“Europe today is often identified with the European Union. It is as if Eastern Europe does not exist, it is attributed to the Russian sphere of influence. That is why there is still a perception that Ukraine should take the function of a “neutral” buffer state or a kind of “entrance hall” of the Russian Federation. But only those who see Ukraine as a full-fledged part of Europe realize that the country can not be separated from European integration processes” – Marieluise Beck, German MP, June 2017
In 2013, Ukrainians took to the streets to oppose the Kremlin's plan to drag Ukraine away from Europe and into a Russia-led customs union. Ukrainians defended – and died for – the European values of freedom, dignity and democracy in the Revolution of Dignity, which was not accidentally held under the banner of united Europe. No wonder the great philosopher of modern times Bernard-Henri Levy said “Ukraine is the beating heart of Europe today. The values that we have ignored for a long time were newly reborn in Ukraine”.
At a time when European values are attacked by populism and disinformation, when selfish aspirations could yet undermine the fundamental foundations of European civilization, Ukraine’s passionate defence of European ideals can give a new impetus to Europe itself.
Ukraine’s European orientation is deeply rooted in its history and culture. Ukraine has long been a part of the European civilizational space, playing an important role in the political, economic and cultural life of the continent. Ten centuries ago the daughters of Kyiv’s Grand Duke Yaroslav were the queens of France, Norway and Hungary. And being at the forefront of Christian Europe’s defences from eastern invasion, Ukraine has often suffered destruction and lost its freedom for many centuries.
Yet even after losing their own statehood, Ukrainians have participated in European life. Even as a Moscow-headed colony with a ban on its own language and name, Ukraine not only felt itself a part of Europe but increased European culture through the creativity of Taras Shevchenko and Nikolai Gogol, Kazimir Malevich and Alexander Arkhipenko, Les Kurbas and Alexander Dovzhenko.
Europe should respect this history, but also realise that a free European Ukraine is today important for the whole of Europe. As Francis Fukuyama has noted “Ukraine is at the forefront of the global fight for democracy”. Ukraine protects not only itself, but the whole of Europe from the threat of Moscow imperialism – a fact that is not fully understood in European capitals. For this struggle – “for our and your freedom” – Ukraine deserves a much higher level of solidarity and political, economic, and military support.
Ukraine also deserves recognition and support for its European aspirations. The Association Agreement and the visa-free regime for Ukrainians that came into force in 2017 are only the first steps towards Ukraine's full participation in the European community. And European aspirations for Ukraine are no less important incentives for reforms than they once were for Poland or the Baltic States.
These reforms, transforming Ukraine into a safe, prosperous state, are in the interests of all Europeans. And they are already bearing fruit: EU institutions have supported extremely important policy developments in healthcare, decentralization and regional development reform, among others.
A European Ukraine also brings huge economic opportunities to the rest of the continent. It is the largest country fully located in Europe and, with a population of more than 45 million people, has huge potential as a market for goods and services. The high level of human development together with the low cost of labor also open wide prospects for investment in a variety of industries and services.
Key points of Ukraine’s strengths and EU interests:
1. A secure and stable Ukraine is crucial for deterring Russian aggression
Russia’s armed aggression against Ukraine and de facto occupation of certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine by Russian regular armed forces as well as Russia-led irregular armed formations continue. The civilian infrastructure at a distance from the contact line has been targeted by Russian shelling. Currently Russian-led terrorists in Donbas have 478 MBT, 848 APC, 732 artillery systems (including self-propelled ones), and 413 air defense units. All previous agreements to introduce comprehensive ceasefire were neglected by Russia. During the recent attempt to introduce the regime of silence (“back to school” ceasefire), starting from August 25, 2017 more than 248 ceasefire violations were recorded, 3 servicemen were wounded ( as of 4.09.2017). Since January, 1 till September, 4 2017 – 154 servicemen were killed.
There is an imminent threat that the aggression may expand. Russia consistently does not comply with the Minsk agreements, in particular, by committing systemic violations of the ceasefire, further supplying heavy weapons to the occupied part of the Donbas, and pushing the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission out of the region. Russia’s hybrid war in Ukraine is a blatant violation of European security. Russian success in Ukraine would lead directly to the destabilization of the continent. Global security would be profoundly wounded. It would also encourage Russia to deploy similar tactics elsewhere in Europe.
2. Global nuclear non-proliferation is at stake
Abandoning Ukraine would deal a major blow to nuclear nonproliferation efforts. Under the terms of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, Ukraine surrendered the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal in exchange for security assurances from the US, the UK and Russia, who all committed to respect Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity. Russian aggression against Ukraine, along with the restrained response of the international community, have exposed these assurances as hollow.
3. Supporting Ukrainian democracy is an EU foreign policy priority
Considerable material and political support has been provided by the EU to Ukraine since 1991 – especially since the 2014 Revolution of Dignity. This makes Ukraine’s domestic reforms a test case for EU credibility as a democracy supporter. Abandoning Ukraine would severely undermine EU authority around the world, while also writing off a key regional relationship at a critical point in its development.
Over the last three years, Ukrainians have demonstrated their ability to implement fundamental and far-reaching reforms. Since 2014, there has been more progress in overcoming the country’s Soviet inheritance than in the previous two decades of independence. The EU has a major role to play in making sure this progress continues. It is also very much in European interests to do so. Ukraine has sufficient resources and potential to become the most significant foreign policy success story of the current presidency. This success could transform the entire post-Soviet region.
