On October 16, 2006, The Honorable Aleksander Kwasniewski of Georgetown University and Brookings Vice President Carlos Pascual shared their perspectives on the situation in Ukraine and implications for its relations with Russia, the European Union, and the United States.
Former Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski divided his lecture into three parts: first, the impact of the Orange Revolution on Ukraine and the region; second, the positive and negative developments over the last two years; and third, the necessary steps Ukraine and the West should take to promote transparent democratic and market-oriented development.
Kwasniewski described the Orange Revolution as a great historical event for Ukraine, the former Soviet Union, and all of Europe. He discussed four major effects of the Revolution. First, the event was a watershed, much like the Solidarity movement was for the Communist Bloc in the early 1980s. While Central Europe had an innate understanding of civil society before the communist period, the concept of civil society in the former Soviet Republics was nonexistent before the Orange Revolution. The development of civil society has inspired Ukraine’s youth and has become irreversible. Moreover, the Orange Revolution serves as an example to the other former Soviet Republics. Second, the Orange Revolution has for the first time ignited a discussion of Ukraine’s position in Europe and in the world. Ukraine ceased to be a rudderless transitional state and began contemplating its role as a member of NATO and the European Union. Third, the events in November 2004 forever changed relations between Ukraine and Russia. Kwasniewski used the following analogy: the younger member of a family matured and now makes decisions independent of his elders. Finally, the world discovered Ukraine during the Orange Revolution.
President Kwasniewski said that things in Ukraine had not gone as well as he had hoped since the Orange Revolution. Nonetheless, he outlined five positive developments and four negative ones. First, the March election in Ukraine was fair. Democratic institutions are maturing and are stronger despite their infancy. Second, media has become free and unbridled. Indeed, he could not imagine more intense and frequent criticism of a government. Moreover, a social debate across classes and regions has blossomed. Third, the economy has continued to grow. Fourth, the current relationship between President Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yanukovich is evidence of wisdom rather than weakness. If they cooperate as leaders, they can achieve conciliation between eastern and western Ukraine. Finally, Yushchenko and Yanukovich have the opportunity to integrate and solidify the Ukrainian state.
Despite impressive advancements since the Orange Revolution, Kwasniewski’s criticisms were more substantial than his praise. He emphasized that the government under President Yushchenko wasted time and missed many chances to pass lasting reforms. President Yushchenko lost six months forming a government before even discussing changes. Although there is a potential opportunity for President Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yanukovich to work together, there is a lack of will for a productive cohabitation. Kwasniewski believes that it is more likely that the two Viktors will disagree and force the government into a deadlock than that they will cohabitate and cooperate. The Ukrainian population is frustrated. Society feels that the government has broken its promises and is inept. Moreover, the country is divided ideologically in addition to its current geographic and linguistic divisions. World, especially European, leaders are suffering from Ukraine fatigue.
Kwasniewski addressed the issue of cooperation between President Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yanukovich if Ukraine is to prosper. They must introduce social and economic reforms even if it means alienating certain groups. The economy cannot continue to prosper with existing Soviet-style social programs. The government must maintain its support of democratic and social institutions, including electoral, judicial, and civil institutions. Kwasniewski described this as “the continuation of the Orange Revolution.” Yushchenko and Yanukovich must work together to integrate the Ukrainian state culturally. The divide between Russians in the East and Ukrainians in the West cannot persist if Ukraine is to prosper. Finally, they must integrate into western institutions specifically NATO and the EU. It is possible for them to be close to Europe and Russia simultaneously.
Europe and the United States should also take responsibility for developments in Ukraine. They must keep their doors open for Ukraine to join NATO and the EU and encourage it to join. Furthermore, scholarships should be provided for policymakers, politicians, scientists, and students to visit Europe and the United States.
Ambassador Carlos Pascual agreed with most of the President’s observations, but said that Ukrainian civil society existed before the Orange Revolution. For example, during the 2002 elections, state-owned television channels repeatedly urged citizens to vote for particular political parties. Nonetheless, those parties received only 15 percent of the popular vote, as Ukrainians proved they would stand up to governmental pressure.
The Ambassador enumerated the challenges facing Ukraine today. Ukraine suffers from a leadership deficit. Over the past two years, there was stagnation both in domestic and foreign policies while the political elite failed to achieve a compromise. Moreover, instead of agreeing on an agenda to make the country stronger, the elite have yielded to the oligarchs, many of whom now support President Yushchenko. Corruption continues to challenge the efficiency and effectiveness of the government and bureaucracy. For example, tax policy confers favors on certain political parties and regions. To remedy the current political stalemate, President Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yanukovich need to take concrete steps on a practical policy agenda. WTO accession should top the list. On language issues, the two leaders should state publicly that being a Ukrainian citizen is not contingent on speaking Ukrainian, thus inviting native Russian speakers to be recognized as and become patriotic citizens.
Having been mired in political struggle for two years, Ukraine has struggled to keep the attention of the West, which was once so hopeful for Ukraine’s future. While the West grows more indifferent, Moscow is becoming increasingly frustrated with Kyiv. Although the Orange Revolution was considered a failure for President Putin, Russia still wields a significant amount of influence over Ukraine’s geopolitical and economic orientation.
President Kwasniewski then answered questions from the audience. One attendee remarked that Poland’s view of the Orange Revolution is too romantic. The President responded that short-term setbacks are not detrimental to the irreversible, long-term benefits of the 2004 movement. While Russia will always attempt to bring Ukraine back into its sphere of influence, the Kremlin will not succeed.
The President continued his analysis of Russian-Ukrainian relations. He asserted that President Putin will not accept that Ukraine has an independent society and political elite. Russia treats Ukraine unfairly by recognizing its independence but not allowing it to behave like an independent actor. Moreover, Russia’s position regarding Ukrainian accession to NATO is hypocritical. While Russia itself desires good relations with NATO, the former Soviet republics must turn to Russia, not NATO, for security. One participant noted that Russia did not have the power to block former Warsaw Pact and Soviet countries from joining NATO but was equivocal about the wisdom of Ukraine’s joining, considering Russia’s opposition.
Another respondent had recently returned from a trip to Ukraine and shared some observations. First, he explained that President Putin was jealous of President Kwasniewski during the Orange Revolution negotiations. Second, the respondent was assured by government officials that they were working with, not being dominated by, the oligarchs. Third, Russian politicians are out of touch with developments in Ukraine. Dmitri Rogozin, with whom he appeared on a radio program, and other nationalist leaders were shocked to discover the extent of freedom in the Ukraine. Fourth, ironically, Prime Minister Yanukovich may have learned the most from the Orange Revolution. He quickly adapted to the new Ukrainian political realities and now plays an active, influential role in the government. Finally, although oligarchs have returned to play an influential role, this is a necessary step in transitional economies.
Tetyana Yarmoshchuk, “Will Presidential Party Split Over Ruling Coalition?,” Radio Free Europe (9/15/06)
Taras Kuzio, “Is Ukraine Part of Europe’s Future?,” The Washington Quarterly (Summer 2006)
Steven Pifer, F. Stephen Larrabee, Jan Neutze, and Jeffrey Simon, “Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic Ambitions: Building an Effective Policy Coordination Process,” The Atlantic Council of the United States (February 2006)
Any views presented in this summary reflect the views of the identified individuals and not of The Brookings Institution or Georgetown University. The summary is prepared by Jonathan Hayes and David Salvo, Georgetown University.