Ukraine of Dignity: The moment of truth

25 years—the length of a single generation. I remember myself as a member of the generation that welcomed Independence in 1991, that made a conscious choice in favor of a free Ukraine. 25 years ago, it was important for us that there simply be a Ukraine
Today, I feel myself part of a generation for whom it’s too little for Ukraine to simply be. For us, it’s important to take advantage of this unique opportunity to create a new country, a Ukraine of dignity, a worthy Ukraine.

Two and a half years ago on Instytutska, the country was given a chance to change itself and become the kind of country that generations had dreamed of: sovereign, democratic and European. For the sake of this Ukraine, we are fighting for reform, countering Russian aggression, working to get Crimea back and our political prisoners released.

A country undergoing change naturally requires a renewed foreign policy, which, nevertheless, cannot take place in a vacuum. To make sure that it is both effective and successful, one basic condition must be met: the state’s external goals must be grounded in its internal capacities.

As a co-founder of the UN, Ukraine wasn’t a real novice in foreign policy. And so it is not odd that, once independent, we immediately set ourselves some fairly ambitious and far-reaching goals. Ukraine successfully integrated into some of the basic global structures: the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the WTO. At some point, we even launched our own geopolitical project called GUAM.

At the same time, we struggled to find a balanced security model to protect our state and citizens, gradually giving more weight to European and Euroatlantic integration. Sometimes others believed in us and sincerely helped. Sometimes they tried to force their own agendas on us. The essence of this path was described very aptly by master diplomat and twice Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko, in the title of one of his books: From Romanticism to Pragmatism.

It was a difficult path and an important lesson that, I hope, we have learned: Ukraine suffered from considerable dissonance between its internal state of development and its declared intent to leave the post-soviet model of state and society behind.

Signs that the internal development of the country and, hence, its foreign policy goals were really appropriate became evident only after the Revolution of Dignity. And over the last two and a half years, we have been doing that which will truly allow us to establish a worthy Ukraine.

We can endlessly analyze the achievements and problems of our 25-year foreign policy course. We can ponder over what the purpose was, after the Cold War ended, to come up with the concept of multivectoral policy. We can ask ourselves whether the Budapest Memorandum was the best way to guarantee non-nuclear status and whether it was worth it to give up our nuclear arsenal on the conditions proposed by our partners. We can keep asking ourselves why we did not aim for an Association Agreement with the EU from the very start. But I think it would be far more productive to formulate some interim conclusions based on where we’ve gone in the past, absorb the lessons and continue to move forward. In this sense, every one of us should draw some simple conclusions.

Firstly, there are no “carved in stone” security guarantees in the world today, and no effective means of punishing aggressors who deliberately and blatantly violate international law. Resolving this problem will be the main challenges of the upcoming years. The alternative can only be growing unpredictability: a new round in the global arms race, the emergence of new asymmetric threats and, as a result, just about any negative further development. A fundamental lack of stability and predictability is the key trait of our times.

It’s also obvious that national security can be effectively ensured in only two ways: either through the country’s own power or by participating in some form of collective security. This means systems that are based on common values and joint decision-making and that have the necessary capacity to defend their members and the system as a whole. Any other options that are based on a balance of force and interests simply don’t work.

Secondly, the key to Ukraine’s success is to build an open, democratic society based on European values, a society in which everyone—the government, business and non-government organizations—is genuinely dedicated to certain basic principles: rule of law, honesty and transparency. But we have to work here and now. There is no time now for dreaming and delaying. If this latest attempt to build a new Ukraine stalls, we can expect growing instability and the loss of unity in the state-building project altogether. Let’s face reality: a country without stable democracy and sustainable, responsible civil society will only go nowhere, drifting freely and susceptible to any kind of fluctuation and provocation. A state does not need games and slogans; it needs work.

We all aspire a democratic, European Ukraine. Now we have to add to this aspiration substance that we all can agree upon. We need society-wide consensus about what this new Ukraine means to us, as well as what we want to achieve, and when and how we will achieve it. Remember what the Cheshire Cat said to Alice when she asked him for directions? The Cat very rightly answered: “Well, that depends on where you want to get to.”

