Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

For Pro-EU Ukraine, a Chill Wind Blows with Brexit

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

For Pro-EU Ukraine, a Chill Wind Blows with Brexit

Article excerpt

Ukrainians are watching the turmoil in Europe following the Brexit vote with sinking hearts.

In early 2014, many Ukrainians staged the pro-European Union Maidan Revolution in the heart of Kiev and overthrew their legally elected pro-Russian president over his decision to postpone an association agreement with the EU. They have since endured civil war, likely permanent rupture with Russia, their neighbor and former top trading partner, and a multitude of painful privations to pursue that goal of drawing closer to Europe.

Two years ago, the EU seemed a strong, confident, and politically united colossus that was actively working to bring post-Soviet countries on its periphery, like Ukraine, onto the path of eventual membership. Then a tsunami of troubles hit, including financial meltdown in Greece, a Europe-wide crisis over how to absorb millions of refugees from the Middle East and Africa, and the rise of Euroskeptic parties in many countries.

At the same time, a certain "Ukraine fatigue" has taken hold in parts of Europe over Kiev's failure to banish corruption and implement promised reforms, most dramatically illustrated by last April's Dutch popular vote to disavow the EU's association agreement with Ukraine. And now the specter of Brexit - an EU member actually voting to abandon the union that Ukrainians have striven so mightily to become part of.

"This will worsen the prospects for Ukraine, no doubt about that," says Vladimir Panchenko, an expert with the International Center for Policy Studies in Kiev. "The EU now looks to be split, with every country threatening to go its own way. Policies meant to support Ukraine, like EU sanctions against Russia, will become weaker. Countries that don't back sanctions so strongly, like France and Germany, will have greater weight if Britain leaves. Now the game will be more in Russia's favor than Ukraine's."

Up and downThere are no polls yet to quantify Ukrainians' reaction to Brexit. But Anton Grushetsky, an expert with the Kiev International Institute of Sociology, says the attractiveness of the EU as a destination for Ukraine had already been waning in recent months. Before the Maidan, in 2013, some 40 percent of Ukrainians supported the EU orientation, compared with 35 percent who wanted to join the Russian-led Customs Union. Amid spiking anti-Russian moods and civil war in 2015, backing for the EU had grown to about 55 percent. Since then it has fallen by as much as 10 percent, even before Brexit, he says.

That comes alongside a harrowing crisis of popular trust in Ukraine's leaders, mainly over their ongoing failure to root out corruption, end behind-the-scenes influence of super-wealthy oligarchs, and hammer out peace terms with east Ukrainian rebels.

Economic pain is high on the list of reasons for public disillusionment, and experts say the fallout from Brexit is only likely to make things worse. …

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