Russian-Ukrainian Relations/Assessing the Present

Ukraine’s Quest for Mature Nation Statehood Roundtable XI:
“Compelling Bilateral Ties/Germany-Ukraine & Russia-Ukraine”

Russian-Ukrainian Relations/Assessing the Present

Borys Tarasyuk

Remarks by the Honorable Borys Tarasyuk, Head of the Committee on European Integration in Ukraine”s Verkhovna Rada , delivered at Ukraine’s Quest for Mature Nation Statehood RT XI: Compelling Bilateral Ties/Germany-Ukraine & Russia-Ukraine, held in Washington DC on October 21, 2010.

Your Excellencies, dear friends!

It is an honor to be here at the Dirksen Senate Building in Washington DC today and speak before such a distinguished audience. I am glad to participate again at this Roundtable organized by the Center for US-Ukrainian Relations and my friend Walter Zaryckyj. This event has always given me opportunities to meet many friends as well as benefit from their ideas on Ukraine”s statehood and its dynamics.

It has become a good tradition for me to attend this annual conference and to share my views on Ukraine and its place in the global realm. I appreciate many of your different insights and thoughts on how Ukraine and its place in the current global realm is currently perceived. I am here to offer my view.

Sadly, it has become obvious that the current process of Ukrainian mature nation building” has embarked on a faulty path. In recent months, Ukraine has rapidly reversed its course towards democracy and alarmed the international community with breaches of the rule of law and violations of democratic principles.

The current political situation in Ukraine has been reflected in the several stern resolutions issued by such organizations as the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the European People”s Party and the Parliamentary Forum of the Community of Democracies. The concerns raised have pertained to democratic backsliding, curtailment of fundamental freedoms such as freedom of speech and peaceful assembly, the undermining of the independence of the judicial power branch, harassment against representatives of the opposition, intimidation of Ukrainian civil society and international NGOs, among other matters.

Such a severe assessment by the international democratic community broadly featured and reiterated by a number of foreign leaders, however, has failed to be reflected upon in the actual policies and deeds on the side of the Ukrainian authorities. Instead, the current Ukrainian government hails the establishment of what it calls political stability, pragmatic economic policy and improvement of relations with Russia.

The panel at which I am honored to speak focuses on the current stage of Ukrainian-Russian Relations. These crucially important relations have been recognized to enter a new stage after the Presidential elections in February 2010 and have been labeled by many in Kyiv and Moscow as the Russian-Ukrainian Reconciliation”.

I would like to state that this term is persistently applied by the Kremlin in order to demonstrate its loyalty to and accord with the new Ukrainian authorities and to bully their predecessors, who are blamed for worsening relations between and Russia after the Orange Revolution.

However, I would like to dismiss this notion by shortly quoting several figures. Somehow, it is rarely mentioned that the trade turnover between Ukraine and Russia has continuously grew since 2005. For instance, Ukraine”s export to Russia increased by 27% in 2005, 15% in 2006, 46% in 2007 and 24% in 2008, according to the Ukrainian State Statistical Committee. And it was only in the midst of the global economic meltdown, when exports fell by 24%.

And the same with imports, which grew by 5%, 7%, 22% and 15% in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 respectively; and fell by 32% in the crisis year of 2009.At the same time, it was Ukraine that was subjected to several bans on its diary and meat products and experienced a gas confrontation” implemented by Russia in 2006 and 2009!!

The assumption to be drawn from the mentioned facts is that perhaps Russia was not seeking mutually beneficial cooperation in its relations with Ukraine at the time. On the contrary, Russia abstained from building a sound partnership with the Ukrainian leadership, which was pursuing its twin goals of democratic development and European/Euro-Atlantic Cooperation.

However, after the election of Viktor Yanukovych as President of Ukraine, Russian-Ukrainian relations visibly intensified. By displaying active enthusiasm, regular visits and joint initiatives, the Kremlin praised/promoted the loyalty to cooperation” visible on the side of the new Ukrainian leadership. For the new Ukrainian authorities, highlighting improving” Russian-Ukrainian relations became an easy way to offset its failure to provide economic and social improvements promised during the election campaign.

Today, the Ukrainian policy towards Russia has become nothing else than a consistent surrender across the whole political, security, economic and humanitarian spectrum of Ukraine”s national interests in favor of the Russian Federation.

In the foreign policy and security sector, Ukrainian authorities, bowing to Russia, swiftly approved prolongation of a lease for the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopil until 2042 in April of this year. Besides violating the Constitution and discarding national legislation as well as ignoring decisions presented by various parliamentary committees and neglecting the voice of civil society, Ukrainian authorities introduced a dangerous factor of intolerance and instability to the Ukrainian soil.

Having locked in the presence of Russian troops on Ukrainian territory, the government rushed to fulfill the other ultimate Russian goal -termination of Ukraine”s Euro-Atlantic integration-as enshrined in the official Russian Foreign Policy Concept framework. The Bill entitled On the Fundamentals of Domestic and Foreign Policies”, passed on July 1, 2010, failed to offer any conceptually innovative approaches to domestic and foreign priorities, but did exempt or exclude provisions on Ukrainian Euro-Atlantic integration-that is NATO membership-from the legislation.

Instead, the new regime took to promoting the enshrinement of a non-bloc status” which for Ukraine implies a role of a buffer zone on the European periphery exposed to growing global challenges such as arms proliferation, human trafficking, smuggling, terrorism and human rights abuse.

Another dangerous courtesy towards Russia was an obscure decision to return the Russian counterintelligence units to Sevastopil, which were previously removed from Ukraine in 2009. In the meantime, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) decided to terminate the work of Ukrainian counter-intelligence activity on Russia. This untied the hands of the Russian security services to freely operate in Ukraine, thus exposing the country to numerous security risks.

In the economic dimension of the mentioned bilateral relations, the Ukrainian authorities managed to keep the same pace of subordination. The current Russian economic agenda pursues a goal of modernization and technological breakthrough to be achieved by benefitting from the strategic and geographic al potential of neighboring countries, particularly and extensively from the Ukrainian energy, aviation and heavy industries.

In the atomic energy sector, the previously established cooperation with US” Westinghouse has been halted in favor of a new deal with Russia”s TVEL. At the current stage, the Ukrainian and Russian atomic agencies have finished talks between their working groups and have entered a stage of asset evaluation in order to integrate the Ukrainian atomic sector into its Russian counterpart.

In the aviation industry, a key Ukrainian company, Antonov, is on Russia”s wish-to-integrate list, as are, incidentally several other lucrative objects-the chemical giant Stirol, the critical Kremenchug Oil Refinery, the equally critical Odesa Port Plant. The conditions for the Antonov deal, such as a 50% +1 share of common stock and a requirement for a Russian citizen to chair the Board of Directors, permit the inference that such integration will mean the absorption of the Ukrainian aviation industry by Russia. Ukraine, in its turn, would lose control over one of its strategic sectors.

The Russian-Ukrainian reconciliation is also marked by rapid shifts in the Ukrainian humanitarian sphere. The Russian fifth-column involving efforts of the current Security Services and frank anti-Ukrainian antagonists, including an open hater of Western Ukrainians Minister of Education Dmytro Tabachnyk, are fulfilling the Russian agenda in Ukraine. This has resulted in the withdrawing of the Holodomor issue from the national and international agenda, the reconsidering and rewriting of Ukrainian history and the intimidation of Ukrainian historians.

Equally critical, education reform, one of the most progressive and successful efforts of the previous government-aimed to establish transparency in Ukrainian schooling and combat corruption, was cancelled right away.

In sum, what is called improvement in Ukraine-Russia relations” is constantly presented to the West-and particularly to the EU-as a way to convince the international community that all is on the road to stability” as well to dispel fears of renewed disruptions in energy supplies. But, often these stability” assurances pursue a goal of distracting the attention of the international community from the the actual situation-the rollback in democracy, the rule of law and fundamental freedoms.

If the current dangerous pace in maintained, I predict the following trends will result in:

  • the blurring of Ukraine”s national identity and the weakening of its position as democracy promoter” in the region.
  • a full refusal to pursue the Euro-Atlantic integration and the gradual marginalization of the Annual National Program format
  • a consequent alliance with Russia in its security projects such as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (ODKB) and the joining in the Russian initiative on the European Security Treaty, which mainly aims to push the United States out of the European security space.
  • Ukraine”s economic integration into the Russian and Eurasian economic space through a Custom Union or the resumption of a Common Economic Space which in turn would totally terminate Ukraine”s European integration plans
  • subordination of the Ukrainian strategic gas transportation system to Russia and the consequent Russian vice grip over European energy security
  • the dismantling of the democratic progress achieved after the Orange Revolution in 2004 and the emergence of a satellite/puppet regime of the authoritarian nature operated by RUSSIA.

In my opinion, this grave scenario will come true if the rule of law continues to be undermined, civil society threatened by the security services and the political system unbalanced with a skew appearing towards strong presidential powers. The latter was installed by the recently annulled constitutional reform” and return to the pre-2004 political system, which was regarded by all elements of the Ukrainian opposition as an unprofessional politically-motivated decision, in which the Constitutional Court exceeded its competence and violated the Constitution. In this respect, I strongly urge the international community not to ignore the continuous undemocratic processes that are systematically taking place in Ukraine.

In conclusion, I would like to say that I remain optimistic, as the democratic ideas that millions of Ukrainians stood for in 2004 are embedded in our national identity and convictions. I hope that Ukraine, particularly through efforts of the Ukrainian civil society, the democratic opposition and with support of the democratic world will prevent any further surrender of Ukrainian national interests. I am convinced that an independent and strong Ukraine is crucial for building security and prosperity on the European continent and in the world.

And last, but far from the least, I would like to stress that I am a dedicated fan of fostering Ukrainian-Russian relations, built on mutual respect to each other”s sovereignty, territorial integrity and national interests. In the 21st century, aspired-to modernization and technological breakthrough have to be realized not through antagonism and oppression, but through joint work, commitment to democratic values and goodwill that generates innovations, mutually beneficial trade and public prosperity.