Viktor Yanukovich, Ukraine’s president, says that deepening his country’s relations with the EU is a priority. Recent comments by his officials hint, however, at a turn towards Russia and the customs union Moscow has formed with Belarus and Kazakhstan. Will these hints become reality? Unlikely. Mr Yanukovich is flirting with joining the customs union as part of an effort to persuade the west to ignore Ukraine’s regression on democracy.
The EU and U.S. should adhere to their values and make clear that respect for democracy and human rights is crucial to better relations between Ukraine and the West.
Ukrainian and EU negotiators agreed the terms of an association agreement in 2011, a significant part of which is a comprehensive free trade arrangement to boost Ukraine’s economic integration with Europe. But the agreement has languished for more than a year, as concerns in Brussels and EU capitals grew over the decline of democracy that has taken place on Mr Yanukovich’s watch. This has included the selective prosecution of former government leaders, such as Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister, and election processes that have been criticised by both foreign and domestic observers.
Several EU states have indicated they would block the agreement unless Kiev improves its record on democracy. Similar concerns in Washington have led to a parallel downturn in U.S.-Ukrainian relations. Congress has even begun to talk of sanctions against Ukraine.
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All Western democracies, including the U.S. and Germany, are seeing powerful protest movements against globalization and integration. They are agitating for a recapturing of control, or 'sovereignty,' and often also of ethnic homogeneity. Although they keep talking about the nation-state, they oppose key principles of Western constitutionalism like separation of powers and the protection of minorities against the tyranny of the majority. They want a tribalization of politics. That's something the Tea Party and the U.S. alt-right have in common with the AfD.
Germany's postwar foreign policy had two lodestars: atonement for World War II and the Holocaust, as well as reconciliation with its victims and enemies — and joining the universe of Western democracies, and specifically integration into the U.N., NATO, and the European Union. The AfD [Alternative for Germany] more or less explicitly rejects both these orienting principles in favor of an ethno-nationalist, sovereignist, anti-European, anti-American and pro-Russian stance.