Dealing with Yanukovych’s Ukraine

The Yanukovych Paradox: How Ukraine’s new president can be good news for Europe after all


Far from shifting Ukraine further towards Russia, the election of Viktor Yanukovych could provide the EU with the opportunity to reengage with the keystone to Europe's Eastern neighbourhood, according to a new policy paper by European Council on Foreign Relations Ukraine expert Andrew Wilson.

In Dealing with Yanukovych's Ukraine, Andrew Wilson argues that Yanukovych could become a Ukrainian version of Richard Nixon: just as Nixon's anti-communism allowed him to engage with China, Yanukovych's links with Moscow might allow him to reposition Ukraine between Russia and Europe – with the help of the EU.

Click here for the full text of the paper.

Andrew Wilson argues that:

Ukraine remains the linchpin of the EU's eastern neighbourhood. Despite its flaws it is a regional exemplar of democracy, and the EU should help it set the tone for other countries in the region.

  • Yanukovych may have campaigned on identity politics, but his record as prime minister suggests a more pragmatic approach in office. In his inauguration speech he described Ukraine as a bridge between East and West.  
  • With its economy shrinking by 15% in 2009 and the worst recession in Europe, Ukraine relies heavily upon the EU for trade, financial stability and economic recovery.
  • The EU has a genuine interest in building up Ukraine's sovereignty to make it a more effective partner, whereas weakness will allow Russia to exploit Ukraine, preying on its assets and asserting political control in Kiev.


  • Europeans should not just ask themselves the question, “What can the EU do to help Ukraine?” but “What can the EU do to help Ukraine help Europe?”
  • The EU should adopt a twin-track approach with Ukraine, working with Kiev and Moscow in areas that favour a multilateral approach like security, but pushing Kiev on issues where the EU and Moscow disagree, like political reform.
  • Energy security: The EU should push for a deal between itself, Russia and Ukraine that will secure gas supply to Europe as well as Russian income.

Wilson says:

“When the EU encourages states like Belarus and Amenia to reform, it is in effect asking them to be ‘more like Ukraine'. If that request makes leaders in Minsk or Yerevan recoil or laugh out loud, then Ukraine really will have failed – and Europe with it.”

You can listen to a podcast interview with Andrew Wilson here.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.

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