Holding breath for Ukraine – but Europe can do more

Europe is watching Ukraine with much hope and not so little awe, after a tumultuous week that ended dramatically – and hopefully peacefully. That it will be so is foremost up to the Ukrainians themselves – but Putin will want to, and Europe will have to, play their parts.

EUROMAIDAN. Demonstration på Självständighetstorget i Kiev, för EU och mot president Janukovytj. Bild Nwassa Gnatoush via Wikimedia.
EUROMAIDAN. Demonstration på Självständighetstorget i Kiev, för EU och mot president Janukovytj, vid ett tidigare, fredligare tillfälle, 1 december 2013. Bild Nwassa Gnatoush via Wikimedia.

Joy and relief are the dominant feelings after the sudden and somewhat surprising turn of events in Ukraine, with the president de facto abdicating his post, and the parliament voting to depose him. Joy and relief, after several tumultous days of bloody confrontations between security forces using brutal, sometimes fatal, violence, including snipers, and demonstrators who, if not totally harmless, have had lot less ambition and clearly lot less ability to use the same methods.

But the day after the eventful Saturday which ended with the released Julia Tymosjenko addressing the crowd on the Maidan square, the dominant picture is also one of cautious expectation, of a tense calm – and of lots of question marks.

Who will take immediate control of the leaderless country, with its failing economy? Can the parliamentary opposition leaders find common ground with the opposition on Maidan and in the streets, where barricades are still rising, and in regional cities like Lviv, in order to move forward? Does the new sudden parliamentary majority have the ability to hold together and steer the difficult course through both constitutional and economic reform? Is Julia Tymosjenko, with a not untroublesome past, a sufficiently popular and legitimate leader now? Will Janukovytj, who day by day filled the role of egotistic ruthless thug all the more convincingly, stay away – or even be hunted down?

Most of all: will there be peace, democracy and rule of law? And the second most important question: What will Russia do? The only hope for a stable Ukraine is that the Ukrainians are capable of achieving the first – which implies that they are left alone to do so. The Russian leadership of course sees the Ukraine as its own backyard, or even as a country whose independence is a historical error. But the Ukraine has as much connections with the more westerly, European sphere, with historical, economic, religious and cultural bonds not least to Poland and the former central-european former Hapsburg lands. Russia’s interests in the Crimea, not least because of its Black Sea naval base there, and its de facto energy monopoly in the region gives it power and national interests – but not the legitimacy to involve itself in Ukrainian internal matters. And remember, when the common parallel with the South Ossetia War is run, that Ukraine isn’t Georgia. Neither when it comes to size, location or resources.

This is where Europe comes in. Now there’s a feeling of collectively holding breath all over Europe – for the development in Ukraine, and for the Russian path of action. But Europe can do more than hold its breath, and impotently ponder our geopolitical shortcomings when it comes to hard power. We can straighten our backs, reflect on the fact that it was the desire for a closer affiliation with Europe that gave the Ukrainian opposition its momentum, and use our soft power.

And Europe’s soft power can be used in hard, tough ways. We shouldn’t just straighten our backs, but reach out not only one but both hands to the Ukrainians. We should offer political and economic support and cooperation. We can show that for Europe, the goal isn’t to guide Ukraine’s way and internal choices with a remote control – our way isn’t the Kremlin way. Our goal is that Ukraine can be free to choose its own way forward, free to thrive and reach peace and prosperity. That, of course, doesn’t mean that we’re totally idealistic: a peaceful and prosperous Ukraine, as one of the continent’s largest and most important countries, is of paramount interest and importance to Europe.

The European way also doesn’t mean complacency. We have demands: for democratic processes and rule of law. Let there be vengeance and retaliation – but in an ordered sense. Put the ones responsible for the bloodshed, and for corruption and theft on a titanic scale, on trial. Real trials, not show trials with specially designed legislation and preordained outcomes.

I don’t claim to be a specialist on foreign affairs, and I am far from being an expert on eastern Europe. I can’t say exactly what instruments the Ukraine need and Europe can offer. The eastern partnership that not least Foreign Ministers Bildt of Sweden and Sikorski of Poland have struggled for, must be one potential component. In the long run, the possibility of a membership in the European Union can’t be ruled out. Even if it’s distant, it might be very relevant for the Ukrainian perseverance on the rough path ahead.

And Russia might care to remember: Europe isn’t your enemy, either.

Read more about Euromaidan and the new Ukrainian revolution on Wikipedia. Read about the protests in Ukraine in Dagens Nyheter (Swedish). Read the Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt’s reflections today on the latest events in Ukraine (Swedish).

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