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A new 'eastern question'

01 January 2005

Events in Ukraine tell three stories that, woven together, reflect the changes occurring in Europe and pose a new ‘Eastern question’.
The first story relates the birth of a revitalised Ukraine. The two candidates in the elections, Viktor Yushchenko and Viktor Yanukovych, in themselves do not signal this birth – but 17 days of peaceful demonstrations in Kyiv and other cities do, as does the decision of the Ukrainian Supreme Court to call for a new second round on 26 December. No matter the outcome of the second round – and one can expect further twists and turns before (this piece was written before 26 December) a new president is inaugurated – the ‘Orange Revolution’ signals a deep change, one of quality rather than quantity. As a result of a triumphant exercise in people’s democracy, the paradigm of politics in Ukraine is different. At the most basic level, Ukraine has finally realised its independence. The dignity and pride manifested since November could not contrast more with the tarnished politics of the Kuchma era. One should not be lured into thinking that the scale of political and economic problems facing Ukraine has lessened, or that the country is any less divided in orientation. Still, a great European country is back.
The second tale has Russia for protagonist. After the Soviet collapse, Moscow declared that the former Soviet Union constituted its ‘sphere of vital interest,’ where Russia had special responsibilities and rights. One of these was Moscow’s desire to be the main gateway for international organisations and external states in the region. Another was to ensure that the new states on Russia’s borders were ‘friendly’ – insomuch as they did not pursue an anti-Russian agenda. On both accounts, Russia’s self-declared responsibilities have been curtailed. After 11 September, the United States set up bases in Central Asia and launched a military programme in Georgia. 2003 saw the ‘Rose Revolution’ in Georgia, the failure of Russia’s proposal to settle the Moldovan conflict (with the so-called ‘Kozak Memorandum’), and greater EU engagement throughout the region – a difficult year. 2004 has been worse: it will be remembered as that of Ukraine, which saw Russia and the EU adopting sometimes opposite views on the nature of crisis and its solution. The post-Soviet ‘space’ has shattered, and Moscow has difficulty accepting that there are new orbits to which the former Soviet republics gravitate.
The third tale features the rise of a new EU. Enlargement in May brought new member states into the Union with new interests and priorities. It has also led the EU physically into the former Soviet Union. All of this occurred concurrently with the rise of the Union as a more confident foreign policy actor, as witnessed in the European Security Strategy and the deployment of the first ESDP operations. The launch of the European Neighbourhood Policy reflects the interweaving of these two strategic trends. The mediating role played by Javier Solana, Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski and Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus was physical embodiment of the new EU that has emerged, confident of its interests and values and willing to act on them. Far from weakening it, enlargement has strengthened CFSP.
The implications of events in Ukraine are also threefold. First, the contest was never as simple as it was portrayed – Viktor Yanukovych was never Russia’s man, nor is Viktor Yushchenko anti-Russian. However, the election of a new Ukrainian president, who will seek to undertake EU-orientated reform, will resound throughout the former Soviet Union. Much more than Georgia, a new pole of attraction and inspiration will emerge in a region that is in desperate need of one. Second, the need for Russia and the EU to draft principles of cooperation in the shared neighbourhood and the common external security ‘space’ is all the more pressing. Linked with this is a third implication, which concerns the institutional architecture of European security. While NATO priorities are increasingly global and the EU is becoming Europe’s peacekeeper, the OSCE has emerged as the forum where differences over European security, especially between Russia and members of the Euro-Atlantic community, are played out. For the second year in a row, the OSCE ministerial failed to produce an agreed final statement.
What does this mean for the EU? The challenge is twofold. First, the Union must follow through on its pledge to support as much as possible Ukraine’s transformation along EU lines. This requires not only financial support but, perhaps more importantly, a commitment of time and energy. Second, there is the fundamental question of where the future borders of the EU lie. There is no need for the EU to answer now the question of future Ukrainian accession; this is far-off, and will occur ostensibly after the Turkish question is answered finally. However, Ukraine does pose a new Eastern question. The EU should continue to answer that the horizon is open.