This blog post is the first in a series of posts that come from students of our 2nd year undergraduate “Politics of the EU” course. As part of the course, students were asked to write about an issue pertaining to EU politics. The best blog posts have been selected to provide an opportunity to exceptional young scholars at UCD to contribute to the debate on the future of the EU, and to promote the insightful scholarship being undertaken at UCD to a wider public audience.
It is often asserted when referring to the successes of the European Union that its foremost achievement is the security it has ensured for member states. In 2012, upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize it was noted that no two EU states had done war with one another since their accession and was further pronounced that the EU was ‘the greatest peace-making institution in human history’ (Traynor, 2012). However, states on the EU’s periphery have been mired in internal conflict in the past (Yugoslav wars) and are dogged by threats from neighbours currently (a dominating Russian presence) despite the supposed safe-haven the EU represents. One country of the continental east seen as being under the most immediate and prevailing threat from the aforementioned resurgence of Russia as a strong regional power is Ukraine. Can EU integration be seen to offer sanctuary at a time when Ukraine’s sovereignty may be imperilled or has the relentless push for greater involvement in Ukraine caused unnecessary conflicts in the region?
Ukraine is what is often called a ‘frozen conflict zone’. While fifteen states emerged from the demise of the Soviet Union, local conflicts and territorial disputes raged onwards with no progress towards settlement, leaving regions and sometimes whole states in flux and isolated in the international system (Lynch, 2001). Like many former Eastern Bloc nations which gained independence in the early 1990’s, Ukraine’s democratization process, while swift was not always assured. ‘In 1991, Ukraine automatically granted citizenship to all permanent residents of the republic (Ukraine), remaining a dual-language society…without any precise historical, geographical, or social boundary between Russian and Ukrainian’ (Portnov, 2015). Ukraine has suffered from extreme wealth concentration among its oligarchy (Snyder, 2015) (largely attributed to the involvement of Russian magnates and the Kremlin) which was long predisposed to friendly relationships with its larger neighbour. Though no longer a satellite state of the Soviet empire, Ukraine after independence remained largely in what was known as the Russian ‘sphere of influence’ and therefore heavily dependent on Russia economically and politically. Following the peaceful Orange Revolution of 2004 in which public protest and widespread civil disobedience led to the re-running of that year’s Presidential Election in which the incumbent Viktor Yanukovych was defeated, Russia’s political power in Ukraine began to wane. A strong, pro-Western element emerged in Ukrainian political discourse and society which endangered Russian hegemony in the region (Kubicek, 2005). The EU seized on this fracture and the European Neighbourhood Policy was extended eastwards as a means to offer support for democratic government in former Soviet states such as Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia which were under threat of Russian aggression in retaliation for their perceived reorientation towards the European Union (Barnes and Barnes, 2003). These conflicts of loyalty came to a head in 2014 when the Yanukovych regime (back in power) refused to sign an ‘association agreement’ between Ukraine and the European Union which would have substantially progressed Ukrainian integration with the EU (Snyder, 2015). A public furore erupted and the so-called ‘Euromaidan’ protests against the Ukrainian government eclipsed those of nearly a decade previously and resulted in numerous deaths and the fleeing of Yanukovych to sanctuary in Russia. These events caused mass conflict and civil unrest across Ukraine as well as placed the European Union and Russia on a direct collision course where their respective foreign policies became polar opposites. According to the EU’s ‘Eastern Partnership’ it is trying to ensure ‘security, prosperity and stability’ in the east of the continent. Meanwhile, Russian foreign policy post-Maidan can be seen as ‘taking the disintegration of the European project as a specific goal’ (Snyder, 2015). Russia invaded Crimea following a new government being elected in Kyiv and claimed ownership of the predominantly Russian-speaking territory within Ukraine on the grounds that the locals favoured partnership with Russia over the west. Further westward expansion from Russia has taken place in the form of Kremlin-backed militias in Ukraine’s eastern ‘Donbass’ region favouring irredentism and the creation of a new, expanded Russian state (Novorossiya) (Engel and Lubin, 2014).
