If, out of frustration and presumption, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairsonly has a swear word left to say regarding the position of the EU in Ukraine, alarm bells should be ringing in America and Europe. Such lapses indicate chaotic crisis management and do not do justice to the seriousness of the situation. This is not good politics for the people of either Ukraine or Europe, and does not appear very professional.
Still, there has been no coherent and convincing master plan for Ukraine in Washington, Brussels or other European capitals. Furthermore, a much needed American-European joint approach is still missing. A consistent policy still needs to be developed, even though Ukraine has been on the agenda for decades. Simply doing things for the sake of doing things does not lead anywhere. The previous approaches seem unclear and are, rather, a continuation of an obviously ineffective Ukraine policy.
In the course of this, a lot is at stake for Europe. In the case of a civil war, the EU would be flooded with political refugees. An intervention by Moscow could then not be ruled out and could lead to an ice-cold confrontation – also on the Eastern boarder of the European Union.
Therefore, it is about time to discuss tangible ideas and detailed plans for a long-term action plan for the development of Ukraine from 2014 through 2024. Washington and Brussels, but also the Foreign Ministers of the European countries, are genuinely challenged by this. They need to deliver specific recommendations, and fast. Otherwise, they will leave the protesters out in the cold. Admonishing words and meetings are not sufficient anymore and appear embarrassing if no substance is contained within them.
The focus of the protests lies in unhappiness with the politics of President Viktor Yanukovych, the complete frustration of the people deriving from high inflation, corruption and unemployment. The country lacks the will and strength for the necessary and radical reforms. There is no outlook for its youth. Ukraine is stuck in a political and economic deadlock. Hence, protests are taking place throughout the country and on the Maidan in Kiev.
The ready-to-sign association agreement between the EU and Ukraine aims for stronger political and economic cooperation and rapprochement between Ukraine and the EU. It is about the implementation of EU political, administrative and economic regulations in Ukraine. In the economic domain, the issues of competition, customs, energy, intellectual property, public procurement, services and sustainable development are central. The agreement is in everyone's interest in Ukraine, even the strongly Russia-oriented groups in the eastern part of the country and all parties that aim to advance the country. Unfortunately, President Yanukovych bounces it in favour of a partnership with Russia.
This agreement would have made Ukraine stronger, which would in the long-term have reduced inflation, created jobs and curbed corruption. The country now needs the kind of wide-ranging and radical reforms that all political leaders have failed to recognize. The modernization of public services, the fostering of the rule of law, democracy and human rights are not serving the interests of the European Commission in Brussels, but directly serve the people of Ukraine. Hence, this agreement should be signed as soon as possible. The Ukrainians should agree to the association with the EU in a referendum that would be observed by the OSCE.
This is not directed against Russia, as this large country needs to modernize itself in the same direction. This is the only way that it can maintain its competitiveness and strengths against China and the Asian Tiger states. Currently, the country is ever further going downhill. Also, Russia needs reforms in the style of the EU and in the good tradition of Peter the Great in order to be strong.
In parallel, the EU should negotiate an agreement regarding close cooperation with Moscow. The willingness of President Putin is oftentimes doubted; however, he does not have many other choices. Without the needed reforms, he will leave a sinking ship behind and his legacy will fade. If he is successful with modernisation though, he will go down in history as 'Vladimir the Great.'
The rich economic elite, the important medium-sized businesses and the youth need reforms and thus also a development and trade partnership with the EU. The strategic target continues to be to avoid confrontation with the Kremlin, and instead to oversee its inclusion in a new partnership structure that helps the country.
If Ukraine decides in favor of an association agreement, the door for Russia needs to remain open. Within this association agreement, Ukraine should integrate the formula that Russia will be invited, as well to become a partner of the EU. This is not a utopian idea, but feasible. After two dire world wars and the assault of the Wehrmacht on Russia, leaving millions dead, the relationship between Germany and Russia today is stable and friendly. Also, the relations between the Russians and the nationally-focussed Ukrainians could and should follow this policy of détente and foster reconciliation and respect for one another.
Thus, within the next weeks the EU should put together two plans for the association of Ukraine and a partnership with Russia and negotiate both in parallel. Afterwards, Brussels needs to get Washington on board as well.