The European Union and Democratization

By Paul J. Kubicek | Go to book overview

7

The European Union and Ukraine

Real partners or relationship of convenience?

Paul J. Kubicek

Since gaining independence in 1991, Ukraine has been confronted with a variety of challenges on both domestic and international fronts. One primary task was state-building, as Ukrainians had to craft institutions befitting a sovereign state from the wreckage of the Soviet Union. Economic and political reforms were also top priorities, and Ukrainian leaders committed themselves, at least rhetorically, to construction of market and democratic institutions. Nation-building was also on the agenda, as there was a perceived need to form some sort of common Ukrainian identity among a populace that heretofore had not imagined themselves to be part of a meaningful political community. Obviously, meeting all the requirements of this "quad-ruple transition" would be difficult, and much remains to be done on all fronts. 1

The foreign policy challenges were no less daunting. Ukraine had to secure its independence vis-à-vis a Russia with uncertain imperial ambitions. Separatist threats in Crimea, backed by numerous Russian political actors, would have to be managed. Ukraine would have to find a way to negotiate the division of spoils from the USSR with Russia (e.g. the Black Sea Fleet), while trying to overcome dependence on Russia in critical areas such as energy. 2 Meanwhile, Ukraine would also need to look westward for crucial political and economic support, both for domestic development and for international security. Overarching these specific concerns and policies was the question of Ukraine's international affiliation: was it part of the East, the West, or a bridge between the two, an actor that would pursue "active neutrality"? Reflecting in part this ambiguity in the country's basic foreign policy orientation, Ukraine developed a "multi-vector" foreign policy, directed chiefly toward Moscow, Brussels, Warsaw, and Washington.

By 1998, however, one vector - Europe - had superceded all others, as Ukraine's "European choice" was announced as a necessary decision, a reflection of strategic realities, and the country's desire to "return to Europe." Chief among Ukraine's foreign policy goals is eventual ascension to the EU, a move towards integration that stands in stark contrast to its reticence to participate in the Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). For its part, after some hesitation, the EU has become the largest bilateral

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