Ukraine’s foreign minister, Kostantyn Gryshchenko, said that closer ties with Europe remained a strategic priority for his country. He insisted that integration with the European Union was still Ukraine’s number-one foreign-policy objective, despite current disputes in the relationship and the economic turmoil in the eurozone. ‘We are convinced’, he said, ‘that Europe cannot be complete and truly united as long as the biggest ... nation located entirely in Europe stays outside the EU.’

The foreign minister spoke at the IISS just days after Brussels and Kyiv initialled an outline Association Agreement that envisaged the creation of a free-trade area. However, as was noted in the introductory remarks, EU member states had already made it clear that the agreement would not be signed until after Ukrainian parliamentary elections in October and after their concerns were put to rest about the ‘selective use of the justice system’ (a reference to the jailing of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko and others).

Foreign Minister Gryshchenko said that although President Viktor Yanukovych had reaffirmed Kyiv’s European goals and the necessary reforms had been started, Ukrainian foreign and trade policies were not focused solely on Europe. ‘The other major principle is our non-bloc status, a very clear message to our neighbours, and to Europe and to the United States. We will pursue a foreign policy in the security area ... based on the need to strengthen security and stability around our borders,’ he said.

’We see the need to further develop relations with the Russian Federation, our largest neighbour, the country that is very close to millions of Ukrainians through family ties and friendships which developed over the years.’ In fast-changing global geopolitical conditions, he added, relations with China, Brazil and India were also on Kyiv’s foreign-policy radar.

’Ukraine has clearly stated its desire to be part of Europe. It has also stated its desire to be a friendly, open and supportive country to its other neighbours. It is a country that is being transformed from inside, because that is the need of our own people. Our slogan is that “first we need to build Europe within Ukraine”, and then will be able to demonstrate that Ukraine brings assets, not liabilities, to a larger Europe.’

Speech as prepared, check against delivery

I’m glad to have this opportunity to discuss Ukraine’s European policy in a circle of friends. The UK is known for its readiness to be open-minded to Ukraine’s European aspirations. Let me begin by thanking your country for being able to think outside the box when it comes to Ukraine’s European perspective.

I especially appreciate this opportunity to visit the International Institute of Strategic Studies. As one of the world’s renowned think tanks you do contribute to keeping the UK’s foreign policy at the edge of international political thought and strategic planning. Today I am glad to be able to share with you Ukraine’s angle of things in Europe and worldwide.

But before I do that, let me mention that just a few days ago Ukraine and the EU initialed the Association Agreement that hopefully would be signed by the end of this year.

The depth and ambitious nature of this document are unprecedented in the European legal practice. The Agreement establishes a new philosophy of relations between Ukraine and the EU, namely the transition from the principles of partnership and cooperation to a qualitatively new level of political association and economic integration. I’ll use this venue to explain why, in my opinion, it is important not only to Ukraine, but to the EU in general.

We live in times that aren’t easy on Europe. The challenges of the global financial crisis and the turmoil of euro-zone have put a strain on Europe’s economy – and (equally important) on its mood. Given this kind of background, today’s Europe can be rather surprising. Whereas the rich countries within the EU are often disillusioned, the poor ones outside the Union are ready to roll up their sleeves to fulfill their dream to become a part of the European family. Maybe it’s the history’s way to show where the EU needs to look for its new drive – in places where the voters are EU-optimistic.

Ukraine is one of these places. Despite the crisis in the EU, despite the lack of consensus regarding the very possibility of Ukraine’s eventual membership, we place the EU integration as our #1 foreign policy target. If one of these days you feel like recharging the batteries of your faith in Europe – simply come to Ukraine! (Soon there will be an ample opportunity to do so, with Ukraine hosting the Euro-2012 football championship).

So, if you decide to come to Ukraine this summer to root for your amazing “three lions” team, use the opportunity and talk to young Ukrainians! Ask them how they feel about the EU and why they don’t imagine an independent prosperous Ukraine beyond the EU boundaries. You’ll hear many arguments explaining why the EU enlargement is (despite today’s crisis) this continent’s way to go. Most importantly, because the Union embodies two things quintessential to the young generation of Ukrainians – democracy and economic success. I’m sure this just as much applies for the young generations of all countries to the East of the Berlin wall.

