Thank you Mr. Putin
The honor presented at the Atlantic Council meeting in Poland on June 7, 2014, was in recognition of his role in standing up for democratic values in Europe, protecting personal liberties and promoting Europe-US relationships.
It recognized his brave action in Estonia’s independence, its success on the path to democracy, and the role of Nato and the European Union.
Mr Ilves said the Ukraine crisis meant that Nato, the US and especially Europe now realized that defense is crucial and close collaboration essential. In this context, he said, ‘Thank you, Mr. Putin’. This refrain – thanking President Vladimir Putin for the wake-up call – was repeated by other speakers at the forum.
Mr Ilves was right, but only if present Western efforts are sustained, as we hope. But what will happen to Ukraine?
Its new president, Petro Poroshenko, opened a dialogue with Russia at his inauguration on June 7, and underlined clearly that it was Ukraine’s intention to open accession negotiations with the EU with the objective of full membership. This was also an objective of the brave Maidan protest movement, which received full support from the EU, member states and the US.
Ukraine has a new, democratically-elected president who promises to fight corruption and carry out necessary reforms which had been neglected during the corrupt regime of President Viktor Yanukovych which, although democratically elected, had lost all legitimacy through its corruption.
Accession and free trade with the EU are the logical response to the promises Ukraine received from the West while fighting inclusion into President Putin’s Eurasian Union. But Ukraine’s economy will also need to continue good trading relations with Russia.
In solving its economic problems Ukraine would need at least the four freedoms of exchange of people, goods, services and capital and a common market with the EU. This could also open privileged trading opportunities with Russia, as Russia also needs to trade with the EU.
Russia must not be considered an adversary of the West, but as a trade partner which should not be contained. It is only the threat from the Kremlin and Russian nationalists to re-establish the integrity of the lands of the former Soviet Union in the form of a Eurasian Union – against the wishes of the populations concerned such as in Ukraine – which has to be resisted.
Giving Ukraine the four freedoms would help solve their economic problems, but not necessarily alienate Russia in the same way as a political association or full membership. It would also meet raised expectations and promises.
The European Union may feel unable financially – or its member states unwilling politically – to fulfil the expectations nourished during the crisis. Political problem areas could be in agriculture, where Ukraine is one of the world’s largest agricultural producers, and in the free movement of people.
Ukraine’s economy will not improve in a sustainable way, and expectations will be disappointed leading to increased destabilization, unless the EU offers the four freedoms to Ukraine in due course and drops the visa obligation in the short term. A result of maintaining the borders between the EU and Ukraine to people, goods and services could be that it forces Ukraine to move closer to Russia. This could provide Mr. Putin with the opportunity to say, ‘Thank you EU.’