And so we also have to first understand what it is we want from our life and what kind of future we see for our country—to have the courage to realize this and the boldness to begin to go there.

Sure, Russia’s aggression is a serious challenge along Ukraine’s path of development. We continue to fight against it, knowing full well that it is likely to continue, in one form or another, even after the actual war ends. A democratic, European Ukraine is an existential problem for Russia, casting doubt on the very existence and functioning of the contemporary Russian socio-economic model. But the truth is that, until 2014, we ourselves had not overcome the internal challenges that confronted us after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Examples of this are myriad. The current education system in Ukraine, in my opinion, still lingers halfway between its soviet roots and a European future. It is unable to offer answers to either children or their parents about how to live from here on and how to be in this world. The same can be said for every other critical sphere in the lives of Ukrainians.

Let’s be honest with ourselves: our chance for success in this world lies only in reform.

Every country offers something to the world. What do we have to offer? If all it is, is the aspiration, desire and preparedness to do something, we are offering an unfinished product to a market that is already saturated with such goods. Results are the only product that there is always a shortage of, in a universal language that all the world understands. The story of Carl Sturen and Johan Boden, two Swedish students who came to Ukraine, set up the Chumak brand and became the kings of ketchup should not be the exception but the rule. Only then will Europe perceive us and receive us as one of theirs. Only then will we be truly of interest to it.

Ukraine’s strengths are not limited to farming. Exports of Ukrainian IT services between 2008 and 2015 tripled. According to Startup Ranking, which rates internet services, Ukraine is 33rd in the world for technology start-ups. Clearly, we have something to be proud of and directions to keep moving in.

Thirdly, the European Union is not in the best of shape. It’s under pressure from factors that threaten the very way of living of its citizens. I have spoken on many occasions about the challenges of migration, the threat of terrorism and Russia’s hybrid war against the EU to weaken and fragment a consolidated Europe as much as possible. Still, this does not in any way suggest that we should stop our Eurointegration efforts. The European Union has already shown that it can respond appropriately to both external and internal challenges. I’m confident that, even today, leaders will be found who are capable of moving it forward based on common European values and a clear understanding that the EU can and should remain a world leader in development, not just in politics or economics, but also in culture and intellectual potential.

Europe understands clearly that Ukraine is a turn in the road. It just doesn’t quite know where to—whether new prospects or new problems. Moreover, whichever it is, they will be enormous. And that is why it is so tense. That is why it is so cautious in its promises and “prospects for membership.”

We can talk all we want about Europe’s Ukraine fatigue. But I, for one, want to point out that the appearance of new priority issues or challenges has not distracted the leaders of the civilized world from the joint efforts needed to stop Russian aggression and help in the success of the “Ukraine project.” The world understands that Ukraine’s failure will become the failure of all and will have fundamental consequences.

Ukraine boasts the largest territory and one of the largest populations among European states. What will this territory turn into—a success story or a grey buffer zone? We need to think how different Europe will be and how different the world will be, depending on which of these it is! And no one will be willing to put their faith in mere words, aspirations or desires. Only actions, only results will matter. Their policy towards Ukraine will be based entirely on our response.

The time of the new Ukraine, the worthy Ukraine has come. A Ukraine dedicated to Europe and European values, with a mature democratic society that is open to the transatlantic world and all those who are prepared to play according to universal rules, a Ukraine with a European model of democracy. After all, it’s Europe that we belong to, both in our mentality and our geography, and we want to integrate into it economically and politically. This Ukraine must have a Society where every citizen is not just the bearer of sovereignty and the source of power on paper, but takes responsibility for their yard, their city, their country, and their future.

What’s more, we have to learn to guarantee the security of this new Society independently until such time as new, more effective collective security systems appear, the main burden will lie on our backs. If we can demonstrate that we are worthy of assistance, help will be forthcoming. But we shouldn’t expect that others will take care of our problems.

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