German NGO Blames Ukrainian Turmoil on EU’s Insistence on ‘Either-Or Choice’

June 6, 2014
James George Jatras
Deputy Director, AIU

Since its inception in 2009, the American Institute in Ukraine (AIU) consistently has advocated that balance and compromise are essential to preserving Ukraine’s stability and the country’s essential role between East and West. This is a position also taken by many mainstream, respected commentators on both sides of the Atlantic, both before and during the current crisis. For example, just today, Graham Allison, director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, proposed the well-known key elements of an enduring settlement: neutrality, balanced trade ties, decentralization, minority and language rights, disarmament of armed groups in both east and west, and international security guarantees. (See “How to Solve the Ukraine Crisis,” The National Interest)

Unfortunately, this is not the course the west (preeminently the United States but also the European Union (EU)) has chosen to take. Instead of balance and compromise, the EU – spearheaded by the misguided “Eastern Partnership” (EaP), about which more below – insisted on forcing Ukraine into a single-vector, pro-western course of “Euro-Atlantic integration,” with the disastrous results we have seen. As reported by Deutsche Welle:

“The European Union has been given a poor report card for its foreign policy by a group of prominent peace researchers who point to shortcomings in how the EU has dealt with its neighbors in the Ukraine crisis.

“The assessment was made by five leading research institutes in their ‘Friedensgutachten 2014’ (Peace Report 2014), presented jointly in Berlin on Tuesday (03.06.2014).

“‘The European Union policy of essentially presenting Ukraine with an either-or choice in the form of the association agreement was a momentous mistake,’ said Ines-Jacqueline Werkner of the Protestant Institute for Interdisciplinary Research in Heidelberg (FEST). According to her analysis, the EU has contributed to the development of the Ukraine crisis and has done little to resolve it.

“EU's mistake

“‘When the EU sided with the opposition on the Maidan - against the regime with which it previously wanted to sign an agreement - it increased internal political polarization and excluded itself as a mediator and conflict manager,’ said Werkner.

“The report recommends that the OSCE maintain an ongoing presence in Ukraine

Bruno Schoch of the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF) argued that the EU was overwhelmed when confronted with a player like Russia at a geopolitical level.

“Attempts by the foreign ministers of Germany, Poland and France to mediate in Kyiv in February came too late, according to the report. By their own account, the five institutes hope their findings will enable them to influence foreign policy discourse in Germany. [ . . . ]

“The researchers also made other suggestions for resolving the conflict. Among them: Ukraine should hold roundtable talks on regional and local levels, and supporters of the former President Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions should be included in the government.

“Ukraine should also be clearly denied possible NATO membership. The long-term goal should be to make Ukraine a ‘connecting bridge’ between the EU and Russia.”

It bears shining a light not only on the fact that the EU made the mistake of pushing an “either-or choice” on Ukraine, but asking why that mistake was made at all. First, as is obvious, the U.S. bipartisan foreign policy establishment has consistently pushed the EU to pursue geopolitical, rather than purely economic, goals in its policies toward Ukraine and other former Soviet republics, notably Moldova and Georgia. Second, the major players in the EU, notably Germany, were largely “asleep at the switch” while they allowed members of an ad hoc “coalition of the willing” to pursue their own agendas, in which the entire EU became trapped willy-nilly. As earlier noted by AIU:

The Eastern Partnership was never a project to which all of the EU’s members were fully committed but was always the pet project of Sweden and (especially) of Poland [and the Baltic states], for whom the eastern partners – and Ukraine in particular – were a “strategic” backyard. Even Romania has been supportive of the EaP only insofar as it advances its own goals regarding Moldova, while giving priority to other instruments for the same purpose, such as the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation. (Likewise, the EU’s parallel initiative for North Africa and the Middle East, the “Union for the Mediterranean,” reflects the priorities of Spain, France, and Italy.) To an extent, EaP can be seen as an analogue to the similarly incoherent GUAM (Georgia-Ukraine-Azerbaijan-Moldova), a U.S.-backed grouping with a vague security mission, valuable only to thwart Russia.

It remains to be seen whether the EU can institute an eastern policy that reflects the interests of Europe as a whole, rather than the dubious enthusiasms of the EaP’s active supporters, backed by Washington.

A good measure of whether such a reassessment is likely is whether the EU can rein in the EaP’s one-sided “integrationist” impulses when it comes to Moldova, a country that in its own way exhibits internal fault lines and a need for balance and compromise similar to Ukraine’s. For example, a recent study by the London School of Economics (LSE) suggests the EU-Moldova Association Agreement (AA), due to be signed later this month, has become more complicated in light of the continuing turmoil in neighboring Ukraine. As in Ukraine, forcing Moldovans to make an “either-or choice” between the EU and the Moscow-led Customs Union could exacerbate existing political and ethno/linguistic divisions, with unpredictable consequences we have seen all too well in Ukraine.

Nonetheless, as of this writing both the EU and the governing authorities in Chișinău seem prepared to press forward on the AA with single-minded determination.