The fear of uncertainty. The inability to know about tomorrow sows panic and chaos. Ukraine, as a state with unstable democratic institutions, faces the risk of a change, of course, every time along with a change of power. And there is a topical question: what will be the international policy of the country after the presidential election?
Time to decide
A rapid change in the foreign policy vector is unlikely in any result. After all, the state is a ship that sails in a previously defined course. And if you start to change the course sharply, pulling the steering wheel, you can damage the ship or sink it. Despite the fact that under the Constitution the foreign policy is in the sphere of presidential powers, the Verkhovna Rada (we will re-elect it in the fall) is unlikely to allow sharp movements.
Thus, the head of the faction People’s Front Maksym Burbak stated the immutability of the foreign policy, regardless of the election results, from the parliamentary rostrum between the first and second rounds of the presidential race. The final decision on any peace agreements with the Russian Federation, he said, will be taken by the Verkhovna Rada. However, Mr. Burbak emphasized the principle of the People’s Front – not to turn off the course of joining the EU and NATO, not to sign the capitulate agreements with Putin, including ‘federalization’, not to abandon Crimea. The people’s deputy reminded: the war in the East goes on, the destabilization in the country is beneficial to the enemy.
And if Petro Poroshenko in case of his repeated victory is unlikely to change the pro-Western course – the state ship will slowly keep moving towards the EU and NATO, it is likely that the presidency of Volodymyr Zelensky will cause a feeling of uncertainty and anxiety in a part of the Ukrainian society. Some of the experts interviewed by Opinion assured that they are not ready to predict the further course of events.
“I would suggest not to get ahead of ourselves, but to wait until April 21, when the people of Ukraine make their choice and determine the next President,” Oksana Yurynets, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Regional and Cross-Border Cooperation between Ukraine and the EU Countries of the Committee of the Verkhovna Rada on Issues of European Integration said. “In case of a victory of one of the candidates, there are threats of descent from the foreign policy course, judging by statements voiced by his pre-election staff. But, first, we have clearly enshrined our vector of movement to NATO and the EU in the Constitution, and secondly, we have a parliamentary-presidential country, and many decisions in this direction lie precisely on the Verkhovna Rada.”
It is not easy to understand the foreign policy orientation of Mr. Zelensky, who is credited with predominantly pro-Kremlin views. The doubts were somewhat dispelled by the statements of his team members about the first ten decisions in case of the election of their candidate as the President. However, later the representatives of this team noted that the published decisions are “selective and shallow extracts” made by journalists. The announced moves enlist the invitation of the US and the UK to participate in the negotiations in the ‘Norman format’. Zelensky’s team seems to be preparing the visits of the French presidents Emmanuel Macron and the US president Donald Trump and the Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel. Zelensky is ready for the direct negotiations with the Russian Federation with the participation of international partners, and will not negotiate with the militants of the DNR and LNR.
“The Norman and Minsk formats clearly need transformation,” Oksana Yurynets believes. “However, unfortunately, we have no other format of communication with the aggressor. It is necessary to involve stronger allies, such as the United States, in the negotiations, but we have no right to completely abandon communication with Russia. Because there are dozens of the Ukrainian citizens in captivity in their prisons, and it is for them that we must conduct this dialogue.”
“The classic direct dialogue between Russia and Ukraine is hardly possible because the forces of our states are unequal,” Yevhen Mahda, the director of the Institute of World Politics, said. “Plus, Russia has considerable experience in manipulating the Ukrainian political elite, so it seems the multilateral format with the guarantors of the implementation of the agreements is the best.”
Who does the West support?
The US Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker said that the United States will cooperate with any president, regardless of who wins the duel. The representative of the European Commission Katarina Mathernova assured that the Commission is also ready to cooperate with any winner of the election. The Western partners are traditionally tolerant when it comes to the right to choice of the Ukrainian people.
“This is a standard formula, as the representatives of all democratic countries say, and it is right,” Volodymyr Ohryzko, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine (2007-2009), told. “If the election is democratic, a new president or head of government in parliamentary countries is elected, there is no reason not to recognize this choice and not to cooperate with the newly elected leader. It only confirms that the elections are free, fair and democratic. Who don’t they recognize? They do not recognize dictators and totalitarian rulers.”
Mr. Ohryzko has no doubts about the continuation of the foreign policy by Petro Poroshenko. But the ex-minister refrained from the predictions of Zelensky’s actions in the international direction.
“It is naive to believe that the US or the EU will directly support someone,” Yevhenii Mahda stated. “However, Kurt Volker noted that Petro Poroshenko has done more than other Ukrainian presidents. But any civilized country would respect the choice of the Ukrainians. The risks are obvious: the President forms foreign policy, and even a careless word or statement may cause movement towards reducing the EU sanctions for Russia because certain circles within the European Union have long been in favor of this.”
It will be difficult
For an effective foreign policy, the President needs a team of professionals, understanding of the importance of priorities. The issue of economic sanctions and European values (democracy, human rights, protection of minorities) is in the first place. It is necessary to look for a common language with the Western neighbors – Poles, Hungarians, Romanians. The movement towards the EU and NATO is a painful topic. In any case, a miracle should not be expected.
