Keynote Address: Ukrainian-Baltic Relations

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

Ukrainian-Baltic Relations

Maris Riekstins

Keynote Address by the Ambassador Maris Riekstins, Ambassador of the Republic of Latvia to the United States, delivered during Ukraine’s Quest for Mature Nation Statehood Roundtable VI: “Ukraine’s Transition to a Established National Identity,” Wednesday, September 28, 2005, Washington DC.

The Baltic and Ukrainian relationship has experienced some changes over the last decade and a half. Our relationship continues to change even today. One thing, though, has remained unchanged throughout these years – it is mutual political support for the strengthening of our new sovereignties and foreign policy aspirations.

It was quite remarkable and at the same time politically important for us that, well before the Baltic States were assured to become NATO and EU members, Ukraine openly and firmly supported our membership into NATO and the EU.

So we in turn do hope that Ukraine’s conclusive decision to join European and Atlantic structures will set her on the path of necessary reforms to make the goal attainable. The Baltic States definitely support this decision and necessary reforms to that end.

What are the changes though? First, at the time of the break-up of the Soviet Union our peoples had mutual sympathies in the fight for national determination, as well as our countries were closely inter-linked into the administered economy inherited from Soviet times. Every successful step of reformers to build sovereign institutions in one country inspired those in the other.

Our countries openly co-operated with the international community and had a shared vision of re-joining Europe, whatever that practically meant. Both of us had to get rid of former Soviet troops.

Due to the different structure and size of our economies, the Baltic States re-oriented to the West earlier. The Baltic economies became predominantly service oriented and economic ties with Ukraine loosened.

Consequently, we had to endure on structural reforms that could sustain an economic relationship with our new partners.

The Baltic States a lot earlier than Ukraine placed their bid to join the EU and NATO. And at one time, our relations were more a political sympathy than anything else.

The latest changes are marked by the accession of the Baltic States to the EU and NATO on one hand, and the “orange” revolution with consequent explicit pronouncements of Ukrainian leadership to join these organisations, on the other.

Thus we in the Baltics acquired an even better and more diverse set of tools beyond traditional bilateral relations to help Ukraine fulfill its policy goals.

Those tools are twofold – (1) our own experience of structural reforms, and (2) policies of the EU and NATO that are formulated and exercised vis-a-vis Ukraine.

New policys of the EU such as the New Neighbours Initiative were formulated and we got access to the EU mechanisms like Partnership and Co-operation Agreement. Here I can mention Intensified Dialogue on Ukraine’s aspirations to NATO membership.

On top of that one should mention that after joining Europe our governments are relieved from concentrating almost exclusively to the internal reforms of our own.

Instead, from the perspective of political priorities we are in a better position now to look around beyond our borders and support and encourage democratic, economic, legal reforms in countries like Ukraine.

To put it into American terms – we are helping to build Europe whole and free. And Ukraine is an indispensable part of it.

Why exactly does the experience and advice of the Baltic States matter to Ukraine? It does because of several important comparative advantages the Baltic States have against the other reform countries.

FIRST, Ukrainians understand that we had the same economic, social and legal system that has to be and can be transformed. They see that we have done this and therefore they know that they can trust our advice.

SECOND, the Westward foreign policy sometimes does entail complicate relations with Russia and we have certain experience with it. It is no secret, I guess, that Russia has an interest in pace of internal reforms in Ukraine. The reasons are both of political and economic nature.

For instance, as a result of reforms the balance of trade may shift away from Russia. Today Russia still is the largest foreign trade partner to Ukraine, which was not the case for us long before we submitted application to join the EU. However, we still had our sensitivities concerning opening our market to the West.

There follows the THIRD advantage: we have the experience of rather rapid re-orientation of our markets on one hand and dealing with public anxieties associated with it on the other. Last but not least, [FOURTH] we can still use Russian for communicating, and language does not present a problem.

We also have our interest of what Ukraine ought to do to make the whole enterprise – anchoring in Europe – a success. By success I mean having Ukraine democratic, reformed, and economically sound, with free media, a vibrant civic society and rule of law.

In this context the interest of Latvia and – I am sure the other Baltic States – is that comprehensive internal reforms become the utmost priority of internal politics in Ukraine. That includes both – government and parliament.

My personal opinion is that pre-election time in Ukraine would allow for the building of political consensus among politicians around the idea of European integration. The second interest is that the Government in Ukraine builds solid popular support for the explicit foreign policy goals that will need long, persistent and painful efforts.

Otherwise, the expectations of Ukrainian people and friends in the West will remain in vain. One cannot afford it to happen.

The Baltic States favored Euro-Atlantic integration of Ukraine even before Ukraine itself firmly decided upon its foreign policy direction. We strongly hope that there won’t be any change of mind. We supported early accession of Ukraine into the WTO, in practical terms – concluding our bilateral negotiations already some time ago.

Likewise, we deem it overdue to grant market economy status to this country. Addressing two remaining issues to become a WTO member is also a part of integration into the West.

We also supported Intensified dialogue on Ukraine’s aspirations to membership in NATO. At the end of October there will be a high level NATO meeting in Vilnius entirely devoted to the defence and security reforms in Ukraine. To help in defence reforms, the Baltic States are about to send their national advisers to the NATO Liaison office in Kiev.

We are also financing the educating of Ukraine’s military officers in Baltic Defence College. In addition, there has been a longer-term project of the Baltic States aimed at educating state officials from various governmental structures.

Of course, it is not that the Baltic states support Ukraine only on their own. Quite often our co-operation projects are teamed-up with other countries. For instance, tomorrow the eight speakers of the Nordic and Baltic parliaments will visit the parliament of Ukraine to express their support to the democratic reforms and aspirations of Ukraine.

On a more practical level the Latvian State Administration school together with the US National Democratic Institute is about to begin a 6 month educational program for Ukrainian public servants in Latvia. Other Baltic states are developing their own projects with the NDI.

I shortly described our co-operative efforts with Ukraine, and I can tell my Ukrainian colleagues one thing. Ten years ago when we stepped on the path of European integration, we saw only a portion of the allies that Ukraine has today, we had a portion of the programmes and initiatives that Ukr
aine has today, and Ukraine has a portion of sceptics that we had.

By accession of the Baltic States to the EU and NATO we have paved part of the road from Europe to the doorstep of Ukraine. We hope that Ukraine will complete it through internal reforms.

It has to be understood that the decisions by NATO or EU on accession negotiations or accession itself are not exclusively political decisions. Full integration into the West cannot be accomplished by political decisions alone.

In the end, the reforms are not implemented just by political decisions. I can tell you that Latvia today – after accession into NATO and EU – continues its day to day job of integration into the west and one of our jobs is to assist Ukraine to reform. These are the lessons we learned and these are the lessons we hope Ukraine will take from us.