Recently the Euro-Atlantic forum “Ukraine and the EU on the Threshold of a New Agreement on Association: Free Trade, Energy Security, and Democracy” was held in Kyiv. The deputy director of the Centre for Russian and East European Studies (CREES) at the University of Birmingham Kataryna WOLCZUK also took part in this forum.
The Day asked her to tell our readers why she had decided to study Ukraine and how she estimated the European prospects of our country.
“I have been learning Ukrainian since my childhood. My father was born on the border of Belarus and Poland. They spoke Ukrainian in his family. He was from an Orthodox family and my mother was from the Polish-German frontier. Thus, two European frontiers met each other.”
How did you start your scientific work and how have you become a specialist of Ukraine?
“I wanted to study Russia. However, when I came to Great Britain I saw that everyone was studying Russia there and only few were studying Ukraine when the Soviet Union collapsed. The fact that I knew Ukrainian a little just helped me. Then there was a need to study Ukraine, I got down to it and I have been doing it in England for 20 years now.”
In February 2008 you and some other experts wrote the article “Quo vadis Ukraine?” Can you now answer the question where Ukraine is going?
“It is a very interesting question. They speculated a lot about the fact that Ukraine had to make the European choice since it was at a certain crossroads. Now, after 20 years of discussions about that Ukraine has to make a choice, it is high time to do it now and this choice cannot be postponed any longer. Either Ukraine will stay in the ‘gray zone’ or it has to join some integration block. There are two options and they are getting stricter and even more severe for Ukraine. However, Ukraine is not ready to make a choice.”
Do you think it is not ready?
“No, it is not.”
But we have the law adopted by the current Ukrainian government on the principles of the domestic and foreign policy that clearly declares our European choice.
“The Ukrainian authorities adopt the laws guided by the geopolitical symbolism. It is just the choice of civilization that does not apply to the developments inside Ukraine. The evidence of this is what is happening with the judiciary and Tymoshenko’s process. Foreign policy declarations is one thing but another thing is what is happening inside the country. The interests of Ukraine are strong and various. These interests do not coincide to allow the economic integration into the EU if its political price is the necessity to share the power.”
The Ukrainian officials declare that we have already made our political choice, but not the economic one.
“The economic integration into the EU means losses. In any similar integration there is the one who wins and the one who loses. There are a lot of those among the Ukrainian authorities who might get a bashing in the near future. That is why they hesitate. They also need some time to realize why joining the EU is really profitable.”
Have you heard Larrabee’s opinion who said that Ukraine should be given the membership prospects or, in other words, the EU should keep the doors open so that the Ukrainian leaders had more spurs to take risks and carry out necessary reforms? Some time ago you wrote that the EU had to develop a strategy to involve Ukraine without giving it any membership prospects. Should Ukraine be given the membership prospect taking into account the current situation?
“We have to understand what is desirable and what is real. The membership prospect is great if used well to keep the country on the way of reforms. However, now there is no possibility to get it. Ukraine, as a potential partner, has lost a lot. The EU does not believe anymore that Ukraine wants to do something and reform. Then it is difficult to say ‘let’s help’ if they do not want any reforms. The Orange Revolution had created a feeling of euphoria in Europe and the hopes that turned into a disappointment.”
The new government has done much more to adopt the laws that have to bring Ukraine closer to Europe. Probably, the EU has to demonstrate its attractiveness more and encourage the Ukrainian authorities to move more actively towards Europe and introduce the European standards?
“Yes. There is a gap in Ukraine. The political declarations that are easy and free are not realized in any specific actions. If we look at Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, the latter has the most problems with reforms. It is a large country and there is a feeling that it is an important partner for the EU. The bureaucracy is overdeveloped in Ukraine, it is not efficient at all; there are a lot of different groups of influence and every initiative of the European integration is blocked by some inner forces that do not like it since it does not meet their interests.”
So, what is Ukraine’s prospect?
“It is very interesting. The longer happens what is happening now in Ukraine, the more difficult it will be to find the way out of this situation. Ukraine is large but at the same time small compared to the commercial blocks it is between. This is skewness. In the modern world nobody creates their own laws; everybody creates the laws within the blocks they are integrated into. We have the EU, but it is interesting that the Customs Union is modeling itself similar to the EU and is creating a very strict integration regime based on the laws different from the ones in the EU. The question is where Ukraine is going; Ukraine would like to choose: a little here, a little there, a kind of economic integration. One side and the other side say: take or stay, this is your choice. But the governing elite, the Ukrainian business is not ready to make this choice.”
Some of the participants of the conference think that now Europe and Russia are fighting for Ukraine. What do you think about it looking from aside?
“It is called the loss of control. Ukraine thinks: on the one hand, we are important, on the other hand, others decide and struggle for us. This situation is very comfortable since everything depends on the geopolitics, on how the EU and Russia will behave and who will win. It deprives Ukraine of the spur and feeling of control for what we choose. Ukraine has to decide where to move. However, this country is very complicated; there are a lot of voices and a lot of reasons to move in the opposite directions.”
How do the British authorities and experts see Ukraine? Do they support, as previously, its integration into the EU?
“They continue doing it. Great Britain is very pragmatic, in particular in what concerns the EU structures; it assumes the manner: we support Ukraine, this is one of the directions of our work. However, the British will not speak about it loudly like Poland. On the other hand, it is getting more complicated for Ukraine’s friends in the EU to work. It is getting more difficult to find arguments for those who are not interested in its integration into the EU, for example Italy and France.”
What do they think in Great Britain about the prospect of Putin’s election for the third and fourth presidential terms? Do they expect the Russian prime minister to change?
“It is a very good question. I cannot see that Putin has any reformer’s potential: he has relied on certain aspects and it is very difficult to imagine that he can change. He is absolutely sure in his ideas how he can renew himself without losing his image of macho, the symbol of a firm hand and how he can change his attitude to Ukraine keeping the image he has efficiently worked on for a long time. The attitude to Ukraine fits into the Russian elections and future Putin’s presidency. Look at the Customs Union. Being a part of it, Russia does not have any independent foreign economic policy. It does not decide on its foreign policy. It is the competence of the Customs Union. However, if it concerns Ukraine’s joining the Customs Union Putin says how profitable it is for Ukraine. Kazakhstan realizes its interests through the Customs Union. Putin needs Ukraine.”
“The Customs Union as his foreign policy project is too dependent on Lukashenko and Nazarbayev. However, neither Lukashenko, nor Nazarbayev, or any other Customs Union member has any profit from their membership. The studies of the World Bank prove that the membership in the Customs Union is not profitable for any of its members, and not only for them but for their partners, like Germany and Finland, either. All of this is the evidence of the fact that the Customs Union is based not on the economy but on the politics. That is why to make such a politicized union stable they need the fourth member. Even if Lukashenko and Nazarbayev leave, the foundation of this union will be preserved.”
Are there any European politicians who know all these niceties and are able to develop a unified EU’s policy concerning Ukraine?
“They have often repeated that the unity of Europe and of the EU finishes where the relations with Russia start. It is still true. At the same time the European integration is quite complicated and diverse. Some of the aspects such as free trade are the competence of the European Commission and they manage to keep the line better. However, the energy concerned, it is another area and the EU governments influence the relations more. Unfortunately, the main aspect of the relations with Russia is the energy. The EU members look at their relations in this light.”