European 'flag of convenience' countries, Ukraine's friends and ill-wishers

Author : Pavlo Horin

Source : 112 Ukraine

Five years ago, Ukraine made its geopolitical choice and opted for the West, paying an exorbitant price for it - the loss of Crimea, Donbas, and political and economic upheavals
10:03, 12 November 2018

Five years ago, Ukraine has made its geopolitical choice and opted for the West. The country has paid an exorbitant price for it – it has lost Crimea, was forced to wage a war for Donbas, and suffered from political and economic upheavals. Many people in Ukraine expected this to be a country’s chance for reforms and the rapid European integration. Five years have passed, and Europe is not welcoming us with open arms. Partly, it is our own fault, and partly, the situation in Europe and the world should be blamed. The romance of the Ukrainian revolution is already gone, and grey routine days appear in the European Union and Ukraine


First, under Moscow’s pressure, the European Union postponed the introduction of a free trade agreement (FTA) for Ukraine until January 1, 2016. Then it has suspended the introduction of a visa-free regime for Kyiv’s failure to fulfill its obligations in anti-corruption legislation. Soon, some European countries have become strident critics of the Ukrainian politics. In April 2016, the results of the Dutch referendum have suspended the ratification of the association agreement until September 1, 2017. And then a conflict between Kyiv and Warsaw concerning the historical past erupted; the head of the Polish Foreign Ministry told Ukrainians: 'You will not enter Europe with Bandera.' The 'historical clash' with the Poles has further turned into a language issue with the Hungarians, who subsequently blocked the negotiations between Kyiv and NATO twice.

Now it is obvious that Ukraine’s European fate will be decided not only by Brussels, but also by the capitals of the European states, and their noticeable increase in Euroscepticism and populism could become a serious obstacle for Kyiv.

Related: European Commissioner urges to prosecute responsible for attacks at activists in Ukraine

In recent years, Europe, being under the influence of the migrants’ invasion and the elite crisis, has begun to lean toward the right-wing populism. With time, these trends become more intensive. In January 2018, Miloš Zeman was re-elected Czech President. In May, head of the right-wing populists, Viktor Orban, took over the post of head of the Hungarian government. Eurosceptic Northern League party has won the parliamentary elections in Italy, and its leader later became deputy prime minister and minister of interior. The popularity of Euroskeptics continues to increase in Sweden and Germany. According to the results of the parliamentary elections in Sweden this year, Swedish Democrats party took the third place again, and in Germany, the success of the right-wing conservative and Eurosceptic Alternative for Germany party turned out to be unprecedented. In October, this party has repeated the success of last year, and now it has factions in all 16 Landtags (except for the Bundestag). The situation in Latvia is intriguing as well; this year, the Consensus party won the parliamentary elections, yet in 2017 maintained contractual relations with United Russia party.

Such political alignment in Europe is unlikely to benefit Ukraine, whose authorities intend to amend the Constitution to make EU and NATO membership its long-term goal.

So which European countries pose a threat to Ukraine’s European aspirations? and the IMEE-analytics analytical group conducted a joint study of the peculiarities of the foreign policies of the European countries.

Research methodology

The power in Europe changes from one election to another. Therefore, threats can be real and tangible or possible, associated with the expectations of changes in power; Austria and Italy are the recent examples.


Related: Almost 40 European countries blame Russia for attacking OSCE drone in Donbas

Any research in this area would be subjective since it is very difficult to evaluate and express all aspects of international relations in quantitative forms. But we will try to do it.

In order to determine the level of real threats, we have analyzed:

- the activity of delegates of a particular country in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE);

- the position of European countries concerning the idea of Ukraine’s membership in the EU and NATO;

- the attitude of European countries to the events in Donbas and Crimea, including illegal visits by of the occupied peninsula;

- attitude to the energy security issues, in particular, support of Russian gas transmission projects oriented towards Europe, bypassing Ukraine’s GTS;

- the existence of the territorial claims against Ukraine;

- the dynamics of bilateral trade and economic relations over the past three years.

