Symposiuim: "After Vilnius: Which Way for Ukraine?"

In cooperation with the European Union Centre of Excellence, the CPRS sponsored a symposium entitled "After Vilnius: Which Way for Ukraine?" in the wake of the postponement of the Association Agreement being signed between the EU and Ukraine. Sharing their thoughts were three Britons: Amanda Paul, European Policy Centre, Brussels, Belgium; Taras Kuzio, Research Associate, CPRS; and Bohdan Nahajlo, ex-UN official turned independent scholar and veteran Ukraine watcher. Joining the conversation by Skype from Kyiv was Olexiy Haran of the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. Discussant was Dr. Lori Thorlakson, Director of the EU Centre of Excellence on campus.

13 February 2014

10 February 2014—President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to postpone the signing of an association agreement with the European Union at the Vilnius summit in November 2013 has resulted in an unprecedented crisis in Ukraine that is far from being resolved months later. To analyze the current crisis and forecast its likely aftermath, the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies (CIUS) at the University of Alberta invited several prominent political experts to participate in a symposium titled "After Vilnius: Which Way for Ukraine?" (held on 30 January 2014).

Olexiy Haran, professor of political science at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy National University and a well-known commentator on Ukrainian political issues, joined the symposium proceedings from Kyiv via Skype. Observing the crisis at its epicentre, he offered insightful comments on the "very dynamic" situation and put forward several possible scenarios for its development. Professor Haran described the crisis as a "war" waged by the regime against the people of Ukraine, with a number of "lines" already crossed (most significantly, the deaths of several protesters). Among the likely scenarios, he discussed a possible return to the 2004 Constitution, which would shift the balance of political power from president to parliament, the likely ousting of Yanukovych, the liberation of Yuliia Tymoshenko, and a new configuration of power in Ukraine. "It is clear that if Yanukovych is ousted, then Tymoshenko would be free. But if he remains in power, then it is very difficult to imagine such a concession [on his part]." Professor Haran continued: "I would say that we are coming back to the Constitution of 2004." He then discussed the possibility of opposition leaders, such as Tymoshenko, Vitalii Klychko, Arsenii Yatseniuk, Oleh Tiahnybok, and Petro Poroshenko taking top offices in a new government and in the Ukrainian Parliament. But it is too soon to discuss the details of such a new power
Amanda Paul, a British national who works as a policy analyst and programme executive at the European Policy Centre in Brussels (Belgium), spoke on "The Rubik’s Cube of EU-Ukraine Relations." After discussing the twists and turns of Ukraine’s current relationship with the EU and the outlook after the next presidential election, scheduled for 2015, she concluded that "we are heading towards another twist in the EU-Ukraine story, although what this will actually look like will only be clear when the events that continue to unfold in Ukraine come to a close." Indeed, "this could be days, weeks, months, or even a year." At the moment, it seems unlikely that Yanukovych will manage to remain in office until the 2015 election. With Kyiv still in flames, the protests have not only spread to western and central Ukraine but have also awoken the east, Yanukovych’s traditional stronghold, with thousands of people taking to the streets demanding change. Yanukovych will try to cling to power, using his network of cronies and support from Russia, as long as possible. According to Amanda Paul, if Yanukovych should somehow be reelected, then it is likely that relations with the EU will remain in limbo. There is nothing more that the EU can accomplish with him. Ms. Paul assumes that "the opposition will win the elections, and any attempt by Yanukovych and his cronies to falsify them would bring supporters back to the streets. At this point, but also in the event that Yanukovych fails to hold on to power, the EU needs to be ready with a strategy to support Ukraine both politically and economically and to meet the expectations of the millions of Ukrainians who have been out in the streets, enduring violence and worse, to demand a better future. The EU, which remains a symbol of democracy and freedom, has a responsibility to act. Ukrainians are fighting under the EU flag, and this crisis was sparked as a result of EU integration."

However, any tactical moves on the part of the EU must be accompanied by a long-term strategy "to meet the expectations of Ukrainians." Considering the severity of the current crisis, Amanda Paul doubts that Ukrainians "would be satisfied with the Association Agreement without membership perspective." She concluded that "if the EU fails to react adequately to what we are seeing in Ukraine, the future of democracy in the entire region is in serious jeopardy, as will be the EU’s credibility both as a flag-bearer of democratic values and as a foreign-policy actor." Taras Kuzio, a research associate of the Centre for Political and Regional Studies (CIUS) and a Fellow of the School of Advanced International Studies (Johns Hopkins University, Washington, D.C.) spoke on the topic "Why the EU’s Ukraine Policy Was Never a Policy, and the Way Forward."

Dr. Kuzio examined Yanukovych’s decision to exit negotiations with the EU, as well as Russia’s action and the EU’s inaction before the Vilnius summit, and their reactions during the current crisis. He also considered how the crisis might be resolved. Dr. Kuzio discussed Yanukovych’s "weak allegiance" to "European values," which grew out of his plans to secure reelection in 2015, emphasized the role of Russian political and economic factors, and pointed out the EU leaders’ "fundamental misunderstanding" of Yanukovych’s true goals (accumulation of wealth; monopoly and preservation of power) and his "strategic calculations." To accomplish his goals, the president resorted to manipulating the corrupt parliament, regional administrations, the legal system, the police force, and hired thugs, which produced a country-wide opposition movement, growing violence, and bloodshed. According to Dr. Kuzio, Russia promised Yanukovych loans and support in the 2015 elections in exchange for a gas consortium and Ukraine’s entry into the CIS Customs Union. The question is whether Yanukovych can deliver on his promises. After all, this president lacks many features and resources of other "successful" authoritarian rulers, such as Putin, Lukashenka, Nazarbayev, and Aliyev. Moreover, Yanukovych has managed to do what the "Orange Revolution" seemingly failed to achieve—unite Ukrainians in various parts of the country against his rule. There is also strong pressure on his regime from abroad in the form of targeted sanctions imposed by the USA and Canada. As for the EU, it is "typically dragging its heels because of indecisiveness, poor leadership, divisions among members, and commercial interests." In Dr. Kuzio’s opinion, Yanukovych is finished as president, although the details of his political collapse are not yet apparent. "I think that…the opposition will come to power," concluded Dr. Kuzio. "But, unfortunately, it will be through bloodshed."

Bohdan Nahaylo, a British-born writer and specialist on the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, delivered the final presentation of the symposium, "The Debacle in Vilnius: A Turning Point for Ukraine and Europe." He began by calling for a minute of silence commemorating those killed during the attacks on protesters in Kyiv. According to the expert, Yanukovych’s abrupt decision not to sign the association agreement with the EU was a major turning point in relations within the Ukraine-EU-Russia triangle. For the EU, it was a humbling experience and a reality check on the prospects of its "Eastern Partnership" policy. The EU was not prepared for Russia’s aggressive assertion of its interests in the region. Resistance in Ukraine and the need to react quickly and efficiently put the EU into a quandary. As for Ukraine, the ensuing political crisis was the worst since the country’s attainment of independence (1991). Once again, such values as sovereignty, self-determination, and democracy, now associated with a united Europe, were in danger, and people felt that they had been deprived of Yanukovych’s promised rapprochement with Europe. Had that course been followed, many of the current protesters would have been prepared to tolerate the Yanukovych government. But the drastic change of course created a state of shock, triggering protests by social activists and students, then taking the form of broad resistance and defiance, and finally assuming the character of a popular revolution that spread quickly throughout many regions of Ukraine. It is very difficult to predict further developments and their final outcome, but certainly "Ukraine will never be the same." The Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies continues to monitor and analyze the situation in Ukraine and will provide complete and timely information to all interested parties, first and foremost to the Ukrainian-Canadian community.