Skip to main content

Why Ukraine's future lies with the EU, not Russia

By Joerg Forbrig, Special to CNN
updated 9:43 AM EST, Wed December 4, 2013
Newlyweds Mikhail and Margarita Nakonechniy kiss in front of barricades on Independence Square in a gesture of support for pro-Europe activists in Kiev, Ukraine, on Saturday, December 21. Protesters have poured into the streets of the Ukrainian capital, angered by their government's move away from the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia. Newlyweds Mikhail and Margarita Nakonechniy kiss in front of barricades on Independence Square in a gesture of support for pro-Europe activists in Kiev, Ukraine, on Saturday, December 21. Protesters have poured into the streets of the Ukrainian capital, angered by their government's move away from the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.
HIDE CAPTION
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
Ukraine protests
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
61
62
63
64
65
66
67
68
69
70
71
72
73
74
75
76
77
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • On November 21, Ukraine's government decided to suspend talks with the European Union
  • The decision has sparked the biggest protests since the 2004 Orange Revolution
  • Joerg Forbrig says President Victor Yanukovich has ignored the will of the majority
  • It is now up to the EU to engage Kiev and protesters in a national dialogue, he says

Editor's note: Joerg Forbrig is a program director and Eastern Europe expert with the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

(CNN) -- It feels like a rerun of the Orange Revolution. Similar to late 2004 when hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets to protest what they saw as a fraudulent presidential election, mass demonstrations have been taking place ever since the government in Kiev suspended an association and trade agreement with the European Union some days ago.

No less than back then, observers inside and outside the country are stunned by the civic force unleashed. Across the country, Ukrainians have been gathering for Euro Maydans, coined after the Kiev square that is the epicenter of protests now as it was then. Social networks, independent media and street talk are again abuzz with minute-by-minute news, appeals for nonviolence, help offered to protesters and humor ridiculing the powers that be.

Joerg Forbrig
Joerg Forbrig

Ukraine protests grow as president responds

Ukrainians also pin their anger -- and their hopes -- on largely the same protagonists as nearly a decade ago. There is the government of President Victor Yanukovich, whose rigged election in 2004 and rejection of the EU accord now, both times with backing from Russia, blatantly ignored the will of many Ukrainians.

These, in turn, rally behind an opposition led by a motley crew composed of boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, nationalists and, from her prison cell, the erstwhile Orange icon Yulia Tymoshenko. And as back then, the government has started to peddle back, and indications now are that the protesters may succeed with their demands.

Yet not all is déjà vu, and the stakes now seem even higher than during the Orange Revolution. Many in Ukraine feel today that they have reached a final junction. They do not want to miss what may be the last opportunity in many years to come for a principal, some even say civilizational, choice between Europe and Russia, democracy and dictatorship, sovereignty and subordination, prosperity and poverty, modernity and mayhem. Indeed, the contrast between what Ukraine can expect from her Western and Eastern neighbors could not be starker.

Return of Ukraine's Orange Revolution?
Demonstrations in Ukraine over EU deal
Ukraine pro-EU protesters stand firm
Ukrainian President rejects EU trade deal

Opinion: Beware Russia's power play

The EU has, over several years, negotiated the most comprehensive association and deep free trade agreements ever, and it is ready to sign these with Ukraine. They require the country to adopt hundreds of EU laws, regulations and standards, and necessitate much-needed reforms of Ukraine's often dysfunctional political, legal and state institutions. In return, the EU would abolish visas for Ukrainian citizens and open its common market of 500 million consumers to Ukrainian companies, resulting in a considerable boost to the country's GDP and prosperity.

While promising to affiliate Ukraine closely with the EU, to reinforce its independence and to benefit its democracy, rule of law and market economy in the long-run, the agreements fall short of a full membership perspective for the country, and they contain very limited assistance to accomplish the painful process of reforms required. Most importantly, however, the EU has been reluctant to include with its offer short-term support to Ukraine's battered economy and finances.

Russia, on the other hand, has used the dire need of Ukraine for immediate cash injections to promote its own integrationist project, the Eurasian Union. This is Vladimir Putin's attempt to bring back former Soviet republics under the Kremlin's hegemony and to restore its erstwhile status as a world power, and it is to be fully functional by 2015.

This anti-EU, which currently comprises only Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia, does not demand political, economic and social modernization but is content with the same autocratic and oligarchic status quo that Russia herself preserves. In return, current and would-be members are lured with Russian political backing, financial subsidies and security guarantees, while countries opting against are threatened with debilitating sanctions. In either case, Russia effectively undermines the independence and statehood of its smaller neighbors.

Ukraine, the largest, most strategic and highly symbolic among Russia's neighbors, has experienced this arsenal of Russian sticks and carrots for years -- and the more massively, the closer it moved to signing its EU association and trade agreements. Faced with this choice, the Ukrainian government and society have clearly grown apart.

The former gave in to Russian pressures, mainly drawn by the short-term prospect of financial aid offered by Moscow and only concerned with preserving its political power. The latter has increasingly understood that a free, democratic and prosperous Ukraine is possible only in ever closer, and one day full, integration with the EU. It is this understanding that manifests itself in the demonstrations across the country.

It is now on the EU to seize the moment. It must be no less proactive than it was during the Orange Revolution and engage the Ukrainian government and the protesters in a national dialogue for a way out of the current impasse.

It must clearly state that Ukraine has a perspective of EU membership as per its own founding documents, and it must ready the same support -- political, financial and institutional -- that it has provided to other new democracies on their way to the EU. It must mobilize, directly and through the IMF, the resources for Ukraine to weather its imminent financial collapse, and it must shield the country from likely Russian retaliation, whether economic sanctions, political meddling or worse.

Hundreds of thousands of courageous Ukrainians have handed their country, and Europe, a second chance. It may be the last, and it must not be wasted.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Joerg Forbrig.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:50 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT