on the path of rapprochement with the European Union.
While the relations with Slovakia strengthened through reverse gas supplies to Ukraine, the warmed relations between Kyiv and Warsaw was a pleasant surprise. Polish President Andrzej Duda appeared ready to start a new page of bilateral relations on the basis of the existing format of strategic partnership, and this gives hope for Ukraine's participation in the implementation of the Baltic-Black Sea cooperation format. Another common enemy of Ukraine, Poland and Slovakia is Gazprom-offered Nord Stream-2 pipeline project, which is able to redraw the energy map of Europe in case of successful implementation. This problem seems especially important to the official Kyiv in light of getting rid of dependence on Russian gas supplies and the desire to play a more active role in Europe’s energy security.
The relations between Ukraine and the United States have been developing steadily. Barack Obama can hardly be called a "hawk." He is rather called a "lame duck," but the awareness of the importance of our country is growing in the overseas establishment. That’s why we see $300 million allocated for strengthening Ukraine’s defenses in the US budget for 2016, and that’s why the IMF has become more amenable to dialogue with the Ukrainian authorities. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s address to the Verkhovna Rada was a notable political event, demonstrating the U.S. interest, not only in the preservation of Ukraine’s independence, but also in dealing with its political problems.
For the first time in several years, the arsenal of the Ukrainian diplomacy is updated with the UN factor. First, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko spoke from the rostrum of the UN General Assembly about the current situation in Ukraine, and then the country was elected a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for 2016-2017. The appointment of Ukraine’s new Permanent Representative Volodymyr Yelchenko succeeding Yuriy Sergeyev demonstrated the importance of social networks in the modern political life. Although the UN Security Council is by no means a world government, using it as a platform for the protection of national interests is a must thing.
In 2016, Ukraine must give real meaning to its potential of an Eastern European leader, continue its fight in a hybrid format with Russia, be more active not only in the post-Soviet space but also in Central Europe, defend its interests in the existing markets for the Ukrainian goods and to seek for the new ones. Ukraine remains an important element of the European security system, but it has to constantly remind of its importance, not to let the Ukrainian issue be lost among the other challenges of the modern world.