As the EU sorts out its current problems, it’s imperative to keep in mind that millions of Europeans still live beyond the Schengen border line. Students, entrepreneurs, civil activists,– in some non-EU countries the overwhelming majority is invigorated with the same dream that instilled the EU’s “founding fathers” in the 1950s and with the same hope that urged the East Europeans to tear down the Wall in the 1980s. The Schengen line shouldn’t separate them from the rest of Europe. It shouldn’t become the new Wall dividing those who were lucky enough to get on the “train” of the unification and those who, for whatever reasons, came late and were left behind. Therefore we are fully dedicated to fulfilling the requirements of the Ukraine-EU visa liberalization Action Plan.

We understand that the EU faces a critical phase, with a number of pressing decisions due and overdue. Having set the historic bar so high, the EU plunged into a crisis that touches upon the very core of its financial and social being. And like always in the midst of crisis, a temptation of isolationism hangs in the air. The challenges of the pending financial and economic transformation prompt some Europeans to resort to the notion that the chapter of the EU enlargement needs to be closed, once the Balkans joins in.

Ukraine disagrees. For one thing, stopping Europe’s extension without covering all European democracies would mean changing the very nature of the European Union – from a standard-bearer of peace and democracy to a closed club of selected nations.

“More Europe” might be the right remedy to EU’s financial malaise. But “more Europe” must also mean sharing responsibility for those who believe in the European idea and pin down their hopes on a better future with the European perspective for their countries.

It’s wrong to peg the so-called post-Soviet space exclusively in terms of political and economic realities that shaped it in the past two decades and, in many ways, caused its weakness. A new generation enters the political scene of these countries – the generation of those who were “born and bred” in the post-Soviet era. They grew up with the faith, that at some point of their life their nations would be embraced by the rest of the continent as part of the big European family. Taking this faith away would mean undermining Europe’s potential of growth – both external and internal.

Once again, just like in the 1950s and 1990s this continent needs a vision. And once again it should be a vision of unity. Not only Europe’s ideological drive depends on that. This also applies for its economic perspective. Europe’s division into EU and non-EU means division of the continent’s economic, natural and human resources which – at a pivotal time! – prevents it from fully embracing its potential.

Obviously, these are bad times to make any far-reaching political promises – for any aspirant country. But “closing the chapter” would be tantamount to drawing a new line of division – in the wrong place at the wrong time. Just like decades before, when the EU was in the beginning, Europe should be able to look beyond horizon and unite – if not via bold enlargement waves, then via association, free trade and visa liberalization.

Today’s crisis is, first and foremost, a reminder to all Europeans to stay focused and to remember what the European unity is really about. In my view, it’s an unprecedented experiment of bringing together the nations that for centuries where opposed or hostile to each other.

This experiment shouldn’t be allowed to fail. Not because it’s “too big to fail”. But most importantly – because after the two world wars and the “cold war” Europe is ready to step beyond yesterday’s hatred. Yet, in order to do so, it will need to step beyond yesterday’s stereotypes too. And most importantly – beyond the notion that Europe’s East and West (the EU and the post-Soviet space) cannot and won’t come together. They can and they should.

Ladies and gentlemen,

For over a decade now Ukraine has been proclaiming the EU membership as its strategic goal. For over two decades Europe’s decision-makers have been mulling the “Ukrainian question”.

There are those who strongly favor Ukraine’s EU accession and those who vehemently oppose it. Clearly, Europe cannot be seen complete and truly ‘united’ as long as the biggest in territory nation located entirely in Europe stays outside the EU.

On the other hand, the question whether or not Ukraine at some point becomes a member is not the highest on EU’s agenda. We understand that. Therefore in our dialogue we are trying to be constructive and proactive. We don’t come and confront the EU with immediate political demands. We try to show that Ukraine can enrich the EU, not freight it with problems. By eventually becoming a member we bring in a whole array of benefits – starting with Ukraine’s natural deposits, educated population and ending with the best agricultural lands worldwide.

Therefore it’s especially important that today’s dialogue between Ukraine and the EU is not a dialogue of platitudes. It’s a dialogue of open language and mutually binding responsibilities.

