Read the original text at eurointegration.com.ua.
In official statements, Sweden is consistently named not only an ally, but also one of the closest friends of Ukraine in the EU. Kyiv appreciates the strong position of Sweden in support of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine under Russian aggression. There are no differences in positions on Ukraine between the major parties of the country, and most Swedish people have no doubt of Russia’s responsibility for the military conflict in Donbas.
Moreover, Sweden is also one of the major donors to Ukrainian reforms. Swedish taxpayers fund implementation of numerous projects in Ukraine in such fields as public administration, judicial, financial, and energy sectors, as well as programs aimed at supporting the civil society, decentralization, anti-corruption reforms, introduction of energy saving technologies, etc. Sweden belongs to the circle of foreign friends of Kyiv that have been actively supporting democratic reforms and European integration of Ukraine for over two decades.
Even numerous failures, rollbacks in reforms, and strengthening of authoritarian tendencies in Ukraine in 2010- 2014 have not forced Sweden to abandon support for Ukraine and its European future. After the victory of Viktor Yanukovych on the presidential elections, Stockholm made every effort to establish contacts with the new government, simultaneously increasing support for the civil society. Perhaps, this is the only investment that paid for itself. As predicted by the Swedish donors, civil society has become a major agent of change in late 2013.
The interests of Sweden toward Ukraine are as follows:
- restoration of peace and security in the region, which is impossible without strong and prosperous Ukraine;
- successful democratic and economic transformation of Ukraine as a trigger for changes in other Eastern Partnership states;
- introduction of high standards for the protection of human and minority rights as the basis of Ukraine’s European integration and a positive example for other countries in the region;
- development of trade and economic cooperation, including through the expansion of contacts between Ukrainian and Swedish companies; increase in amount of Swedish investments.
The interests of Ukraine toward Sweden are as follows:
- support for the efforts of Ukraine to counter Russian aggression and principled position on maintaining the sanctions against Russia on the international level;
- support for Ukraine’s European integration and the open- door policy within the EU;
- long-term support for reforms and programs aimed at overcoming the impact of military aggression, particularly as an example for other partner countries of Ukraine;
- increase in the amount of Swedish investments and Ukrainian exports to Sweden; expansion of major Swedish companies to Ukrainian market, which would improve Ukraine’s image among foreign investors;
- hardline stance on Russian energyprojects that undermine the position of Ukraine as a transit country for Russian natural gas to the EU.
Sweden belongs to the small group of countries that base their foreign policy on the value base of human rights, democracy, and international cooperation. Appeals to the values in the statements of Swedish leaders are not rhetorical figures or declarations of intent, but direct determination of the nature and objectives of Swedish policies. International law and democratic values are the fundamental principles of Swedish interests in relations with other countries. Sweden remains the global leader in development policies. According to the plans of the Swedish Government, the volume of development assistance should amount 1% of Swedish gross national income. The volume of Swedish annual humanitarian aid amounts SEK 6.5 billion (over USD 742 million), which places Sweden seventh among the world’s major donor in absolute terms. Swedish aid is focused on efforts to strengthen peace and state-building in weak countries.
Sweden opposes selfishness and isolationism in foreign policy. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sweden, Sweden’s foreign policy must be active, fearless and constructive. The motto of thi policy is “what is good for the world is good for Sweden.” Currently, the main foreign policy priority of the Government is to preserve principled and cohesive European Union, “the most important foreign policy arena” for Sweden. In the 2017 “Statement of Foreign Policy,” Swedish Government stressed their commitment to make the utmost efforts to strengthen the European project.
One of the key principles for Sweden in the EU is solidarity, which is under threat due to rise of populism and nationalism in some EU member states. In the midst of the migration crisis, Sweden provided shelter for nearly 240 thousand refugees (in 2014-2015); one third of them were Syrians. This figure is even more impressive if we consider that the population of Sweden is 10 million people. Government spending on sustaining the refugees had drastically increased from 1.1 billion dollars in 2014 to 2.4 billion dollars in 20155 .Although migrant influx has subsided, Swedish government believes that the country will further receive about 34.5 thousand asylum applications every year.
The current political level of contacts between Sweden and Ukraine is slightly lower compared with the period when the Swedish Foreign Ministry was headed by Carl Bildt. As one of the initiators of the Eastern Partnership, he devoted a significant part of his attention to Ukraine, the biggest country of the initiative. Due to his efforts, Sweden has turned into one of the major advocates and mentors for Ukraine on its path toward European integration, while countering any attempts to cast doubt on European future of Ukraine in Kyiv, Brussels, or Moscow.
Donor of Ukraine’s reforms
Since the Orange Revolution, Sweden has invested in Ukraine a lot in terms of both diplomacy and funding. Since 2005, the amount of Swedish assistance to Ukraine has been increasing steadily, reaching the peaks in 2009 (USD 36.3 million) and in 2011 (USD 41.7 million).
The main goals of Swedish aid in 2009-2013 were strengthening integration with the EU in the area of democratic governance and human rights, as well as efficient exploitation of natural resources and environmental protection. Later, this list has been complemented with economic reforms, while in 2014, Sweden has begun providing humanitarian aid to internally displaced persons (EUR 3,2 mln in 2016).