Supporting Ukraine is also the most logical and practical EU foreign policy response to Russia’s hostile actions. Continued support for Ukraine allows the European institutions to avoid entering into direct confrontation with the Kremlin, while presenting the opportunity to make a tremendous impact on the security of the region. In contrast, withdrawing support for Ukraine would undermine the momentum of the Ukrainian reform process and create a favorable environment for further Russian advances. Such an outcome would fail to satisfy virtually any interpretation of EU foreign policy objectives.
4. Ukraine’s success would enhance regional security
Putin’s vision is to falls back Ukraine under Moscow’s control that will allow the Kremlin to have a platform to project its influence with far greater effectiveness into Central Europe, the Balkans, the Middle East, the Black Sea region, and further afield. In order to safeguard its independence, Ukraine has little choice but to make a success of its post-Maidan transition towards a more transparent and democratic model of governance. A reformed Ukraine would become a democratic champion in the post-Soviet space, providing a strong counter-argument to Russia’s hybrid interventions while inspiring calls for similar transformations elsewhere in the neighborhood. Supporting Ukraine’s transition is not only strategically smart within the current foreign policy context – it could also bring long-term dividends throughout the post-Soviet region.
5. Energy Security.
The EU’s most powerful lever is its energy imports, which are to be considered as part of the new EU strategy. By importing energy from Russia, the EU is allowing the Kremlin to continue its aggression against Ukraine and Syria and to spread fear and uncertainty in European societies.
Russian energy exports feed Russian aggression. Two-thirds of Russian export revenues come from the sale of energy raw materials—oil and its refinery products, natural gas, coal, and electricity—and the EU-28 is their major importer. Three-fourths of Russian oil is sold to Europe.
It is obvious that energy, for the Kremlin, serves more than just its economic needs.
It is time to stop this aggressor now. It is time to optimize oil supplies from Russia to Europe by reducing the volume of imports by at least half. The possibilities for this exist, taking into account the potential of Iran, which has always supplied oil to the European market, as well as Kazakhstan, although the latter is dependent on Russian infrastructure. Countries such as Poland, Germany, and the Netherlands should take advantage of opportunities to replace a portion of Russian supplies with alternative ones.
Reducing consumption is not enough. The West needs to impose tougher sanctions on Russia along the lines that were imposed on Iran, blocking its exports, to force the aggressor to peace.
Russian politicians’ claims that they will move oil exports to Asia are empty threats. Russian oil exports are tied to Europe in terms of infrastructure and geography. The Bosporus Strait in the Black Sea and the Skagerrak in the Baltic Sea cannot carry super tankers, without which Russian oil exports to Asia are simply unprofitable. Moreover, Russian pipeline infrastructure, ending in the Baltic and the Black Sea, does not have access to deep-water ports.
In truth, Russia needs the EU and its oil revenues, and projects like Nord Stream 2 and the second part of Turkish Stream are designed to deepen European dependence on Russian energy supplies. The EU should remain strong. It should bring its antitrust investigation against Gazprom to its conclusion, maintain unity to renew and even increase sanctions against Russia, and above all, it should find a way to reduce oil imports from Russia.
6. NATO and Ukraine.
Ukraine spends annually 5% of its GDP on defense – more than some NATO members. Currently, Ukraine’s army ranks 8th in Europe.
Today Ukrainian soldiers are protecting also NATO and NATO members from Russian aggression. I asked very sraight questions to NATO Secretary General and the Honorable member of the North Atlantic Council during their historical visit to Kyiv, 10 July, 2017.
Ukraine also seeks or strive for more ambitious partnership and I hope that this visit, this is a start of a real dialogue about the membership action plan and also this is the first step for other membership. I think that Russian aggression against Ukraine is not a limited factor for joining, for Ukraine to NATO. I think this is extra benefit that Ukrainian Army was in this three and a half years of war by everyday practice and countering Russian aggression. So my question is very direct, when you will consider the membership action plan? And I think that Russian aggression is not the limited factor and actually this is really important for our society because there is a strongest support for this. Of course, we have to work hard focusing on fighting corruption especially in defense and security sectors, and introduce civilian and parliamentary oversight.
For Europe, a democratic Ukraine would represent an expansion of the borders of freedom. A stable Ukraine would represent a reliable defense of the Eastern border of the rules-based world. A prosperous Ukraine would be a success story of EU foreign policy and assistance. A successful Ukraine would have a positive impact on the whole region, peacefully containing Russia.
The Ukrainian government, NGOs and business community are continuing to push forward with tough reforms. EU support and assistance is critical to this process and the path much more difficult without it. It is better and cheaper to invest into democratic transition, thus creating a strong state, than to send peacekeeping troops and provide multi-billion dollar security assistance to eternally weak states.
Ukraine chose to ally with the West – and is facing punishment for this choice in the form of Russian aggression. This makes Ukraine a precedent that can heavily tilt the global scale one way or another. Ukraine chose democracy on its own, against all odds. It rebelled against dictatorship twice within a decade. It is ready to fight for its beliefs. All we ask is for reliable support from our allies who share our faith.
Hanna Hopko is a Ukrainian MP and Head of the Committee on Foreign Affairs.
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.