It has been said that ‘If the Maidan was about agency, sovereignty and Europe, Russia’s anti-Maidan is about propaganda, conspiracy and empire’ (Snyder, 2015). The geo-politics involved in any possible further Ukrainian integration into the European Union is complex and fraught with difficulty. Many in Ukraine see the prospect of EU integration (and possible membership) as offering rule of law, economic growth and a ‘return to Europe’ away from the influence of Russia (Snyder, 2015). It is clear that European integration policy as it pertains to Ukraine seems manifestly directed at lessening the dependence of Ukraine on Russia. The Eastern Partnership encouraging the diversification of energy supply and border controls is an example (Ukraine is highly dependent on Russia for oil as well as sharing a large border with its neighbour) (Bovt, 2009). However, as the European Union is not a single state and has no standing military force it must play the role of ‘soft-balancing’ power in shifting Ukraine away from Russia by diplomatic, political and economic means (Nováky, 2015). Some argue that the involvement of the EU in Ukraine has precipitated this tension needlessly and that ‘what the EU sees as helping democracy and economic reform when it discusses possible membership for Ukraine…Russia sees as interference within its own sphere of influence’ (Glencross, 2014). However, with the majority of Ukrainians growing ever stronger in their support for European integration (a recent poll shows support for membership at 59% in favour) (Unian, 2016), it seems as if the hope of a ‘European dream’ remains alive despite the difficulties inherent in the integration process. Despite the fact that the European Union has had to take a more active role in pushing its integration agenda, it appears to have done so with the same intent as it has shown since its foundation. That is, ensuring freedom, rule of law and peace in Europe. For many countries on the EU’s periphery which face the stalking presence of a growing Russia, integration with Europe may be the only solution to provide both security and protection of their sovereignty.
About the author: Adam is a 21 year old student of Politics and International Relations at UCD and a member of the Irish Labour Party. His interests include the political and social development of Eastern Europe, public policy making and political reform.
The following are a non-exhaustive list of the works fully read and selectively quoted which contributed to the understanding and argument of the blog-post above.
Barnes, I. and Barnes, P. (2003) ‘Enlargement’. In: Cini, M. eds. European Union Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Bovt, G. (2009) ‘Europe’s Eastern Partnership: Between Europe and Russia’, The World Today, Vol. 65, No. 5 (May, 2009), pp. 19-20. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/41549163.pdf. Accessed on; March 5th 2016.
Engel, P. and Lubin, G. (2014) ‘Putin makes worrying comments about Novorussia’, Business Insider, 17 April. Available at: http://www.businessinsider.com/maps-of-novorussia-and-old-russian-empire-2014-4?IR=T. Accessed on; March 6th 2016.
Glencross, A. (2014) Politics of European Integration: Political Union or a House Divided. Available at: http://lib.myilibrary.com/Open.aspx?id=546890. Accessed on; March 4th 2016.
Kubicek, P. (2005) ‘The European Union and democratization in Ukraine’, Communist and Post-Communist Studies, Vol. 38, No. 2 (June, 2005), pp. 269-292. Available at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0967067X0500019X. Accessed on; March 4th 2016.
Lynch, D. (2001) ‘Frozen Conflicts’, The World Today, Vol. 57, No. 8-9 (Aug.-Sep. 2001), pp. 36-38. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/40476575.pdf?acceptTC=true. Accessed on; March 5th 2016.
Nováky, N. (2015) ‘Why so Soft? The European Union in Ukraine’, Contemporary Security Policy, Vol. 36, No. 2 (July, 2015), pp. 244-266. Available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/13523260.2015.1061767. Accessed on; March 5th 2016.
Portnov, A. (2015) ‘Post-Maidan Europe and the New Ukrainian Studies’, Slavic Review, Vol. 74, No. 4 (Winter, 2015), pp. 723-731. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/10.5612/slavicreview.74.4.723.pdf. Accessed; March 4th 2016.
Snyder, T. (2015) ‘Integration and Disintegration: Europe, Ukraine and the World’, Slavic Review, Vol. 74, No. 4 (Winter, 2015), pp. 695-707. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/10.5612/slavicreview.74.4.695.pdf. Accessed on; March 4th 2016.
Traynor, I. (2012) ‘Peace in Europe may too often be taken for granted’, The Guardian, 12 October. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/oct/12/peace-europe-taken-granted. Accessed on; March 3rd 2016.
Unian. (2016) Majority of Ukrainians would favour Ukraine membership in EU and NATO. Available at: http://www.unian.info/society/1255397-majority-of-ukrainians-would-favor-ukraine-membership-in-eu-and-nato-poll.html. Accessed on; March 5th 2016.