A conversation with Nico Lange, director of the Kyiv office of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation
How do you view the situation of Yulia Tymoshenko and her arrest?
It is incomprehensible to me. I do not understand why the president’s administration is so obsessed with Mrs. Tymoshenko. And it is astounding that they risk relations with the EU and a new treaty with the European Union because of this obsession. When we consider the feedback the Ukrainian authorities received after Tymoshenko’s arrest, it seems they should have thought twice about whether the risk was worth taking. It may have more consequences than they think.
And how did people in Germany react?
The fact that the law in Ukraine is applied selectively is seen as being very negative. For some, the law is valid. For others it is not. However, it is nothing new and when Kuchma was president, it was also a rule the authorities followed. But it is obviously a pity that the situation remains the same in 2011.
As for Tymoshenko and her arrest, Werner Hoyer, the German vice-minister of foreign affairs, has clearly stated that Ukraine’s problems with the application of law are a great challenge for the policy of rapprochement with the EU. He was referring specifically to the EU-Ukraine Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area and Association Agreements (DCFTA). It was a strong statement in diplomatic language.
But some opinions in Germany, in particular political scientist, Alexander Rahr, suggest that Tymoshenko’s arrest won't have a big influence on EU-Ukraine relations and the signing of the Association Agreement.
Alexander Rahr is an independent expert, but the vice-minister is a representative of the German government. And if, in an official statement, he declares that there is a problem with the rapprochement between Ukraine and the EU, I would treat it seriously if I were a Ukrainian politician.
What are the chances that the agreement will be signed before the end of the year?
I do not know. It is not just about signing it but also about the ratification process later. In my view, the problem is that signing the agreement is more important for Kyiv, while implementing it is more important for the EU. If there are problems with democracy and the application of law now, then what does it mean for the implementation of the agreement? I see no advantages for the EU if signatures are collected while the text of the agreement and the Ukrainian reality are at odds. Secondly, I do not think the EU is as weak as it sometimes thinks. I do not see too many people in Kyiv being in favour of integration with Russia. That’s why the EU should perhaps put even more pressure on Ukraine to apply standards of democracy before signing the agreement. Saying that a failure to sign it now means leaving Ukraine in Russian hands is just empty rhetoric.
Does it mean the current Ukrainian authorities are really interested in integration with Europe?
They are mainly interested in maintaining a balance with Russia. Should Ukraine find itself alone with Russia, it will be in danger. President Kuchma understood that. And I see a lot of parallels here.
Many people, particularly in Poland, say the decision is strategic and the agreement has to be signed to keep Ukraine on the pro-European track. I think the EU has had bad experiences with these types of strategic decisions. Let’s look at Bulgaria and Romania. Strategic decisions were made regarding the two countries and problems ensued. These mistakes should not be repeated. As I see it, the EU should do all it can for Ukraine to be able to implement the terms of the agreement, not just sign it. If we look at the application of law or standards of democracy in Ukraine, then I have doubts as to whether they comply with those in the EU.
Vadim Karasiov, a well-known Ukrainian political scientist, says that if the agreement is signed the EU will have more possibilities to put pressure on the authorities to apply standards of democracy?
Mr. Karasiov may know better than me, but I think we must look at the problem soberly. As I mentioned before, the Polish argument is: “Let’s sign the agreement and think about democracy or the rule of law later”. But the agreement does not provide for any sanctions or instruments. After signing the agreement, the EU will only be able to make declarations. It seems to me that signing it will be a clear sign to those who do not want Ukraine to develop according to the standards of democracy. In my opinion, the agreement as it is now, contains no instruments which would make it possible to influence the situation in Ukraine as far as law, order and democracy are concerned.
And what will we do if the parliamentary elections in Ukraine do not comply with European standards? Will the whole agreement be invalidated or just parts of it?
And what do you think of the Eastern Partnership, the flagship project of Polish foreign policy?
I was very hopeful when the programme was launched. However, I think we should have no illusions. There are no projects within the programme of the Eastern Partnership which boast a happy end. There are no dynamics in the process. Poland may be ready to turn a blind eye and avoid the topic of standards of democracy in Ukraine to show that the programme was a success during the Polish Presidency of the EU. But when the Eastern Partnership was initiated, hopes were much higher.
And what is your opinion of the year and a half that Yanukovych has been in power?
Apart from the negative tendencies mentioned before, there are also positive trends. The authorities are really able to do something at this moment. Over the last few years, all we have seen is conflict and obstruction. Ukraine has lost a lot of time because of the struggle between the major political players. I do have doubts about whether the political stability will do the reforms any good. I’m afraid it may just be used by some smaller groups to protect their interests. It would be a shame if Ukraine lost its chance to initiate reforms because of the greed of some oligarchical groups. The main problem that stunts Ukraine’s development is that all politicians have interests of their own to protect. And as long as the politicians do not understand that the country’s development is more important than their own business, then no reforms can be implemented.
