The third Eastern Partnership Summit will take place on November 28-29 in Vilnius. It can change the political landscape of Europe dramatically. If we succeed in signing the Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine, the Vilnius Summit will have crucial political, and even civilizational, implications for decades to come.
Lithuania positions itself in favor of stronger relations with the Eastern neighborhood. This is due first and foremost to historical reasons, as Lithuania, and Ukraine in particular, were part of the same Commonwealth and have developed ties that are deeply rooted in a common past. Lithuania was the first of the Soviet Republics to declare its independence and break away from the USSR. As a result, Lithuania wants to support democratic movements in neighboring countries.
Ukraine is far from perfect as there is a lot of corruption there. Let’s call a spade a spade. In fact, the Tymoshenko case is definitely a blatant case of selective justice. However, we should not equate the Ukrainian nation with its political class lightly. While it is true that there are few genuine democrats in the Ukrainian political class, human rights and civil liberties are much more respected in Ukraine than in Russia. Whereas Russia under Vladimir Putin cannot be defined otherwise than a dictatorship, Ukraine appears as a flawed and weak democracy. The latter is still much preferable to authoritarianism, as a matter of fact.
Needless to say, the Association Agreement is not about immediate accession to the EU, but it gives a country in question prospects of getting closer to the EU and hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel. This represents a rather symbolic, but nevertheless pivotal, achievement for democratic forces in countries of the Eastern Partnership.
We cannot dismiss grave concerns expressed by France, and Germany in particular, regarding the Tymoshenko case in Ukraine. They are understandable. The best solution, in my view, would be for Viktor Yanukovych to allow Yulia Tymoshenko to leave the country and go to Germany. A bad move would be for Germany and France to ask the Ukrainian court to change its ruling. Ukrainians are aware that a solution needs to be found to this issue. Achieving this agreement with the EU is a matter of prestige for the political class, but economic considerations also play a role. The point is that European funds are badly needed in the region.
How about Russia? By blackmailing countries of the Eastern partnership, Russia is not doing itself a service. Ukraine in particular is strong enough to ignore Russian pressure. The paradox is that Russia needs Ukraine much more than Ukraine needs Russia. Russia’s attitude towards Ukraine is shaped by its nostalgia of a “huge state,” as Russia still sees Ukraine as a great power and cannot conceive a Russian “empire” without Ukraine. This relationship is based on much more than just pragmatic interest. It is even more complex than the love-hate relationship so characteristic of Central Europe and Russia, since Ukraine is a significant part of Russia’s historically formed identity.
Historically, Russia has always managed to base its foreign policy on bilateral relations and the principle of “divide and rule.” This time, with the EU as interlocutor, this is proving extremely difficult. I wouldn’t say that there is a fully-fledged European policy towards Russia as there are still divergences between EU countries regarding the position that needs to be adopted on a certain number of issues. However, we increasingly witness a tendency for member states to rely on Brussels when there is disagreement with Russia on certain issues. The EU policy towards Russia is definitely more consolidated now than it used to be.
It is in the best of our own, and our Eastern partnership friends’ interests that Lithuania is not much of a Eurosceptic country. Intellectuals are generally quite pro-European and Eurosceptics are easy to defeat in public debate. Lithuania therefore supports further integration between EU countries and is still willing to join the eurozone in 2015. For Lithuanians, the European project is far from a threat to a newly-acquired sovereignty. Nothing is threatening the Lithuanian identity, and it is precisely the European integration process that helped us overcome our insecurities and fears linked to our geopolitical status as a boundary region, with its historic position between Germany and Russia.
If the Vilnius summit does not lead to a “yes” for Ukraine, this will be seen as a disappointing result for Lithuania. Therefore, the Association Agreement with Ukraine, and further initiatives to get Georgia and Moldova closer to the EU without losing touch with more problematic countries of this program, such as Armenia and Azerbaijan, and also keeping Belarus in focus, would fulfil the best case scenario for the Baltic States in terms of their security and prospects in the EU.
Leonidas Donskis, Ph.D., is a Lithuanian Member of the European Parliament.
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