Programme Paper

James Sherr
  • The democratic election of Viktor Yanukovych as President of Ukraine has provoked fears that engagement with Europe will be undermined and the country will move increasingly into Russia's orbit. The reality is more complex. Whatever Yanukovych's intentions, his power is limited by significant political, economic and institutional checks.
  • There are areas of legitimate concern, relating in particular to Ukraine's energy sector and energy agreements with Russia; the fate of Russia's Black Sea Fleet; the future of NATO's institutionalized role in Ukrainian defence reform; economic stability and relations with the European Union.
  • However, several factors give cause for hope that the Yanukovych presidency will adopt a pragmatic approach which will serve Ukraine's national interests, and not those of certain economic elites and political clans. Yanukovych is well short of a majority in the parliament, and will need to pursue policies it will support if he wishes to avoid deadlock. His own party is also far from monolithic, and contains important players who do not wish to see Ukraine erecting additional barriers between itself and Europe.
  • The West's influence in Ukraine is now inescapable. Ukrainian indebtedness means Western banks and institutions are now highly integrated into the country's economy. The basis for a policy of conditionality is possibly stronger than it ever has been, and Western representatives and prominent Ukrainians will be in a strong position to point this out. As ever, however, much will depend on the EU's ability to understand and respond to Ukraine's needs and concerns, and offer incentives for the country to maintain a policy of internal reform and engagement with the West.

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