Is the West Turning Away from ‘Euro-Atlantic’ Integration of Ukraine?

February 12, 2013
James George Jatras Deputy Director, AIU

For two decades it has been a point of dogma for the “Euro-Atlantic” elite on both sides of the ocean that integration of former communist states – sometimes including Russia, sometimes pointedly excluding her – is the one and only path open to them through unconditional adoption of the western political, economic, legal, and social model, culminating in membership in the two Euro-Atlantic “clubs”: NATO and the European Union. The “historical inevitability” of this path has been tenaciously maintained by any correct-thinking western official or think tank analyst with a rote consistency that would make a Marxist-Leninist theoretician blush.

Then how surprising, even shocking, it is to read the following, from Policy Review, a publication of the Hoover Institution:

Without doubt, we have grossly misinterpreted the politics of Europe’s East after the fall of the Soviet Union. We were wrong to think that a wholly new political system had appeared overnight across the Eurasian landmass so different from its Soviet predecessor that even the term “post-Soviet” was misleading. We were wrong to assume that the maturation of these nascent democracies would proceed in much the same way that Western Europe developed after World War II or Central and Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall, which seemed to us in hindsight as inevitable until very recently. And, we were completely wrong in 2004 in Georgia and 2005 in Ukraine to see the Color Revolutions as the reflections of our own political imagination.

No less surprising is the identity of the author of the article (“The Post-Soviet Twilight”), where this appeared: Bruce P. Jackson, who is founder and President of the “Project on Transitional Democracies” (PTD). PTD is described as “a multi-year endeavor aimed at accelerating the pace of reform in post-1989 democracies and advancing the date for the integration of these democracies into the institutions of the Euro-Atlantic.” Prior to PTD’s founding in 2002, Jackson was, among related activities, co-founder of the now-defunct “U.S. Committee on NATO” (originally, the “U.S. Committee to Expand NATO”). A more consistent proponent of the west’s post-Cold War Drang nach Osten would be hard to find.

“Russia and Ukraine”

Jackson’s point now is almost the exact opposite of the policy Washington has doggedly pursued for two decades. Indeed, his central message relates to “the two leading states in the post-Soviet world,” Russia and Ukraine, to which he repeatedly refers in tandem, almost as if they were one compound entity. Rather than expecting Moscow and Kiev to fall into line with western dictates, he calls for recognition of the fact that western leverage over them is limited, and that they “will do what they do regardless of what the EU and the United States do or say.”

Jackson makes no suggestion that any post-Soviet state is a likely future member of NATO. With respect to the EU, there is no hint that membership in that organization is in the cards, either. He suggests that Brussels’ offer to Kiev of an Association Agreement (AA) and a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) at the Eastern Partnership Summit in November 2013 in Vilnius is likely despite the tribulations of Yulia Timoshenko, of whom he is far from complimentary:

Although it may seem churlish to point out, while Yulia Timoshenko may be no worse than her prosecutors, she is certainly not much better. The question for policy, however, is whether the release of Timoshenko, her return to politics, or even regime change in Kyiv is the most important objectives for Europe and the United States in Ukraine. . . . While Timoshenko should certainly be released, the West has other interests in Ukraine at least as important as the fate of a particular Ukrainian politician.

Jackson evidently believes the EU will abandon Timoshenko and offer Ukraine the AA/DCFTA anyway. Possibly he is right, but reading the intentions of the governments of 27 countries who would have to agree unanimously on an offer is far from easy. Even when officials of EU governments insist they do support the AA/DCFTA offer they are quick to qualify it. For example, “Europe will not dictate to Ukraine how to settle the issue” of Timoshenko and Yuriy Lutsenko, said Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite while hosting President Yanukovich in Vilnius. “The imprisonment of opposition leaders is not a worthy decision, and that's why we are addressing the authorities to recall that further delay in a decision on these politically motivated cases might result in the further protraction of the signing of the agreement.” If that’s not “dictating to Ukraine,” what is?

Misplaced optimism on Moldova

Aside from his principal focus on Russia and Ukraine, Jackson spares a few words for each of the other former Soviet states. Each one is described in gloomier terms than the last, then:

Clearly, these countries are not the wholesome children of colorful democratic revolutions. And the Orange and Rose Revolutions themselves seem far less than glorious today. It would be difficult to argue, as George Bush did in the Freedom Square speech, that democracy in these countries is inevitable and that the driving force for political change is the universal belief in individual freedom.

Even Georgia, the usual darling of Euro-Atlantic integrationists, is seen as “very much in doubt.” The only relatively bright spot Jackson sees is Moldova, which he describes as “inching along towards Europe” despite its political dysfunctionalism. But no suggestion is made that Chișinău might be in line for an AA/DCFTA offer of its own, nor is mention made of Moldova’s weak economic qualifications.

In his conclusions if not in every point of his analysis, Jackson’s “The Post-Soviet Twilight” is a remarkable and welcome note of realism coming from an unexpected direction.