Ukraine still has a lot to accomplish. But the most important thing is that after a long period of inaction we have entered the path of concrete reform-oriented steps. They cause domestic tensions. But what really matters to my Government is that these reforms are bound to bring tangible, visible results.

Any kind of progress between Ukraine and the EU implies a major transformation on Ukraine’s part. The upward economic dynamic confirms that the nation is on the right track. 5.2% GDP growth. 7.3% industrial growth. 4.6% inflation (the lowest in 9 years). Steel production grew in 2011 by 8.5%, chemical production by 14.4%;textile manufacturing by 6.1%. 

We passed a critically important pension reform, aiming among other things at bringing Ukraine’s finances in line with the demographic realities of today. Even more dramatic was the tax reform that we passed. Streamlining the tax code into one document after decades of fiscal chaos has been a life-changing experience – both for the state tax authorities and tax payers. We are still working on the tax code to amend issues as they arise. This is an ongoing process and we are committed to do it right.

At the core of Ukraine’s transformation stands the fight on corruption. Uprooting this evil is a Herculean task that will change things in Ukraine once and for all. Aside from the ongoing crackdown on grafters within the Government, the strategy is to deregulate the economy – thus eliminating channels, on which the corruption feeds.

Over 35.4 thousand so-called “regulatory acts” have been lifted or liberalized at the local level. Some of these changes have been already in effect last year; some are coming into force just now. In particular – with enactment of the recently passed law that will provide for the “single window” principle in registration and implementation of investment projects. The old system that had investor at mercy of bribe-hungry bureaucrats will belong to the past.

The tax reform, the pension reform, a profound government reduction, deregulation of whole branches of national economy – that’s just a short list of Ukraine’s accomplishments over the last two years. The Association with EU will be both an impetus and catalyst on this way, in particular – to go in line with EU norms and principles.

Ladies and gentlemen,

No matter how high the emotions run in Ukraine’s political life, no matter how palpable the pressure is “to switch direction” – President Yanukovych sticks to his pledge to lead the nation toward Europe. We are a government of optimists which sees the EU not only as Ukraine’s beacon, but also as our natural habitat and historic destination.

On the other hand it wouldn’t be quite honest of me to talk around the fact that Ukraine is put in a different position than a number of countries that aspired the EU membership before us. In particular, at no point of our 20-year-long independent history did the EU bring itself to a simple political statement: “once Ukraine is ready – it will be in”.

There have been times when we were criticized for our shortcomings. And there have been times when we were lauded as a beacon of democracy. But there have never been times when Ukraine was given what was granted to the East European nations straight away in the early 1990s: a clear sense of direction.

As a result, even now, after 16 years of expressly and consequently putting the EU integration at the very top of our foreign policy agenda, we have a paradoxical situation. The EU encourages Ukraine to follow the path of the EU integration. And at the same time it shies away from acknowledging the EU integration as the final destination of this journey.

Given this kind of treatment, we are forced to look out for EU-shaped modernization models that wouldn’t depend solely on EU’s guidance.

We see two models of successful modernization right in front of us. Let’s call them symbolically – the Polish and the Turkish ones. The first one boils down to proclaiming EU-oriented reform policy and conducting it – with EU’s sincere and generous support every step along the way. The second consists of basically the same – just with much lower degree of involvement on the part of the EU.

The Polish model means modernization while the nation acquires the membership. The Turkish one means modernization despite the ambiguity on the membership question.

Given the current disposition (i.e. EU’s lack of readiness to bring clarity on the very possibility of Ukraine’s membership once we are ready), Ukraine will proceed on a track that is close to Polish, even closer to Turkish and yet – with a clear Ukrainian specific.

The EU membership is the primary target. However we are aware that this final destination depends heavily not only on the progress that we make, but also on a number of indicators within the EU (its financial condition, the success of the reform, the popularity of the enlargement idea etc.).

Accordingly, the emphasis will be made first of all on Ukraine’s modernization – with the EU integration as the ultimate goal.

