Streets and squares of Kiev were taken by protesters carrying EU’s flags last week. Thousands of Ukrainians are manifesting against recent measures adopted by country’s President, Viktor Yanukovych, resisting to the signature of association agreement with the European Union (EU), which would be formalized in Vilnus, Estonia, on December, 2013. According to manifesting citizens, “(…) the choice between the Soviet past and a European future is non-negotiable” (THE ECONOMIST, 2013). The sudden u-turn of President Yanukovych from the dialog with EU to the rapprochement with Russia represents the continuation of Ukraine’s pendular foreign policy, observed since its independence, in the context of Soviet Union dissolution. Dubious politics taken by Ukrainian elites over time have demonstrated the diversity of interests, economic and political, at stake and the difficulty of leaders to accept that Ukraine must choose one only way to pursue its development.
The association agreement which should be signed between Ukraine and EU is consequence of Eastern Partnership (EP), arm of enlargement policy conducted by the European Commission to Eastern Europe. Launched in 2009, the EP indicates a tentative of approximation and assistance to countries of the region, which maintain deep and strength bonds with Russia. According to Verdun & Chira (2009), conditionality embedded in EP contributes to the exportation of European governance model, as the East enlargement process of the 2000s. The EP, however, has impediments to influence on structural reforms implementation in the six former Soviet republics (Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine, Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan). Contrasting to Soviet Union’s countries which entered in EU in the enlargement of 2004 (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), there are no significant EU entering guarantees to countries of EP (RUKHADZE, 2012). While relative success was obtained in the assistance to Moldova and Georgia, relations with Ukraine and Belarus are still instable and dependent to Russia’s detachment (KOBZOVA, 2012).
The intense relation between Ukraine and Russia has hindered the advance of EU-Ukraine contact. To Russian foreign policy, an approximation of Ukraine to Western Europe would affect directly its own integration project. This Russian effort is represented by the Custom Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, which in future intends to become a Eurasian Economic Union (RAMUNKOV CENTRE, 2012). By commercial threats and political pressure, Russia has resisted to the dialog of its neighbors with EU (ENGLUND & LALLY, 2013).
This complexity of interests involved led Ukraine to adopt a pendular posture between Europe (Western) and Russia, with the aim of ensuring the economic interest of elites and benefits from both sides of this balance. Ukrainian foreign policy is inserted in a dilemma of integrate with the West or reconnect to Russia (PROEDROU, 2010). When giving up the signature of the association agreement, Yanukovych recovered the pendular politics of the country, resigning to Russian threats and taking into account Russophiles interests in Ukraine. As stated by European diplomats, “Yanukovych never intended to sign the EU pact because the status quo, with Ukraine in limbo between the EU and Russia, makes it easier for him to retain power and enrich his clan (KOBOZOVA & JARABIK, 2013).”
Popular revolts in Kiev bring new dynamics to the analysis of Ukrainian foreign policy. Citizens on streets demand now the end of the balance policy and the effective association to Western Europe and to EU. While president Putin has treated the question as a Ukrainian domestic issue, the German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, has come closer to protesters, in signal of support to the pro-EU movement. The declining on signing EU agreement enhanced previous popular dissatisfaction with misgovernment and corruption existent in the country. The lack of civil and political liberties and the harsh repression to protests have become evident the setbacks of keeping Ukraine in a political regime more “Russian” than “European”. It is fundamental to understand, thus, if Ukrainian foreign policy, as well as of other Eastern European countries, must choose a one-way path to follow, European or Eurasian, or if it is still possible to maintain a pendular external action, regarding their own interests.
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Bruno Theodoro Luciano é mestre em Relações Internacionais pela Universidade de Brasília-UnB (email@example.com).