The negative tendencies have been discussed a lot recently. It seems that the problems are understood by those both in Ukraine and abroad. The gap between the pro-European rhetoric and the Ukrainian post-Soviet reality is a problem. If secret service (SBU) agents come to EU integration training meetings for journalists, one might get the impression that our educational activities are considered a threat to the Ukrainian state.
Last year you had problems with SBU yourself…
It is just one of the examples. But I still work in Kyiv and flew here yesterday without any problems. But the fact that such paradoxes exist in administration and the state system is quite symptomatic. On the one hand, they want to integrate with Europe, on the other, many people think that a kind of restoration of the USSR is taking place since Yanukovych came to power.
So Poland should not turn a blind eye to what is happening in Ukraine?
I well understand Poland’s relations with Ukraine from the Polish point of view. There was also a time in Germany when we did all we could for Poland to become a NATO and EU member. We felt responsible for that and it is good that there is also a similar sense of responsibility for Ukraine in Poland. But it is not just a problem of Poland and Ukraine, but of the whole EU. It seems to me that one does not need to make great effort towards democracy and the rule of law in order to sign an Association Agreement with the EU. What kind of message will that give to Belarus, Armenia, or even North Africa? I think it is a problem that goes deeper than Polish–Ukrainian relations. It is a strategic decision for the EU.
Therefore, it will be interesting to see how this year will end. Referring to the opinion of Mr. Karasiov, it is possible that the agreement will include some attachment with instruments for independent monitoring, including civil organizations, in Ukraine. It is possible the agreement will look somewhat different.
For ordinary Ukrainians, visas to the EU are one of the major problems…
There is a plan of action for the non-visa regime of Ukraine. I just do not understand why it was not made public. It is important for people to see what is there and what responsibilities Ukraine must undertake. I know that civil society activists have put the plan on the Internet. Still, I do not understand why the European Commission agreed with the Ukrainians not to make the plan public. If we look at it, we can see Ukraine has completed the first stage successfully. However, the first stage was much easier than the stage which follows, as this first stage was only the passage of legislative acts. Now these acts have to be implemented. There has never been a problem with passing legal acts in Ukraine, but enforcing them is a very different question.
Attention must also be paid to whether the texts of the acts correspond to the realities. For example, modernization of the system of issuing passports is not just a technical matter, such as a change in the biometric system. It is a matter of corruption as well. We all know how quickly one can receive a passport using a bribe. Or sometimes the data base did not work and it was enough to simply change one letter and get a new passport. This has to end. Biometric technology is of no use if I can buy myself a passport. The situation has to be monitored and there must be precise assessments as to how Ukraine solves these problems.
You said the election next year will be very important. In your view, to what extent will they be democratic? Experts fear it may be conducted according to the patterns of the local elections in 2010.
I am really anxious about the election in 2012. In Kyiv, some people are saying that the electoral goal for the Party of Regions is to win 300 seats in parliament. It is obvious what that means later.
Clearly, Election Day is not the only decisive moment. A great deal is also decided beforehand, for example, who will be a member of the election commission and who can be a candidate. There were cases in 2010 when pressure was put on people to resign from running for office. In some cases, the opposition had no representation in the election commissions. Sometimes the actions were simply grotesque, such as when the Party of Regions tried to be listed first on the ballots in all regions. This gives the impression that the Soviet Union is coming back.
Another problem is that the opposition is weak, unable to propose anything constructive. Everyone is simply trying to look out for their own interests.
The latest polls show the number of supporters of the option “none of the above” is growing. Do you think this is a chance for new political figures to appear on the Ukrainian stage?
From the point of view of legitimization, it is obviously bad that almost 50% of people do not vote at all, while from the 50% who do, 20% vote “none of the above”. What is the legitimacy of the election if a candidate from a constituency with only 50% of people who actually vote, wins with a mere 10% of that vote? This is, of course, a problem of the structure of the electoral system.
As for the possibility of a new political force appearing, we see that there is a chance to win sufficient support for new projects relatively fast. There is this chance because many people are tired of the conflict between the two major players, Yanukovych and Tymoshenko. It is possible that people want to see a different division of the political forces on the political scene. Unfortunately, the nomenklatura is well-rooted in the country, defends its interests well and does not let others come to power.
Nico Lange is Director of the Kyiv office of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a German political foundation. He is a specialist in Ukrainian and Eastern European affairs.
Translated by Bogdan Potok