Portcullis House, London

Portcullis House, House of Commons, London, was the venue for a Round Table discussion on the Ukrainian Presidential Elections of 2010.  The event, which took place on the 8 March, was hosted by the Chair of the British Ukrainian Society, Richard Spring MP, together with the Aston Centre for Europe and the Jean Monnet Wider Europe Network.

Focusing on the significance of the presidential elections, the seminar sought to discuss the implications of Viktor Yanukovych's marginal victory  vis-a-vis Ukraine's prospects for European integration. It also explored the impact of the seemingly ever present economic crisis in Ukraine and asked whether we, as observers in the diaspora, are suffering from a phenomenon known as "Ukraine fatigue"?

The panel:

• Charles Grant, Chair, former defence editor of The Economist and current director of the Centre for European Reform, a think-tank dedicated to researching the political, economic and social challenges facing Europe.
• Nathaniel Copsey, representative from the Aston Centre for Europe, a research facility dedicated to examining Eastern and Western European policy, as well as being the co-founder of the Jean Monnet Wider Europe Network, a collaborative but policy-orientated network of academics dedicated to the European Neighbourhood Policy.
• Andrew Wilson, the Senior Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, the first pan-European think-tank dedicated to researching the development of a European values based foreign policy.
• Kamen Zahariev, director of Corporate Recovery at the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, a financial institution that supports and invests primarily in private sector clients, fostering transition towards open and democratic market economies.
• Professor Alan Mayhew from the Sussex European Institute, a postgraduate training centre on contemporary European issues.

Nathaniel Copsey offered a general overview of the Presidential Elections.  He described how Ukraine was a hyper-pluralist and fragile democratic state, polarised more so after Yushchenko's failed presidency. He reasoned that the election was merely a voting-out; a negative rather than positive experience for the Ukrainian people.  To support his argument he noted that the number of voters voting against all candidates had doubled in comparison to the 2004 election results. He also highlighted that the election results were the closest yet, with both Yanukovych and Tymoshenko failing to secure more than 50% of the votes cast by 69% of the voting population.   This was a clear indication of the current fragility and political instability in Ukraine.  He closed his statement by saying that Tymoshenko had failed to win the vote of Ukrainians simply due to incumbency.

Andrew Wilson sought to discuss the "Ukraine-fatigue" phenomenon (academic boredom if Ukraine failed to produce an agreed upon Parliament) and the implications that this would create domestically and in the diaspora. Mr Wilson pessimistically believed that this phenomenon would create a political crisis within six to nine months.  Ukraine's only options are either coalition or new parliamentary elections. However, Mr Wilson expressed the view that support for the main parties would be drastically reduced if new parliamentary elections were to take place.  Like Copsey, Wilson pointed out that the figure of those voting against all candidates had doubled.  Any new parliamentary elections would be the equivalent of opening a Pandora's ominous act which could see extremist parties coming to the surface. Most controversially, perhaps, Mr Wilson claimed that Viktor Yanukovych is to Ukraine what Kwasniewski was to Poland; the route to European accession.  Unlike Yushchenko, Yanukovych is likely to make small, yet crucial steps as noted in his most recent visit to Brussels. However, in playing his own devil's advocate, he also noted that the era of Euro-Romanticism within Ukrainian politics appears to have been exhausted.  This is exemplified by Yanukovych's lateral agreement on an East-European Customs Union with Russia, Kazakhstan etc. Nevertheless, Mr Wilson ended on a positive note, mentioning that Ukraine's isolationist outlook means that Yanukovych currently appears to be following a ‘Ukraine first’ policy rather than allowing the strengths of foreign forces to dictate terms.

Kamen Zahariev provided a very thorough financial and economic analysis.He began by saying that the economic problems within Ukraine are the culmination of decades of oversight and that a policy of consolidating political power has historically taken priority over economic and financial stability. This was evident within many sectors; the pension deficit (the largest in the world), gas and electricity bills (not paying for all services received), lack of tax reform and so forth.  All of these were contributing to Ukraine's mounting pyramid of domestic debt. On a positive note Zahariev claimed that there were enough reserves to cover sovereign debt.  In addition, he stated that unlike government budget deficits, the legacy left by Tymoshenko, private business and corporate debt was drastically decreasing, noting how bank-to-bank debt had decreased by 15%.  Although, he was adamant that Ukraine must err on the side of caution, for without foreign reserves, when financial obligation (internationally) is added to the equation the situation is alarmingly dire. Nevertheless to reverse the situation would require the IMF to resume lending.  This, he said, was the key economic question over the next twelve to eighteen months.  Will the IMF honour its promise, that lending would restart if Ukraine was able to maintain political stability? This in itself would also produce secondary effects, such as the unblocking of EU stipulations. Furthermore, it would send a signal to the economic market that Ukraine was back in business. Zahariev closed with his speech by commenting on the potential candidates for the next Minister of Finance; Mykola Azarov or Serhiy Tyhipko.  Thelatter, according to Zahariev, would offer a more sophisticated style of economics to Ukraine.

Andrew Mayhew discussed Ukraine's economic transition and political integration into the European Union. He began by stating that Ukraine could not simultaneously hold a Customs Union with Russia and other Eastern European states and a separate Trade Treaty with the European Union.  These are simply not compatible. He recognised that the political dialogue now, unlike five years ago for the EU is the polar opposite.  What was once a policy of integration has rapidly turned to one of containment. This is what makes Ukraine's Association Agreement vastly more complicated than the Accession Agreement of its neighbours, for whilst negotiations may lead to the opening up of community programmes and markets it does not necessarily equate to fast track entrance into the EU.  Mayhew firmly believed that Ukraine would not gain entrance to the EU within the next decade because the EU needs to concentrate on rebuilding its own internal markets. Accession will therefore be difficult for although Ukraine's market requires modernising, the EU's very vocal stance, which stands contrary to the Lisbon Treaty, makes intention of implementation probable. Mayhew noted that whilst the civil servants are excellent negotiators, Ukraine lacks ownership from atop, with senior government officials failing also to take an interest. This lack of senior official ownership coupled with little knowledge or care from those who would be affected (namely corporate businesses) that reduces Ukraine's prospects to EU accession. One area that Mayhew focussed on in particular was the the prospect of visa freedom - something he believes to be attainable in the short term, particularly if the road map in piloting countries (eg. Serbia) proves to be advantageous.  If so it is likely that a similar process would follow in very soon in Ukraine.  Western borders would be opened up allowing the masses to freely travel, once again, to Poland. In his closing remarks Mayhew said that Ukraine was making good progress.  This was already evident in the signed Energy and Aviation Treaties. However, whilst the EU requires stability and reliability, Ukraine requires the possibility of accession.  The absence of a clear declaration to this effect is clouding the judgments of officials.

A question and answer session followed and the event was brought to a conclusion by Richard Spring MP.

In conclusion it was clear that the Ukrainian Presidential Elections and their significance, domestically as well as internationally (originally described by one American journalist as the "unknown-unknown”) had now become a "known-unknown".

Whilst academics may theorise as to what Ukraine needs, the debate about how these goals may be achieved remains somewhat unclear, particularly whilst a politically fragile Ukraine is in the throes of transition and uncertainty. 

Contrary to the opinions expressed at the Round Table, Ukraine-fatigue has not yet set in.  In actual fact the opposite may be true:  Ukraine-fever is spreading, with academics and practitioners actively seeking to explore and hypothesize what Ukraine's new political era will produce.  

Myroslava Matwijiwskyj

Ukrayinska Dumka


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