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Leigh Turner

Ambassador to Austria and UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other International Organisations in Vienna

Part of UK in Ukraine

13th October 2011

What Next for Ukraine?

This week, for almost the first time since I arrived in Ukraine in June 2008, Ukraine has been the number one item on the BBC World News website and in other media around the world.  Friends have been getting in touch to ask me what’s going on, and where Ukraine is going.  It’s an important question.

The cause of this interest and concern is the sentencing of ex-Prime Minister Tymoshenko on Tuesday to seven years in prison, a three-year political ban and a massive fine.  Discussion in the media has focused on whether the trial verdict means that Ukraine has given up on its ambitions to integrate with Europe and become a democratic EU-type country, or whether the outcome of the trial can somehow be overturned allowing Ukraine’s EU integration path to continue.  In the House of Commons on 12 October, British Prime Minister David Cameron said: “the treatment of Mrs Tymoshenko, whom I have met on previous occasions, is absolutely disgraceful. The Foreign Secretary has made a very strong statement about this. The Ukrainians need to know that if they leave the situation as it is, it will severely affect their relationship not only with the UK but with the European Union and NATO.” 

All this raises the question as to what exactly has to happen in order for the EU integration process – in the first instance, the signature and ratification of the Association Agreement which Ukraine has been negotiating with the EU for the last four years – to continue.  I discussed some of the issues in my recent blog “Tymoshenko in Yalta“.  The answer is that the UK and EU want to see Ms Tymoshenko and other opposition leaders out of detention and able to participate in the political process, including the 2012 parliamentary elections.  Any outcome of the present trials which leaves a cloud threatening future political activities by opposition politicians, such as a big fine or continued legal uncertainty, is likely to lead to continued uncertainty about whether the Association Agreement will be signed and ratified.

The good news is that a mechanism to resolve the issue, in the form of proposals to decriminalise the offences of which Ms Tymoshenko is accused, is ready and waiting in the Ukrainian parliament.  It could in theory be activated, and Ms Tymoshenko freed, as early as next week, before President Yanukovych is due to visit Brussels on 20 October.  The questions is whether Ukraine has the political will to make this happen.

Does Ukraine have that political will?  The key point is that this is up to Ukraine.  The EU is not trying to force Ukraine to do anything.  Nor is the EU desperate to sign the Association Agreement if Ukraine does not demonstrate by its actions that it, too, is keen.  In short, like any other country which wants to integrate with the EU, if Ukraine wants to move towards joining the European club and becoming an EU-type country, it has to behave in an EU-type way.

Final point: some commentators in Ukraine have suggested that maybe the Tymoshenko trial is a cunning way to persuade the EU to grant Ukraine a membership perspective (i.e. to say that, one day, Ukraine will definitely join).  Perhaps, they argue, if Ms Tymoshenko is got out of jail the EU will be so grateful that it will grant such a perspective.  I discussed this issue in a recent blog, “How to make Ukraine more European“.  Frankly, it seems improbable to me that anyone is thinking in these kind of transactional terms but again, just for the avoidance of any doubt, the events of the past week cannot possibly have any positive impact on the likelihood of Ukraine getting a membership perspective.  If anything, unfortunately, the reverse is true.  If that is where this affair ends up, it will be a an immense shame, for Ukraine and for Europe.

3 comments on “What Next for Ukraine?

  1. Mr Turner,

    It was a pleasure to find news in the Ukrainian online media about this your blog post, and fully read it here. As I see, you deeply understand what is going on now at Ukraine’s political scene and express unbiased and balanced opinion, as the European diplomats usually do.

    Unfortunately, if EU will decide to suspend Ukraine’s progress towards Free Trade Agreement & Association Treaty, it will be terribly sad news for Ukrainians as a nation, and Ukraine as a young state. However, it will be incredibly happy news for dozens of old ex-Soviet bureaucrats, officials & politicians here, in Russia & Belarus. Because they obviously want to stay at power as long as they can, and keep this whole territory untouchable by the West with transparency, press freedom, political freedoms, and democracy.

    I know that global diplomacy is not an easy business. As for me, escalating political pressure on regimes, which neglect democratic values, introducing various sanctions against them can be effective in short term. But I am not sure that the international pressure only could stimulate about 25-28 mln of Ukrainian voters to change their lives for better. I am getting upset looking how Ukrainian authorities are sliding down to Lukashenko’s model.

    At the same time the world history know examples of finding the unique, complex diplomatic solutions in unprecedented political situations. (Last bloody and chaotic uprisings in North Africa can not be a model for Ukraine, because it could lead to separating my country to two or more pieces of instability for years). Ukraine again is in a unique globally-related situation after the Orange Revolution 2004, may be in much harder circumstances: more poor, frustrated and angry people are against more radical, unprofessional and hungry to power & money only “elite” which has just almost no compassion.

    It would be good if developed West (in cooperation with Russia) could find the right tactical & strategic solution, using right tools and ways towards Ukrainian authorities.

    1. Dear Mr Kovalenko

      Thanks for this. We are certainly open to good ideas for continuing and accelerating Ukraine’s integration with the rest of Europe, which I would dearly like to see. But will be difficult for EU member states to sign and ratify the proposed EU-Ukraine Association Agreement while opposition leaders remain in detention as the result of flawed trials and unable to participate in the political process.

      Leigh Turner

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About Leigh Turner

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of…

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of the UN and other organisations; stories here will reflect that.

About me: I arrived in Vienna in August 2016 for my second posting in this wonderful city, having first served here in the mid-1980s. My previous job was as HM Consul-General and Director-General for Trade and Investment for Turkey, Central Asia and South Caucasus based in Istanbul.

Further back: I grew up in Nigeria, Exeter, Lesotho, Swaziland and Manchester before attending Cambridge University 1976-79. I worked in several government departments before joining the Foreign Office in 1983.

Keen to go to Africa and South America, I’ve had postings in Vienna (twice), Moscow, Bonn, Berlin, Kyiv and Istanbul, plus jobs in London ranging from the EU Budget to the British Overseas Territories.

2002-6 I was lucky enough to spend four years in Berlin running the house, looking after the children (born 1992 and 1994) and doing some writing and journalism.

To return to Vienna as ambassador is a privilege and a pleasure. I hope this blog reflects that.