I can’t imagine lifting of sanctions without significant changes in Donbas, - Umland

Author : Yaroslav Shimov

Respondent : Andreas Umland

Source :

"Of course, today's Ukraine is not very attractive for European Union. But if you remember, 25 years ago, Poland, too, was not the most attractive. But in a few years it became a member of the European Union."
07:56, 21 December 2016

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112 Agency

The European Union extended for other six months sanctions against Russia, introduced in 2014 after its aggression against Ukraine. This decision was taken on the eve of the EU summit in Brussels. Kyiv, which is happy with this decision, however is concerned with recent changes in the political climate in Europe and the US. What is the future of Ukraine and its relations with the West in the next year? Could Kyiv become a victim of Moscow and Washington geopolitical agreements after Donald Trump’s victory in the elections in USA? German political scientist, Member of the Institute for Central and East European Studies Andreas Umland shares his point of view on these topics.

- I think that basically all countries are more or less strong allies of Ukraine. Of course, now the situation is changing, more pro-Russian politics are coming forward. But I can’t imagine that without any significant changes in Donbas sanctions will be lifted, as this would be a loss of face for both the European Union and the US. I can only imagine easing of sanctions if the situation in Donbas will be actually improved.

- How do you assess the recent actions of Nadia Savchenko, her contacts with the separatists?

- It's hard to assess what happened there, you should probably take part in these negotiations in order to fully assess its meaning. In fact, now such contacts might make sense. Savchenko is not an official representative of the Ukrainian government, but as Member of Parliament, she can in any way “probe the soil”. If the result of this leads to some improvement in eastern Ukraine, then of course it will be a benefit.

- Are there any possible agreements between Russia and the United States regarding Ukraine? And whether you believe Kyiv has a "plan B" in this case?

- It is difficult to predict due to the fact that Trump has no political background, as well as some future members of his administration. They had business contacts with Russia. Will they behave the same as politicians it is hard to predict. But in the US there are serious forces which will evaluate excessive rapprochement with the Kremlin, including in the issue of Ukraine as a betrayal and departure from the basic principles of American and European foreign policy. I understand the current concerns but also I do not expect any significant concessions to Moscow.

- Do you notice any serious signs of concern in krainian political circles, analytical community and society as a whole?

- Of course, there are great concerns about the future political changes. This is not only the presidency of Donald Trump, but also likely the difference in positions of the new French president to be elected next year. It is likely that it will be Francois Fillon. I understand these fears. On the other hand, I cannot imagine a truly radical change of course of neither the US nor the European Union. I think that there would be some change in rhetoric, diplomacy, but not all complete change of political direction.

- Can Ukraine boast of some successful reforms? If so, why outside Ukraine skeptical views on this topic are still common?

- This skepticism – is an expression that people in Ukraine and beyond, are dissatisfied with the speed of reforms. If what happened in the last two years, would be viewed in historical context, over the two years Ukraine has introduced more new laws and initiated more reforms than over the previous 20 years. This is still a big step forward, but it does not happen as fast as we would like, as expected, as I had expected that in 2014, after Euromaidan. Movement is going zigzags, sometimes we make steps back. International organizations have to constantly put pressure on the Ukrainian government, civil society – should continue to struggle with the old political class.

Nevertheless, I can see clear progress. I feel that the system is changing, there are new anti-corruption bodies, a new different approach of the international community to Ukraine. Now, I would say, we see the last battles of the old system. Yet there is a former political class, very corrupted but it is under pressure from international donors and the Ukrainian civil society. Slowly but relentlessly it is losing its positions.

- In whom do you see the future representatives of Ukrainian politics?

- Now it is difficult to say. There are a number of public figures, the former President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili, Svyatoslav Vakarchuk from the band "Okean Elzy", a number of civil society activists, young politicians. Who exactly will be the new star of Ukrainian politics, yet it is difficult to say. But I think it is not as important as changing the structure of Ukrainian politics, personalities and issues become less important.

- According to your observations, is the political system in Ukraine stable enough to be changed peacefully and go through evolution without new violent breakdown, no blood, as it was in 2014?

- I do not exclude that there will be new protests. But I think that, most likely, there will be no "third Maidan", after all the political institutions of Ukraine today are more mobile and are different from those that were in times of Yanukovych presidency.

Of course, today's Ukraine is not very attractive to the European Union. But if you remember, 25 years ago, Poland, too, was not the most attractive. But in a few years it became a member of the European Union. Therefore, the future is opened, if the EU will continue the policy of integration and association with Ukraine, then in 10, 15, 20 years the situation can change significantly.

For Ukraine, the stakes are higher than just a debate about European ideals. Poland, I think, is key for Ukraine in solving many problems of security and integration into Europe. Ukrainian politics of memory pushes Poland away. After Euromaidan this policy has become more nationalistic. I have long been living in Ukraine. As I observed in the first 10 years here on this apologetic discourse about the OUN, especially I did not care. But in recent years this apologetic discourse became increasingly spread. At the same time Ukraine signed the Association Agreement with the EU and wants to become a member of NATO in the future, to build close relations with Poland. Thus, the historical policy is in contradiction with foreign policy, and I think there must be some adjustments.

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