Today, assistance for Ukraine is regulated by Sweden’s Strategy for Reform Cooperation in Eastern Europe, the Western Balkans and Turkey for 2014-2020. Stockholm has allocated SEK 8 billion (about 905 million dollars) to fund the Strategy. Funding for Ukraine amounts 175 million euros for various projects and programs for seven years.
Separating friendship from business: Swedish investors in Ukraine
Ukrainian officials often mention that Sweden is the largest trade and economic partner of Ukraine in Northern Europe, while Swedish companies were among the first foreign investors in Ukraine. However, this is only because the volume of economic cooperation with other countries in the region is scanty. Given the level of contacts and potential of the two countries, such comparisons seem unjustified. The political partnership between Ukraine and Sweden has not yet received proper economic basis despite mutual efforts to change the situation. Both Ukrainian and Swedish sources note that over 100 Swedish companies have offices or distribution facilities in Ukraine. Although this figure is impressive, statistics on trade and investments demonstrate much less optimistic situation. Ukraine’s share of Swedish exports is only 0.3%, (compared to 0.1% of imports). Sweden, in turn, ranks 20th with 1.1% of the total volume of bilateral trade between Ukraine and the EU member states. These figures are more than modest, and moreover, there is a significant trade imbalance between the two countries. Swedish export to Ukraine exceeds Ukrainian exports to Sweden by five times. However, it should be noted that after a long period of decrease, which reached its peak in 2012-2014, a certain increase is observed in the volume of trade between the two countries.
Since 2010, the amount of Swedish investments in Ukraine has been constantly decreasing. The sharpest drop occurred in 2013-2014, when the volume of investments decreased from 1.08 billion to 439 million dollars. For the first 9 months of 2016, the volume of Swedish investments in Ukrainian economy amounted to USD 329.4 million. The bulk of Swedish investments accounts for processing industry (217.7 million dollars).
For several years, Swedish furniture giant has been negotiating to enter Ukrainian market. It was not just about opening stores in major cities of Ukraine, but also about development of cooperation with Ukrainian furniture manufacturers. Despite the promises made by top Ukrainian officials to promote the ambitious plans of IKEA, the company faced an impassable obstacle, the need to pay bribes to local officials.
In the interview of 2010, the head of the Russian branch of IKEA Lennart Dahlgren stated that “IKEA has no money to pay bribes. Why the land is three times more expensive in Ukraine than in Moscow or London?” He also claimed that corruption in Russia compared to Ukraine is “whiter than snow.” Finally, frustrated Swedish investors have postponed their Ukrainian plan for the indefinite future. The experience of IKEA, a company with global reputation, has become an alarm not only for Swedish businesses, but also for all foreign investors willing to operate in Ukraine. After the Revolution of Dignity, representatives of the new reformist Government have made several attempts to convince the management of IKEA that the situation has changed. Although it is not a problem to purchase IKEA products in Ukraine via the Internet, opening Ukrainian office of the furniture giant would be an important step in improving the image of Ukraine.
Swedes demonstrate the most powerful support for Ukraine among all European nations. According to the opinion poll, conducted by GMF, in 2014, over 70% of Swedes expressed the need for economic and political support for Ukraine, even at the risk of provoking a conflict with Russia, which is the highest rate among all 12 polled countries. Moreover, Swedes also lead in terms of the negative attitudes toward Russia (78%). Over a half of Swedes (56%) believe that the EU should respond to Russian aggression by providing Ukraine a membership perspective, increased economic assistance (72%) and strengthened sanctions against Russia (68%). However, 54% argued against granting Ukraine military materials and equipment.
Similar trends have been show by the opinion poll conducted in Sweden in 2015 on request of the Institute of World Policy. When asked about the nature of the conflict in Ukraine, the majority of Swedes (65%) agreed with the statement that the military conflict in eastern Ukraine is inspired by Russia; slightly less respondents stated that this conflict is a war with Russia (57%). The “civil war” option has been supported by 47% of respondents. The poll has shown uncertainty among Swedes regarding identification of the conflict, which is generally understandable, given the hybrid nature of the confrontation and the official terminology of Ukraine. Among all eight polled countries51, Sweden had the lowest rate of those who believe that the conflict in Ukraine is inspired by the West (only 14%).
On the other hand, perception of Ukraine among Swedes did not differ significantly from the citizens of other European countries. The key associations with Ukraine are typical: war (35%), Russia (22%), and poverty (17%).Answering to the question why Ukraine should be in the EU, Swedes most often choose two arguments: “Ukraine is a part of Europe” and “this is a way to protect Ukraine from Russian aggression” (33% supporters in both cases). The third most popular reason is that Ukrainians are committed to European values (18%). However, it should be noted that much more Swedes disagree with this statement; almost a third (31%) of respondents believed that Ukrainians have yet to prove their commitment to European values. This is the second most frequently mentioned reason why Ukraine should not join the EU. Among other arguments against Ukraine’s accession to the EU, Swedes often mentioned corruption (42%), influence of the oligarchs, and poverty (18%).
Prepared by Daria Gaidai, Leonid Litra