There are two ways for us to approach the EU integration. The first one is fulfilling the criteria that will allow us to move into a comfortable house right in front of us. The second one is fulfilling the criteria that will allow us to build a comfortable house of our own. Given today’s uncertainty regarding the EU enlargement, the latter concept seems more politically expedient. Yet, one way or another, fulfilling the EU criteria is the key for Ukraine to move ahead as a European nation.

To recapitulate, let me use this venue to strongly disavow the notion that Ukraine’s government is shifting away from the objective of the EU integration. The EU is an image of success in the eyes of most Ukrainians. The notion of Ukraine’s eventual EU membership is deeply rooted in the voter’s mind. The orientation at the EU became the common denominator for all leading political forces in Ukraine. No one in a sane mind would change it now.

At the same time Ukraine’s European policy is a part of a broader concept of Ukraine’s modernization. It answers the question where we want to get, but only partly – the question how. This latter one depends, among other things, on existence of a true strategic equilibrium on other directions – between Russia, China and the “emerging markets”, primarily Turkey.

That’s what we are trying to achieve by (a) keeping the dialogue with Russia as result-oriented as possible, (b) expanding the horizons of Ukraine’s foreign policy towards the emerging markets and (c) making its economic segment more pronounced.

The Russian Federation is our closest neighbour and a biggest trade partner. In the light of the bonds connecting our countries millions Ukrainians see it as more than just a neighbour and partner. For some – it is a second cultural motherland. For others – a nation coping with the same post-Soviet malaise Ukraine suffers from and wants to get rid of via EU integration.

This proximity explains both the magnitude of the mutual drive of the two nations and their mutual sensitivity to all discrepancies in foreign policy doctrines, domestic evolutions and, of course, bilateral relations. The high emotion of Ukraine-Russia relations is their most defining characteristic – both at the level of political class and among average voters. This makes many issues exceedingly politicized and subject to speculations. It is imperative not to let this happen over and over again, especially now, when the background of the bilateral relations can be rather prolific. 

Nowadays Russia demonstrates a refreshed national self-awareness. This awareness is the new common denominator that applies both for the Russian government and for its domestic critics. Objectively it is a factor that allows Russia to “concentrate” and evolve as one body. It is vital for Ukraine to make sure that this process bears no anti-Ukrainian sentiment. 

Clearly the Russian Federation aspires to re-emerge as regional leader. It has objective pre-requisites to play this role for a huge portion of the post-Soviet space. However, in order to assume it, Russia needs to become for its neighbours a role model of a truly effective economic transformation. The completion of the presidential elections creates a healthy momentum for such transformation. I do hope for its success.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Quite obviously, Ukraine is Europe. It needs to link itself to European values and be true to its European self. It is also clear that Ukraine is historically and culturally close to Russia. That’s where things did, do and will stand. However, as economic and political gravity poles of today’s world begin to shift, Ukraine needs to reach out farther – East, West, South.

Ukraine will pursue the European goal, but, given the changing international reality, the way leading to it might be different from that of EU’s new members. It will be a way of inner transformation, based on the EU criteria, in strategic partnership with the EU and Russia, however also through boosting its relations with other parts of the world – as long as they are interested in Ukraine and respect its aspirations.

You can call it the policy of pro-European equilibrium. It isn’t tantamount to Ukraine’s multi-vector policy that has been over the years criticized as the fig leaf of geopolitical indecisiveness. On the contrary, today’s policy of Ukraine implies inner strength and clear vision on what we are after. Victor Hugo once named equilibrium “the main law of the material world”. Ukraine needs it – in order to evolve as European nation that is in sync with the rest of the world.

Thank you.

Prior to becoming Foreign Minister in 2010, Kostyantyn Gryshchenko was Ukraine’s ambassador to Russia and concurrently First Deputy Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine (2008-2010). He has also served as Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States of America (2000-2003), the head of Ukraine’s mission to NATO, and the country’s permanent representative at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (1998-2000).

This meeting was chaired by Dr Nicholas Redman, Senior Fellow for Geopolitical Risk and Economic Security; Managing Director, Corporate Advisory; Editor, Adelphi Books.

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Event details

Key Address
Kostyantyn Gryshchenko, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ukraine
Arundel House, London
Monday 02 April 2012