Ukraine And Euro-Atlantic Integration

Source: The Action Ukraine Report, Number 582, Article 5

Ukraine’s Quest for Mature Nation Statehood Roundtable VI:
“Ukraine’s Transition to an Established National Identity”

Ukraine And Euro-Atlantic Integration

F. Stephen Larrabee

Remarks by F. Stephen Larrabee, European Security Chair RAND Corp., delivered during Ukraine’s Quest for Mature Nation Statehood Roundtable VI: “Ukraine’s Transition to an Established National Identity” Washington, D.C.

I will focus my remarks on Ukraine and Euro-Atlantic integration because I believe that Euro-Atlantic integration is the only viable option for Ukraine. Let me begin by putting the Orange Revolution in a broader geo-political context.

The Geo-Strategic Significance of the Orange Revolution

The Orange Revolution is of major geopolitical significance. Ukraine is not just any country. It was the lynchpin of the former Soviet empire – the keystone in the Arch, as Sherm Garnett rightly called it.

Events in the Ukraine will have a significant impact on the former Soviet space, especially Western CIS. If the Orange Revolution succeeds, the pro-Western course in Georgia and Moldova will be reinforced. Lukashenka will be isolated and weakened – will have a harder time surviving.

Even Russia will be affected. As former Russian Prime Minister Igor Gaidarhas noted, the Orange Revolution is the first stone cast against the ediface of managed democracy in Russia.

Ukraine has a historic chance to become a part of the Euro-Atlantic community of democracies. But the path will not be easy. Desires and ambitions are not enough. Ukraine will be judged on its performance not its promises. Words will have to be matched by concrete deeds.

At this historic moment, leaders of the Orange Revolution cannot afford to fall into fratricidal internal warfare. They need to put aside their differences and emphasize what unites them not what divides them. If they fail to do this, an historic opportunity at integrating Ukraine into Euro-Atlantic structures may be lost.

There is a danger that if the leaders demonize each other during the electoral campaign, it will be difficult to cooperate after the election is over.

Thus, how the leaders of Orange Revolution manage their internal differences in the period leading up to the March elections will be important and will have an important affect on Western attitudes and prospects for Ukraine’s integration in Euro-Atlantic institutions.

Ukraine and the European Union

Let me now say a few words about the twin tasks of Euro-Atlantic integration. First, the European Union. The EU’s attitude toward Ukraine has not fundamentally changed since the Kuchma period. The EU regards Ukrainian membership as premature and as a “distraction.” The real issue, in EU eyes, is the need for economic reform.

In effect, the EU has adopted an attitude of “constructive ambiguity.” It is not ready to offer a membership perspective, but it does not exclude it either. As Commissioner Ferrera-Waldner put it, “the door is both shut and open.”

The EU favors a series of “small steps” which will enhance Ukraine’s qualifications for membership over time. This strategy may work in the short run, but it is not sustainable over the long run.

Yushchenko needs to be able to show concrete results and demonstrate to the population that painful sacrifices are needed to carry out reforms to bring concrete benefits. Otherwise, popular support for reform may begin to decline.

The membership perspective is the “golden carrot” that provides the incentive for reform and makes painful sacrifices politically palatable. That is the lesson from Eastern European experience; the same is true in Ukraine.

The French and Dutch referenda may result in a pause (“period of reflection”) in the enlargement process over the short run. But they may not have much affect on Ukraine over the long run.

Ukraine is not likely to be ready to join the EU before 2016. In the meantime, Ukraine needs to do its homework. This will require steady and unified leadership at the top.

Ukraine and NATO

NATO membership may prove easier to attain. The requirements are less rigid. The time frame is also shorter. Ukraine received Intensified Dialogue status at the Vilnius Ministerial in April 2005.

If Ukraine does its homework, MAP is possible by the time of the NATO summit in fall 2006. Membership could be achieved by time of the summit in 2008.

But there are no guarantees: the chances for membership will depend heavily on Ukraine’s performance. Reforms introduced by Defense Minister Anatoli Gritsenko point in the right direction but need to be followed up by further concrete action.

The low popular support for NATO is a problem. Polls show that currently only about 22% of the Ukrainian population favors NATO membership. This is the result of decades of communist propaganda and anti-NATO propaganda by Yanukovych during his presidential campaign.

But polls also show that 40-45% of the population has no opinion about NATO. Many of these could be mobilized to support NATO by an effective government campaign.

Popular support for NATO membership was below 40% in several Eastern European candidates accepted in the recent round of enlargement (Slovenia, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria). All managed to increase popular support for NATO membership through effective campaigns to educate their publics.

The same could occur in Ukraine. The situation could thus look quite different by the 2008 summit.

But everything depends on Ukraine’s performance and Ukrainian leadership avoiding fratricidal internecine warfare. Ukraine’s leaders have to put the interests of the country as a whole above individual political ambitions.

They also need to forge an internal consensus within NATO in favor of Ukrainian membership. The US can help, but ultimately, Ukraine has to do the heavy lifting.

The Need for an Internal “Strategic Compromise”

This will require Ukrainian leaders to show political responsibility and maturity. What is needed is a “strategic compromise” between the two main leaders of the Orange Revolution.

Both should begin an internal political dialogue – quietly, behind the scenes – so that they can work together after the elections to bring Ukraine into Euro-Atlantic structures.