The interaction between the West and Ukraine over the last twenty five years has been shaped by the conditionality paradigm. Kyiv’s rapprochement with the West, as a whole, and Brussels, in particular, was made dependent on the progress of Ukraine’s democratization, liberalization, and reformation. The ultimate rewards that the West offered for such achievements did exist. But they were small, or blurred, or both. It was a “conditionality lite” or “soft conditions” approach. Even in the case of Ukrainian reform success, larger repercussions for either Brussels or Kyiv were postponed indefinitely. The West’s officially announced potential prizes for sustainable Ukrainian reforms included an only undetermined future membership promise from NATO made at the Bukarest summit of 2008, and demonstrative ambivalence about an EU accession, repeated in many statements by the EU Council and Commission over the last years. Arguably, prolonged Western coy- and vagueness, which continued even after the successful 2004 Orange Revolution, played their role in the eruption of deep political conflict at Kyiv in autumn 2013.
Why Ukraine Today Should Be Seen in a Different Perspective
The steep rise of insecurity, tension, and confrontation that this political escalation has now produced in Eastern Europe illustrates not only that the “soft conditionality” paradigm was misguided. It has also demonstrated that the West’s timid approach has become untenable with regard to the novel domestic and international conditions in which Ukraine has found itself today. The victorious Euromaidan Revolution, Kyiv’s conflict with Moscow, and the signing of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement have changed the country’s situation to its core. Not only the ongoing war with Russia, but also the fundamentally new state of domestic affairs in the territorially largest entirely European country should lead to a critical reassessment of the West’s interests and strategies regarding Kyiv.
The earlier approach by the West emphasized Ukrainian deficiencies and promised vague integration steps once her numerous political, economic, and social imperfections are overcome. Given the different circumstances in which Kyiv finds itself now, the direction of this method should be reversed. Not only should the West take a clearer stance towards Russia. Instead of rewarding Ukrainian reforms post hoc with unspecified rapprochement, the West should offer ad hoc integrative measures that will effectively help, stabilize, and transform Ukraine. Why is such a radical change of course towards Ukraine now possible and preferable, if not gravely necessary?
First, the stakes of Ukraine’s future have grown during the last months. What is at risk is not only democracy and freedom in Europe’s largest country and the reputation of the EU’s Eastern Partnership policies. The dangers of a Ukrainian failure are now also threating political stability in the post-Soviet area, the post-war European security architecture, and cooperative transcontinental relations in the Earth’s northern hemisphere. Being a geopolitical pivot country, the fate of Ukraine will influence the future of other states, international arrangement, and numerous projects that are in one way or another tied to Kyiv. The demonstration effects of a successful Ukrainian Europeanization on Russian and other post-Soviet countries’ domestic affairs could change world politics in fundamental ways.
Second, the preconditions for a successful Ukrainian reformation have recently changed – and, in some regards, for the better. As a result of the ongoing socio-political revolution in Kyiv and beyond, Ukrainian civil society remains highly mobilized. The European Union has, with the signing of the Association Agreement in July 2014, become part and parcel of the Ukrainian reform process. Whether its political class, journalistic community, intellectual...