Recent events in Ukraine are widely covered by the international mass media. But many people here ask themselves whether the EU, and Germany in particular, understand the risks and threats of the crisis that goes on in our country. The Day asked Gerhard GNAUCK, a historian, political analyst, and journalist at the national German newspaper Die Welt, to comment on the events in Ukraine and possible consequences of the mass protests which started after the president’s refusal to sign the Association Agreement.
“I think they do understand. In my opinion, they see the harsh positions of the government and the opposition. It is clear that the confrontation is not over yet. As for the long-term consequences, I think there is a realization that some forces in Kyiv failed at implementing the so-called order.”
What can the way out of the situation be like?
“I do not know what the whole Europe thinks about it. Embassies of many countries here actively cooperate with both the government and the opposition. Representatives of the EU member states carry out face-to-face dialogs with representatives of the government and the opposition. There is a hope that the situation will not get out of control. High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton is coming on Tuesday [December 10. – Ed.]. And as far as I understand, the EU hopes that some kind of compromise between the opposition and the government will be achieved then.”
And what can this compromise be like, in the West’s opinion?
“Basically, on the one hand, the Western countries have a certain liking for the opposition, but on the other hand, they realize they are not the players here, and they can only be intermediaries in the best case. And that of course, just like in any other crisis of the kind, the government must also be satisfied. It is hard for me to judge whether the EU will succeed at formal or informal performance of the role of an intermediary.”
Does the West consider the opposition’s demands to be reasonable, in particular, the one about the president’s resignation, even though there are no judicial mechanisms for that?
“Perhaps, it is an impossible condition, because initially the opposition aimed at dismissing Azarov’s Cabinet of Ministers. I think that if the president would sacrifice the prime minister and a part of the Cabinet, it would have already been a symbolic victory of the opposition. And it is absolutely unknown what it would change. But in such conflicts, symbolic victories often help to find some sort of compromise and move forward.”
Do you know any examples of the opposition listening to the opinion of the Western experts, because Russian mass media say that the revolution is organized by the West and is carried out according to the guidelines provided by the EU embassies?
“I think that nobody expected so much anger and rancor from the protesters. In order to explain to the German readers where it came from, I came up with this comparison: it was as if just before the two parts of Germany united, someone came and built the Berlin Wall again. Everyone had a feeling we were on our way to a better life, to a peaceful, stable, and safe future, and someone just rendered it null overnight under some external pressure. Obviously, nobody expected so much exasperation from people: neither the Kyiv officials, nor the authorities in Moscow, nor even people in the West, including me. There is no way such anger and determination of protesters and the opposition leaders can be dictated, it just exists, it comes from ordinary people. And the only thing that can be done by the government or some external forces is some constructive management of the process.”
What, in your opinion, made the Ukrainian government put the signing of the Association Agreement on pause, are there any economic and ideological reasons involved?
“Unlike some colleagues from the EU member states, I am convinced that President Yanukovych wanted to sign the Agreement. And the main factor that influenced him in the last moment was Russia’s pressure, including economic levers. It is an external factor. And now we shall see how the president and his partner in Moscow see Ukraine’s future in relation to the Customs Union as well. It will be interesting to know what they discussed in Sochi.”
What can Germany’s role in this situation be?
“I would not overestimate this factor. One of the opposition leaders, Vitalii Klitschko, has strong connections in Germany. But I think that these connections have just began to take shape. Klitschko showed himself as a leader on the national level during the parliamentary elections last year, when his party got into the Verkhovna Rada.”
Perhaps you know that when Azarov talked to the ambassadors of the EU, Canada, and the US, he used the question about the costs of Germany’s reunification as an argument in favor of the necessity to provide economic help for Ukraine.
“The reunification as West Germany sees it, is not even reunion with compatriots, but with citizens in a legal sense of this word. But in Ukraine’s case, it is not a matter of fellow citizens, not a matter of being part of the European Union, but that of a country outside the EU. And unfortunately, the EU’s and Germany’s readiness to perform any kind of significant activity on any level, including the financial one, was very low. There was the following opinion in relation to the Eastern Partnership: instead of one billion, we shall give several hundred million euros for six countries all together for a few years. That is where the EU and Germany did not do their best.
“In other words, as British journalist Edward Lucas told The Day during an interview: ‘Europe did not realize that a geopolitical competition with Russia for Ukraine is taking place.’
“It seems that the majority of the Europeans do not think in such categories as expansion or the EU’s influence. And in fact, the EU is in crisis right now. And not only in the economic sense. It is in the crisis of its own self-awareness. As for Germany and some other countries, their reaction to the processes in Russia has been coming very late during the recent years. Moreover, the analysis of events in Russia under, if I may put it this way, Gerhard Schroeder’s influence was simply unrealistic.”
By the way, why does Germany oppose adding an insertion on the prospects of Ukraine’s membership in the EU into the preamble of the Association Agreement, at least in the form in which it was present in the Association Agreement between Poland and the EU, under the condition of fulfillment of necessary requirements, of course?
“Firstly, in German understanding, even words oblige. So, this is one argument, since in the conditions of legal and political culture words have weight. Secondly, there really were doubts whether Ukraine would be able to follow these words and whether Russia would want to let Ukraine go.”
Does Germany support the idea of trilateral negotiations between Ukraine, the EU, and Russia? In other words, involving Moscow in the dialog between Kyiv and Brussels on the Association Agreement, as Ukraine’s government puts it.
“As for now, I have heard clear statements: in relations between the EU and a specific country A, we do not want any country B to have any significant influence. I think this is wise. However, on the other hand, it would be naive not to take the role of Russia into consideration in this region and in these processes. I wish that Germany and the EU would finally start seriously telling Russia that foreign policy is not its domestic business. And that the aggressive role of the current Russian leadership in foreign policy should worry us more than the authoritarian policy within the country.”
Do you believe that Maidan will lead to the new quality of Ukrainian government and opposition and will help Ukraine get closer to Europe?
“The new quality is a big word, of course. For now, I will be happy if it is possible to continue the peaceful Ukrainian path: the path of negotiations, political and legal compromises, which unfortunately might be achieved under the pressure from the street, but it seems like there is no other way out. It is going to be a success if the country continues following this path. And we will hope that the events of the Vilnius Summit will not become the last instance of cooperation between Ukraine and the European Union.”