Interview with Andreas Umland at Oxford

Interview by Olena Tregub, a foreign correspondent for the Ukrainian news agency UNIAN. The Ukrainian and Russian versions of this interview were published by UNIAN, on 18 April 2011.

On 6-8 April 2011, the Canadian-Ukrainian Parliamentary Program (CUPP) held its 3rd Model Ukraine Conference “Ukraine’s Domestic and Foreign Affairs: Quo Vadis?” at the University of Oxford, UK. In 2010, the CUPP launched under the chairmanship of CUPP director Ihor Bardyn a series of gatherings of young leaders and senior academics who discuss models for Ukraine’s future political, economic and social development. In 2010, two conferences took place at George Washington University and the University of Ottawa. They focused on political, historical, cultural and educational issues in the emergence of the Ukrainian state. A fourth conference is currently being prepared to take place at the National University of “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy,” in November 2011.

This spring’s conference, at St. Antony’s and New College Oxford, focused on domestic political affairs, the development of civil society as well as rule of law, and foreign policy options of the Ukrainian state under its new President Viktor Yanukovich. Olena Tregub spoke, in Oxford, with one of the presenters at the conference – Dr. Andreas Umland, formerly Lecturer in Russian and East European Studies at St. Antony’s College Oxford, and currently Senior Lecturer in Political Science at the National University of “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy.”

O.T.: Dr. Umland, in your conference presentation on Ukraine’s foreign policy options you were claiming that, for both the Ukrainian state and European Union, a continuation of Kyiv’s rapprochement with Brussels is exceptionally significant. Why is it that the EU has such a special relevance for Ukraine?

A.U.: The rapprochement between the EU and Ukraine has, at least, four important dimensions touching upon a variety of domestic and foreign policy issues. First, Ukraine is so far an internationally relatively isolated country. While it is a member of such organizations as the UN, Council of Europe, OSCE or WTO, it remains outside the major economic and security blocs of the Earth’s northern hemisphere. Against this background, every new step in the rapprochement with the EU would be beneficial. It would lead to an informal “securitization” and gradual de facto – if not yet a de jure – anchoring of Ukraine within the emerging trans-European political system. The current under-institutionalization of Ukraine’s links to the outside world should be constantly diminished – even if that, for the time being, can only happen via relatively small steps. What is needed, in the near future, are as many as possible low and medium level agreements with the EU and its member states that would deepen step by step Ukraine’s embeddedness in all-European structures. In the long run, this process should lead to a full membership of Ukraine in the EU as well as – if the Ukrainian political elites should wish so – in NATO.

O.T.: But Ukraine has last year deleted NATO membership from its official foreign policy aspirations!

A.U.: One could speculate that, by the time Ukraine enters the EU, a NATO membership would not be that important any more. That is because, in the coming years, the EU will, presumably, evolve further into a quasi-federation, i.e. a sort of semi-state. Most probably, European integration will deepen meaning that the EU becomes a full-scale defense community that would, even more explicitly than today, provide security guarantees to its member states (the Lisbon Treaty has a “Solidarity Clause” already). In any way, most EU members are NATO members, and the majority of NATO countries are also in the EU.

O.T.: Is this the only benefit that integration with the EU would have for Ukraine?

A.U.: No, I would say that a second, domestic effect of this process could be as important. Deepening cooperation with Europe could, even before attaining membership in the EU, send important signals or even provide critical impulses concerning the course, conduct and speed of future reforms, in Ukraine. It is universally acknowledged that Ukraine needs to fundamentally change its political, administrative, economic, social and educational system. However, the question of which socio-economic model exactly Ukraine should embrace remains a matter of dispute and source of stagnation. The confusion about what exact model to follow sometimes undermines the design, instigation and implementation of reforms. For various Ukrainian political forces, not only the European model, but also the US, Soviet, Russian, Belarusian, Chinese, Singapore or other models are of interest.

O.T.: Any ideas which model fits us best?

A.U.: It is difficult to judge which models are the best, in general, and which are most appropriate for Ukraine, in particular. All models have their pluses and minuses. Often the main problem seems to be not which exact model to choose, but whether or not a model is chosen and implemented, at all. As so often in life, it is less important which choice we make. It is more urgent to actually choose and then follow through with realizing one’s choice. Ukraine is in dire straits today and needs, above all, to act. Passivity is more dangerous than action. An increasing rapprochement between Kyiv and Brussels will mean that the European model may gradually become the dominant one. This will hopefully reduce time, costs and energy in the process of designing, initiating and completing urgently needed reforms. The European Union has fairly detailed prescriptions of what countries have to do to further integrate their economies with Europe’s. Such concrete prescriptions may be what Ukraine today needs most. We have seen enough political quarreling, heard too many semi-academic discussions, and observed sufficient “multivectoralism.” Many years and opportunities have been lost. Time has come to go forward.

O.T.: Hasn’t the EU played such a guiding role in East-Central Europe, in the last 20 years?

A.U.: Yes, that is exactly the point! In the early 1990s, a number of prominent political scientists were initially doubtful concerning the chances of a quick and successful transformation of the post-communist countries. Such skepticism was grounded on the so-called “simultaneity problem.” What this meant was that the post-communist countries were confronted with far more demanding challenges than earlier democratizing nations in Latin America or Southern Europe. Unlike the latter states, the post-communist countries had not only to democratize – a task difficult enough by itself. They simultaneously had also to marketize their economies and to convert themselves from Soviet colonies into independent nation states. The simultaneity of these processes that often contradicted each other was a major problem leading prominent commentators to give pessimistic forecasts concerning the post-communist transformations. Surprisingly, most of the post-communist countries were, notwithstanding, remarkably successful, in their transitions from dictatorship to democracy.

O.T.: So, was this success a result of the EU policies in this geographical area?

A.U.: Seemingly so! The EU membership perspective, in a way, compensated for the “simultaneity problem.” While these countries faced daunting domestic challenges, they received at the same time forceful ideological and practical support, in their transformation attempts, from outside. It needs to be said though that, in the East-Central European and Baltic countries, there were also strong internal factors, among them usable pre-communist traditions, which greatly facilitated a successful transition. For the cases of Bulgaria and Romania, however, the pull of the EU may have been a (if not the) crucial determinant of these countries’ finally successful transitions. All of the East-Central European countries were offered early the prospect of membership in the EU. They reformed themselves, against this background, with more or less strong determination and relatively high speed. Eventually, they became members of the Union. Those countries, in contrast, that were not offered a membership perspective, as for example Ukraine, are still in the grey zone between modern democracy and post-totalitarian autocracy. In these countries, the “simultaneity problem” has, as predicted by political scientists, more or less deeply corrupted the democratization and liberalization attempts, so far.