European integration, Russia and former USSR

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Ukraine. The new better balanced bridge
Five years after the Orange Revolution ousted him Viktor Yanukovych has sworn in as President of Ukraine. He took the oath of office in the Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian Parliament.

The former USSR republic “is in an extremely difficult situation," he said in his first speech as Head of State. "There is no state budget for the current year. The debts on foreign loans are colossal. Poverty, a ruined economy, and corruption are only part of the list of the troubles that constitute Ukrainian reality." The meaning of his words is clear: it’s time to dig the axe of war and start to work together.

His electoral opponent’s refusal to concede defeat and step down from the premiership threatens to prolong the political wrangling that has paralyzed the country since 2006. Yulia Tymoshenko continues to accuse him of having won the run-off through fraud. But Joao Soares, president of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, called Ukraine's election "an impressive display" and "a victory" for democracy.

The voting pattern showed a sharp split between Russian-speaking voters in the industrial east and south who backed the new President and Ukrainian speakers in the west and in the centre who voted for Tymoshenko. Yanukovych’s margin of victory was only 3.5 percentage points.

The former Soviet republic can not wait for political peace anymore. Last autumn, the International Monetary Fund froze a $16.4 billion bailout. Ukraine’s gross domestic product plunged by 15 percent in 2009, according to the World Bank. IMF officials will visit Kiev on April 7th.

Ukraine will embark on a foreign policy," Yanukovych highlighted, "that will allow our country to fully benefit from equal and mutually beneficial relations with Russia, the European Union and the United States." His first foreign official visit as Ukrainian leader will be to Brussels, the second to Moscow. In Yanukovych’s idea his country will come back to be “a bridge between the East and the West, integral part of both Europe and the former USSR”.

The new President will simply correct the too westwards Yushchenko’s policy into a more natural 'non-aligned’ one. When Yanukovych served as Prime minister under Kuchma’s presidency he supported national economic interests against the Russians in many tenders and had a good relationship with the USA. His best advisers are American still now.

The new President has indicated he would put an end to Ukraine's drive to join NATO and renegotiate a gas-supply deal with Moscow, which some believe would enable him to establish closer ties with Russia's Gazprom. He has proposed the creation of a consortium (33% stakes each to Ukraine, Russia, and EU) to run the national gas pipelines and has hinted at possible concessions to the Kremlin over the future Russia’s Black Sea fleet forces in Crimean peninsula. Yanukovych needs to find a good solution for Khrushchev’s poisoned present and for the use of Russian as official language. Around 20 million people can not use their mother tongue in state documents.

The European Union and Russia need stability in Ukraine for raw materials’ transit . On the same day Yanukovych swore in, the European Parliament has issued a document which leaves the door open to a future Ukrainian membership to the EU and expresses the hope that the new President will cancel his predecessor’s recent decree that gave the honorary title of national hero to Stepan Bandera. Brussels will study a road map to guarantee no-visa EU entry to the Ukrainians in the next future and, as a first step, free of charge Schengen visa.

Yanukovych has much to gain from the international situation, using his country’s new geopolitical importance. Financial and technological aids from West and East may be crucial for the modernization of Ukraine and for its European integration


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