“We should get rid of illusions: there will be no rapid progress to NATO and the EU under any President, European and Euro-Atlantic integration is a difficult job of performing a number of tasks,” Yevhenii Mahda say. “The consolidation of this direction of movement in the Constitution is important, but the desire must be filled with the real content. The practice has shown that Zelensky does not understand the algorithm of the European integration, and he relies on a referendum in the matter of joining NATO, although it would make more sense to talk about a consistent movement towards rapprochement with the Alliance. A referendum on NATO membership is a favorite theme of Russia.”
We should not be afraid of a possible change in the foreign policy of Ukraine, because the principles of foreign policy are determined by the Verkhovna Rada and are binding for the President. This is the opinion of the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to the Kyrgyz Republic (2015-2017) Mykola Doroshenko. Success is possible under the condition of deep economic reforms, ensuring accountable use of budgetary funds, withdrawal of almost half of the Ukrainian economy from the ‘gray zone’, transition to a transparent system of taxation and social protection, establishment of the rule of law and acquirement of true independence by the judicial branch, strengthening the institutions of Western pluralistic democracy with free and impartial media.
“The European and Euro-Atlantic course is not a choice between two military-political blocs or free trade zones, but a choice between values,” Mr. Doroshenko continued. “Ukrainians do not want to live in an autocratic, militarized country saturated with corruption and administrative resources. And Russia is associated with such a system of values. For an ordinary Ukrainian, a sense of post-imperial greatness cannot replace the freedom of movement in United Europe, the free movement of goods and capital, and the scope for entrepreneurship. Therefore, in fact, for Ukraine, there is no choice between Russia and Europe. It has long been consciously made in favor of European values. And whoever holds the presidency will not be able to move in a different coordinate system.”
Only a strong state with a competitive economy can get into the EU and NATO. Cooperation with international financial organizations should not be discounted. Are they ready to borrow money in the future?
“In order to refuse to cooperate with international financial institutions and at the same time continue to maintain financial stability in the country, a huge injection of investment resources is needed,” Oleh Ustenko, the executive director of the international Bleyzer Fund, stressed. “This is unlikely to happen in the short term. Perhaps in the course of the year. Therefore, even in the case of a change of power, I do not believe that it is possible to stop cooperation with the IMF. But I believe that if the government changes, the parameters of this cooperation will be discussed. And the stand-by program will be revised because it is still not running. The parameters of monetization of subsidies are violated, with an increase in social payments and anti-corruption struggle. If there is no program with the IMF, there will be no program with the World Bank. If there is a program with the IMF, there will be a program with other international financial institutions.”
Only to Europe!
Opinion asked the famous Ukrainians whether our state will be able to keep the movement in the Western direction.
Maksym Rozumnyi, Doctor of political sciences:
“There are no strong prerequisites for putting the issue of joining NATO or the EU into the practical plane. This is due to both the status of Ukraine and the policies of these associations at this stage. Therefore, we can only talk about steps closer to the EU and NATO – the introduction of appropriate standards, the establishment of permanent communications, strengthening mutual trust. In this context, the second term of Poroshenko’s presidency would be a more favorable political decision, since it would mean the predictability of the Ukrainian policy for external partners, as well as provide a high professional level of management of the state’s foreign policy. If this policy becomes the subject of political experiments and populist decisions, we risk falling out of the sphere of geopolitical priorities of Europe and America.”
Sofiia Maidanska, writer:
“If the presidential candidate allows himself to vilify Ukraine, the Ukrainian language, the Ukrainian national culture, traditions, the Ukrainian nation in his Evening Quarter 95 – it is obvious that in case of his victory in the elections, he will be the first to open the ‘Golden gate’ of Kyiv before Putin and, as promised, kneel before him and try to give all of us as a pulp together with the whole Ukraine instead of kalach on embroidered towel… If this would happen, then Ukraine will not be able to maintain and strengthen the movement in the European and Euro-Atlantic direction in the near future. Then there will be no more Rose or Orange Revolutions, but a long, tough armed confrontation will begin, the new victorious Battle of Zhovti Vody, because not only we but most members of the North Atlantic Alliance are already tired of the fact that Kremlin keeps letting the ‘Russian hounds’ out of their fence yelling “Fetch!” and then deny them… I believe in the only way defined by our president Petro Poroshenko, inscribed in blood on the age-old tablets of history, that the Prince Volodymyr the Great defined for us, choosing the movement to civilizational development – to Europe, choosing the Christian Faith under the omophorion of the Mother Church of Constantinople and the triune state emblem – Trident.”
Tamara Martseniuk, candidate of sociological sciences, associate professor of the sociology department of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy:
“I want to have hope that Ukraine will continue to move towards ensuring equal rights and opportunities and human rights in general. In recent years, more attention has been drawn to gender-based violence and it would be very good to finally ratify the Istanbul Convention (the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence), which is our responsibility before the European community. It is very important that Ukraine continues to be one of the post-Soviet leaders in combating gender-based violence.”