When assessing potential threats, we took the following points into account:

- the country’s state system;

- the far-right, Eurosceptics, and populists in the national parliaments, as well as the level of their integration into the government bodies;

- the risks of political activity of far-right forces representatives, Eurosceptics, and populists in the European Parliament;

- the state’s official position on imposing / lifting sanctions against Russia.

Such countries as Albania, Andorra, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Macedonia, Moldova, Monaco, Norway, San Marino, Serbia, Turkey, Montenegro, and Switzerland are not EU members, therefore, they cannot pose a potential threat in the EP’s adoption of the key decisions on Ukraine.

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Why some European countries oppose Ukraine’s political course?

In the course of the study, we considered that 32 parliaments of 43 analyzed countries have political parties whose ideology is based on Euroscepticism or right-wing populism. The number of Eurosceptics exceeds 20% in 16 parliaments. In Serbia, Italy, Iceland, and Hungary, this number is about 60%. In addition, Euroskeptics of 16 countries are represented in the European Parliament, and in 10 cases the number of European deputies from these political forces exceeds 15% of the total number of delegates of this country – Austria (22%), Finland (15%), Lithuania (18%), Czech Republic (28%), Poland (33%), Bulgaria (29%), France (21%), Netherlands (23% ), the United Kingdom (33%), and Austria (22%).

Related: Russia to interfere in elections in Ukraine and European Union, - Poroshenko

Sanctions against Russia were not supported by Andorra, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Vatican, Macedonia, Monaco, San Marino, Serbia, and Turkey. These countries are not subject to any obligations with the EU; moreover, they have their own relations with the Russian Federation.

In recent years, ruling or opposition political forces of 18 European states have advocated for the easing or lifting of such sanctions. That is, there are such ideas; however, the supporters of the lifting of sanctions do not yet have enough strength to implement such a decision. So far, not enough…

If we continue the issue of European political solidarity, we should note the countries' reaction to the events surrounding the poisoning of Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK, which, according to British investigators, was initiated by Moscow. Then, 26 European countries, including Ukraine, supported London’s initiative to expel Russian diplomats. Another 19 did not take such action: namely, Austria, Andorra, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Vatican, Greece, Iceland, Cyprus, Liechtenstein, Macedonia, Malta, Monaco, Portugal, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Turkey, and Switzerland.

In addition, the political forces of 22 countries have publicly advocated the resumption of political or economic dialogue with Russia. Politicians, public figures, and businessmen from 23 countries have directly violated Ukrainian ban on visiting Crimea. It is important that the Italian, Czech, Hungarian and Bosnian delegations when visiting the peninsula consisted of representatives of the ruling political forces. Opposition politicians mainly came from Austria, the UK, Germany, France, Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Lithuania, and Serbia to the Crimea. As for Bosnia and Herzegovina, it has distinguished itself recently by its anti-Ukrainian activities, in particular, it is about the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats and its leader Milorad Dodik. By the way, a few years ago, parliaments of some Italian regions have recognized Crimea as part of Russia, and “Luhansk People’s Republic” has opened its representative office in Italy.

Related: European Parliament passes resolution, condemning Russia's actions in Sea of Azov

Official position of the delegates during the voting for PACE resolutions - No. 13483 - 2014 'Reconsideration on substantive grounds of the previously ratified credentials of the Russian delegation', No. 14227 - 2017 'The functioning of democratic institutions in Ukraine', No. 14463 - 2018 'Humanitarian consequences of the war in Ukraine', No. 14591 – 2018 'Ukrainian citizens detained as political prisoners by the Russian Federation' were also indicative.

For example, representatives of 14 countries, including the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Moldova, Hungary, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Greece, Italy, Serbia, and Turkey, turned out to be absolutely unanimous in depriving Russia of powers in PACE. But 24 countries spoke unanimously in favor for the resolution on the functioning of democratic institutions in Ukraine (PACE strengthened its criticism of the Ukrainian authorities and demanded that Kyiv change the law on lustration, implement the Minsk agreements and not toughen the law on languages).

