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Dancing with the Devil: Explaining the European Union’s Engagement with Ukraine under Viktor Yanukovych

Kubicek, Paul (2015) Dancing with the Devil: Explaining the European Union’s Engagement with Ukraine under Viktor Yanukovych. [Conference Proceedings] (Submitted)

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    Introduction: In February 2014, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was forced from office, capping three months of protests against his rule. The epicenter of the anti-Yanukovych rallies was Kyiv’s Independence Square, which gained the moniker “Euromaidan” because the demonstrations were sparked by Yanukovych’s last minute rejection of an Association Agreement (AA) with the European Union (EU) and protesters demanded closer integration with the EU as well as a government committed to democracy and the rule of law. Yanukovych’s ouster was celebrated by the EU, and he was subsequently widely pilloried as a “thug” and head of a “gangster regime.” Those with short memories were reminded of his past transgressions, including the attempt to steal the 2004 presidential elections, which led to the so-called Orange Revolution and subsequent installation of a pro-Western government. The Orange Revolution, alas, failed to fulfill its promise, and, in light of the Russian annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and the on-going, bloody separatist conflict in parts of eastern Ukraine, it is clear that Ukraine faces immense difficulties after the more recent “Euro Revolution.” Furthermore, there is no doubt that managing relations with Kyiv and Moscow will be a long-term challenge for EU foreign policy. This paper, however, asks a different question, one that looks back rather than forward and focuses attention less on the Euromaidan and its aftermath and more on the decision by the EU to proffer an AA to Ukraine while it was ruled by Yanukovych. In short, the EU’s engagement with Yanukovych—now somewhat forgotten given his ouster and dramatic subsequent events—is a bit of a puzzle given its past policies and stated priorities. The EU, of course, has long pursued close ties with Ukraine, concluding a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Kyiv in 1994. It created numerous programs and supplied aid to promote security as well as economic and political reform. Membership, however, has never been on the table, and, particularly, under President Leonid Kuchma (1994-2005), Kyiv’s “declarative Europeanization” fit uneasily with its corrupt, semi-authoritarian political system (Wolczuk 2004). The calculus changed after the Orange Revolution, when a new government promised real change and expected rapid progress toward EU membership. This did not occur. While there were some initiatives from the EU, including new aid programs and an Action Plan, Ukraine was lumped together with countries that had no membership perspective in the 2004 European Neighborhood Policy (ENP). The later 2008-2009 Eastern Partnership (EaP) offered to six post-Soviet states was portrayed as an upgrade in ties but likewise had no statement about or roadmap for EU accession. Even concluding an AA with the EU long remained an elusive goal. A 2010 report from a Kyiv-based think tank concluded that Ukraine had mostly elicited “distrust, fatigue, disappointment, and irritation” from the EU (ICPS 2010: 42). Both the ENP and the EaP were outgrowths of the EU’s largely successful use of democratic conditionality in its expansion to East Central Europe, and these programs sought to employ conditionality as well (Kelley 2006; Sasse 2008; Stewart 2015). In the language of the ENP, the “pace of development of the European Union’s engagement [with targeted countries] will depend upon commitment to common values,” including, inter alia, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law (Commission 2004). The EaP stated that the same principle applied: “how far we [the EU] go in relations with each country will continue to depend on the progress made by the partners in their reform and modernization efforts” (Commission 2009). In short, there would be more [aid, engagement, integration] for more [reform], and the EU stipulated that AAs were possible only if there was a “sufficient level of progress in terms of democracy, the rule of law, and human rights” (Commission 2008: 4). Although this conditionality was not as strong as that tied to membership, prior to 2010 Ukraine did make some reforms in these areas, although, to be sure, they were limited (Kubicek 2007; Solonenko 2009; Gawrich et al 2010; Freyburg and Richter 2013; Tolstrup 2014). This did not lead, however, to a major breakthrough or new dynamic in Ukraine-EU ties or a re-categorization of Ukraine in relation to other, less democratic post-Soviet states (Pridham 2011: 22). This ultimately did occur, however, with the AA that offered, inter alia, a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, more sectoral cooperation and financial assistance, and prospects for visa-free travel for Ukrainians to the EU. This was, in the EU’s terms, “ambitious” and “innovative,” the “first of a new generation of Association Agreements” with post-Soviet states, putting EU-Ukrainian relations on a higher level than those with other EaP states. What is notable, however, is that while negotiations for this agreement were launched in 2007, they continued even after Yanukovych assumed the presidency in 2010 and began taking Ukraine in a more authoritarian direction. It was initialed by the two sides in 2012 and remained on the table throughout 2013, even as Kyiv failed to meet key, public EU demands for political reform and liberalization and some Ukrainian opposition parties called for EU sanctions, not engagement. The question, then, is why the EU, pace its pledges in the ENP, EaP, and other documents, ended up offering, in effect, “more for less”? This question, which concerns the (non)application of conditionality, has relevance well beyond the Ukrainian case. The EU has committed itself to use of conditionality in numerous agreements with non-member states. Conditionality works on the logic of employing blandishments to reward good behavior and punishments or withholding of benefits to rebuke bad behavior. Of course, there can be problems employing conditionality (e.g. are the “carrots” and “sticks” enough to produce the desired effect?; are there countervailing domestic political calculations?; do targeted states have other options besides the EU? how much “reform” or “progress” is enough?). With respect to conditionality on issues of democratization, there is little doubt that the EU frequently engages with “reluctant democratizers” (Kubicek 2003) or is left trying to promote “democracy without democrats” (Youngs 2010: 72-77), and other goals (e.g. security, maintaining trade or energy ties) might make it difficult to manage relations with non-democratic regimes and affect the level and type of EU democracy promotion (Wetzel and Orbie 2015). However, the rewards offered to Ukraine under Yanukovych—which went far beyond other cases such as the “functional cooperation” offered under the EaP to dictatorial Belarus (Bosse 2012)—are rather jarring, particularly given how quickly the EU embraced his ouster. Understanding EU engagement with Ukraine is thus an interesting and important case of its application of democratic conditionality and can shed light on EU policy elsewhere, including, perhaps most significantly, with an increasingly autocratic and militant Russia. This paper is made up of three additional sections. First, it will briefly suggest hypotheses that could explain EU behavior. Secondly, it will examine, based upon evidence both during and prior to Yanukovych’s 2010-2014 presidency, each hypothesis in turn to determine which one(s) best match with available evidence. Lastly, it will conclude reflecting upon what lessons can be derived from examination of this case.

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    Item Type: Conference Proceedings
    Subjects for non-EU documents: Countries > Ukraine
    Subjects for EU documents: UNSPECIFIED
    EU Series and Periodicals: UNSPECIFIED
    EU Annual Reports: UNSPECIFIED
    Conference: European Union Studies Association (EUSA) > Biennial Conference > 2015 (14th), March 4-7, 2015
    Depositing User: Phil Wilkin
    Official EU Document: No
    Language: English
    Date Deposited: 06 Mar 2018 16:26
    Number of Pages: 35
    Last Modified: 06 Mar 2018 16:26

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