On April 28, a presidential decree was issued entitled On the Strategy for Economic and Social Development of Ukraine “Through the Path of European Integration between 2004-2015.” Such grandiose programs are nothing new in Ukrainian foreign policy and reflect the deep seated Soviet political culture of its current ruling elites, who possess a preference for programs modeled on never attained Soviet five year plans. It is not clear, for example, how the new program inter-relates to the December 13 decree “On the State Program on Questions of European and Euro-Atlantic Integration of Ukraine between 2004-2007”.
On January 30, 2003, a decree created and outlined “The aims and objectives of the State Council for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration of Ukraine.” This body was established to coordinate state institutions toward the goal of EU and NATO membership. In reality, it merely duplicates the National Security and Defense Council.
These various steps would be welcomed by Western governments if they were but backed up by domestic policies that promoted democratization. In reality, despite their grandiose titles, these decrees, according to a high ranking Ukrainian foreign policy maker, mean very little because: “Nobody in the West believes such pronouncements and no one in Ukraine does either.”
This should come as no surprise. A huge gap between official statements and reality has grown during President Leonid Kuchma’s second term in office.
On November 29, 2003, a decree “On Steps to Improve the Effectiveness of Foreign Policy Activity of the State,” without prior consultation, placed the Foreign Ministry under the direct supervision of the Presidential Administration. It is unclear what role the State Council for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration of Ukraine has if the Foreign Ministry is directly subordinated to the executive.
The impossibility of the Presidential Administration fulfilling the tasks assigned to it in these four decrees (January, November and December of 2003, as well as April 2004) are evident from the foreign policy orientations of the Presidential Administration. The head of the administration, Viktor Medvedchuk, heads the most pro-Russian “party of power” in Ukraine (Social Democratic Party united [SDPU-o]).
The SDPU-o is the “party of power” most threatened by the transition to the post-Kuchma era and a possible victory by Viktor Yushchenko in this year’s October presidential elections. Medvedchuk has used his position as head of the Presidential Administration to attack Our Ukraine, making use of violent and even brazenly illegal methods.
Medvedchuk himself would never be able to undertake his undemocratic actions without Kuchma’s sanction. This, in turn, suggests a degree of deception directed at Ukrainian citizens and Ukraine’s foreign partners alike, one that reaches to the highest levels of political power in Ukraine (Kuchma-Medvedchuk). Yet, Kuchma has always refused to take responsibility for his actions, a trait he has inherited from Soviet leaders. In reality, he has to accept the personal blame for Ukraine’s failures in Euro-Atlantic integration.
Blame though, is only half of the problem. Ukrainian commentators and policy makers are increasingly pointing to a fully fledged conspiracy within the executive aimed against Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic drive.
Yushchenko lambasted Kuchma’s record when he pointed to various undemocratic antics undertaken by the Presidential Administration, such as election rigging. These antics are often undertaken on the eve of visits to Ukraine by high ranking U.S., NATO or EU officials. “This gives reasons to believe that there is a group among this country’s top leadership that openly seeks to make impossible even the slightest progress in Ukraine’s European integration bid,” Yushchenko alleged.
These four decrees in favor of Euro-Atlantic integration therefore mask the real aims of Ukraine’s foreign policy under Kuchma. The latest decree (April 28) was issued solely for the purpose of deflecting domestic and international criticism of Ukraine’s signing, on April 20, of the CIS United Economic Space with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
Domestic and international criticism has centered on two issues. First is the perception it promotes that Ukraine sees its future in Eurasia – not in Europe.
Secondly, if Ukraine is serious in its aim of Euro-Atlantic integration, then it can only go as far as step one in the CIS United Economic Space (Free Trade Zone). Steps two and three (Customs and Monetary Union), which are supported by the other three countries who signed up, would rule out future EU integration.
Kuchma has attempted to get around this conundrum by differentiating between the “tactical” purpose of the CIS United Economic Space and the “strategic” goal of Euro-Atlantic integration. That there is a “tactical” purpose is undoubtedly true. But, this has less to do with foreign than with domestic policies.
The CIS United Economic Space is a political project aimed at boosting the pro-Kuchma camp’s candidate, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, head of the Donbas “party of power” (Party of Regions). This “tactic” would seek to replicate Kuchma’s successful victory in the second round of the 1994 presidential elections when he defeated incumbent Leonid Kravchuk by appealing to pro-Russian sentiment in eastern Ukraine.
Our Ukraine, which failed to cross the 4 percent threshold in the 2002 parliamentary elections in the two Donbas oblasts, is relatively weak in eastern Ukraine. The SDPU-o and Communists have aggressively promoted Soviet-style denunciations of Yushchenko and Our Ukraine in eastern Ukraine, depicting them as “Nashists” (a play on “Nasha Ukrayina” and resembling “Nazis”).
Meanwhile, characterizing Euro-Atlantic integration as a “strategic” objective in the long term (NATO no sooner than 2015 and the EU even further into the future) merely masks Kuchma-Medvedchuk’s lack of interest in this goal.