Discussing Ukraine’s current position and its will to develop and become a major political and economic power in central Europe is an immense and complicated topic. Historically, Ukraine was part of the USSR and has had close direct talks with Moscow ever since it gained its independence. The desire of Ukraine to join the EU and its lack of recent Russian influence has been seen by many as a loss of Russian international prestige. The Ukrainian population first showed its interest to join the EU in the 2004 Orange revolution, a protest against Russian associated Viktor Yanukovych’s tampered victory in the presidency against Viktor Yushchenko. Since then the Ukrainian population demands advancement and has expressed its will to join the European Union. The 2013 Euro Maidan was the population’s uprising against the president at the time, Viktor Yanukovych, who refused to sign the associating agreement with Europe and rather decided to side with Russia. This betrayal marked the start of Ukraine’s EU era. Ukraine has since restructured with the hope to prosper within the EU. I will argue that Ukraine’s efforts are not the problem in its quest to prosperity but rather it is their historic dependency on Russia that helps this veto power to bully them and moderate this country’s development.
As per the EU Ambassador to Ukraine, Matti Maasikas, the populace is pro-EU by 65%, unmistakably representing its vision. However, historically Ukrainians and Russians share familial ties that go back centuries. Kyiv (Ukraine’s capital) is often referred to as “the mother of Russian cities”. Christianity was introduced via Kyiv in the 8th century, and served as the anchor for Kievan Rus, the mother of modern-day Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians, illustrating the historical relations of the two nations.
Putin’s invasions of the Donbas and Crimea have allowed him to slow Ukraine’s development by partially dividing the population and monopolizing its resources. The undeclared war waged by Putin has slowed Ukraine’s integration with Europe. Moreover, Putin has continued efforts to convince the Ukrainian population that joining the EU is the wrong decision, its immense power over Ukraine comes from the fact that they are the country’s main trade partner. Lately, Putin started blockades against imports and exports of goods into Russia further enclosing Ukraine’s economy. And, let’s not forget when Ukraine received preferential Russian gas prices, but this stopped back in 2010, and for a long time Russia had been using gas prices to manipulate the Ukrainian government as Russia was its main gas supplier. Ukraine’s ability to prosper is directly correlated to its economic strength, which is being tampered by Putin. These are all examples of the influence Russia exerts over Ukraine.
Ukraine has clearly stated that it wants to be a member of the EU and NATO as soon as possible and that they will do all it takes to succeed quickly. However, the EU expressed that they will not receive a request from Ukraine to become a member state in the short term, but the EU agrees that this could be possible in the long term. As said by president Zelensky, “It seems to me that we just need to make a country that Europe really wants.” And this refers to having integrity and economic strength. As said by the EU ambassador, “The biggest problem is the fight against corruption in the judicial system and reaching EU environmental standards” followed by his phrase, “they must build political, economic and humane connections to the EU”. Ukraine is currently the poorest country in Europe according to the international monetary fund. In 2018 Ukraine had a GDP of €2,963 which is 8% less than Moldova. Additionally, Ukraine must redo its judiciary system. Both Supreme Court judges and general prosecutors must be verified as honest individuals. Corruption must be combated before any prosperity can be reached. Ukraine must also reach international environmental standards which are extremely costly and must be met to join the EU
Eventually, Ukraine signed the Association Agreement (AA) with the EU in 2014. Historically, Russia was Ukraine’s biggest trading partner with one-third of Ukraine’s total foreign trade. Juxtaposing, Russia is now Ukraine’s third-largest export with 6.5% and second importer after China. The free trade agreement signed within the AA has helped Ukraine distance itself from Russia and now has 42% of overall trade with the EU and is the EU’s third-biggest food supplier. Ukraine recently published data showing their narrowing reliance on Russia and the countries export growth by 5.8% while imports rose by 6.3% showing improvement.
Since 2014 the government has taken reforms such as carrying out significant fiscal consolidation, moving to a flexible exchange rate, reforming energy tariffs and social assistance, enhancing the transparency of public procurement, simplifying business regulations, stabilizing and restructuring the banking sector, moving forward on health and pension reforms and establishing anti-corruption agencies. The parliament is now taking measures including deregulation, constitutional reform, decentralization, police reform, administrative transparency, energy, and taxation. All these changes bring the country closer to the EU. The National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) was founded in 2014 but it was in a 2019 decree that the Bureau gained authority to cooperate with international partners in corruption investigations. When Zelensky took office in 2019 he announced the dissolution of parliament and triggered a quick legislative election. The election yielded an absolute parliamentary majority to Zelensky’s Servant of the People Party. This allowed him to kill corruption and have competent officials motivated to join the EU. Still, Ukraine’s courts need to be cleaned up. Ukraine needs a strong consensus to join the EU and NATO as Kyiv has recently affirmed its goal to eventually gain full membership.
I believe that Ukraine and Zelensky’s efforts should not be questioned. The Ukrainian population has expressed its will to join the EU and the president must do all he can to accomplish this. Ukrainian attempts to detach itself from Russia have been numerous so far, and its presently troubling economic situation and instability in the administration should be resolved before any major reconstruction can be accomplished. Russia’s power and influence over Ukraine have allowed them to bully Ukraine and slow their growth. However, at this rate, Ukraine is slowly drifting away from Russia and if it continues constitutional reforms and cleans up corruption it should be able to become a major European actor. Ukraine has made numerous gestures to Russia and is now looking at Russia to reciprocate. It is in both countries’ best interest to cooperate rather than continue this conflict. A conflict resolution could drastically help Ukraine in its quest to prosperity.
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