Another element of the study was the assessment of the position of European leaders on the problematic issues of energy security in Europe, in particular, the support for Russian gas transmission projects bypassing the Ukrainian gas transport system.

Related: Post-Soviet Eastern European countries need temporary coalition with Washington

Thus, the implementation of Nord Stream - 2 gas pipeline project, which to increase the dependence of European countries on Russian gas and energetically isolate the region of Eastern and Southeastern Europe, is supported by 10 countries: Austria, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Norway, Finland, and Malta. In addition, the list should include another six European countries: Bulgaria, as a country, which is out of the Nord Stream - 2 project interest, but is concerned about the implementation of joint gas energy projects with Russia; Greece; Sweden, which, despite the fact that most of its political forces oppose the construction of the Russian gas pipeline, has still granted permission to Nord Stream - 2 AG to lay a pipe over its territory; Italy, which in 2015 was against the project, but after the parliamentary elections in 2018, when the center-right coalition led by Northern League came to power, the government began to bear the Russian project; Serbia and Turkey, whose interests are not directly affected by the project, but both of these countries are interested in another project of Russian gas delivery – Turkish Stream.

The existence of land claims against Ukraine is a direct threat not only to its European aspirations but also to the very existence of this country in its current form. For example, Austria and Turkey have only some historical prerequisites for making such claims, but they do not take active steps in this direction. Polish and Romanian state authorities, political and public figures make frequent statements, which directly or indirectly indicate the country's true intentions towards Ukraine. That is, Warsaw and Bucharest operate primarily using the so-called 'soft power.'

Related: Yanukovych was afraid of protesters coming to his administration during Euromaidan, - security guard

Hungary is taking specific actions that could lead to incitement of ethnic hatred in Ukraine’s Zakarpattia. This is confirmed by Budapest’s recent activity, providing Hungarian citizenship to Ukrainians (remember the topical passport scandal in Berehove). In fact, the Romanian influence on Ukraine could be even more serious than the Hungarian one, especially if it comes out from Washington’s control. Hungarian territorial claims are focused mainly on certain areas of Zakarpattia region, while Ukraine’s Chernivtsi and Odesa regions are included in the sphere of Romanian influence. Bucharest’s influence on Ukraine’s domestic policy and on the position of the Romanian community in Ukraine is carried out not only through diplomatic channels but also through Romanian public associations. Moreover, the Romanian passport policy is more effective, taking into consideration its soft diplomacy. Thus, according to Eurostat, in 2016 Romania became the second European country by the number of issued passports to Ukrainians. Its share was 16.8%, while the share of Hungary was only 1.5%.

Related: 2019 state budget provides $589 thousand financial assistance for families of died on Maidan

Although Belarus is part of the Union State with Russia, however, it is not the EU and PACE member, therefore it does not pose a big threat in the external arena. In addition, Minsk often seeks to take a neutral position concerning Ukraine-Russia conflict, acting as a political and economic mediator.

The dynamics of trade and economic relations between Ukraine and European countries show that in 2015 - 2018, the commodity circulation with most of the countries has increased. At the same time, Ukraine’s trade with Georgia, Turkey, Switzerland, and Monaco has a fluctuating character. The downward trend with Liechtenstein, France, Albania, San Marino, and Croatia is observed.

* * *

As you can see, Europe-2018 is different from Europe-2014. Over the recent years, events have changed the mood of the Europeans. Unionism began to give way to Euroscepticism, and more and more right-wing populists came to power in a number of countries. Thus, 74% of the European states parliaments have political forces with a negative attitude towards European integration processes. Eurosceptics take at least one-fifth of the seats in 37% of the parliaments.

Related: European Union never to recognize annexation of Crimea, - Mogherini

Sometimes, Europeans do not understand Kyiv. The outlook for the coming years is even vaguer. Ukraine’s economic problems are not the major reason for this; it is more about a division of Europe itself and that of Ukraine-EU-Russia relations. Definitely, Kyiv will need to jump through some hoops to become a member of the European Union.

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